Monday, March 26, 2007

A restaurant's own private Idaho

As Congress hunkers down for the donnybrook over immigration reform, a restaurant in Idaho is learning why that discussion may leave the nation wincing. Chapala had been tending to its business when a pack of bigots tossed a shovelful of mud its way, for no other reason than the place’s name and menu are Mexican.

Worst of all, the little brains weren’t Archie Bunkers in hoods and sheets. These were college students, the group that traditionally tests the outer boundaries of tolerance.

Not the Young Republicans from Boise State University, who figured a little immigration humor would be a hoot. The political organization produced and circulated a mock flier to illustrate its position on immigration reform. Among the events touted in the document was a food-stamp drawing, eligible to immigrants who first crawled through a hole in a fence and presented fake identification. The winner, said that slice of hilarity, would get a dinner for two at, of course, a Mexican restaurant.

The group subsequently apologized to Chapala, but the effort is almost as offensive. “It is one of our favorite Mexican restaurants, and we love eating there,” Young Republican Jonathan Sawmiller was widely quoted as telling the Boise eatery. Why didn’t he say, “Why, some of our best friends are Mexican, and we treated our Mexican housekeeper as if she was a member of the family.”

The matter drew the wrath of the Democratic National Committee, which demanded that its Republican counterpart condemn that action by the Boise Young Republicans. As of Thursday, the DNC said, it had yet to receive a response.

But this isn’t a Democrat-versus-Republican matter. Nor is it even a tussle between those who want a liberal new immigration policy and those who prefer a more conservative, less-forgiving approach. In this case, it’s xenophobia versus an open mind, and discussion versus stereotyping and disparagement. The restaurant industry has been a leader of the progressive side in this matter. It’s a shame that one of its own had to feel the harshness of such a reactionary, dim-witted attitude.


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