Young Americans for Freedom thought they could start a dialogue by trotting out a Christopher Columbus look-alike and a woman in Native American garb on the Diag.
Campus activists, though, weren’t inspired to hold a discussion.
More than a month after a Republican activist sparked outrage across the political spectrum by saying that she was considering holding “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day” on campus, one conservative group finally followed through with her plans yesterday.
Andrew Boyd, chair of the University’s chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom, stood on the steps of the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library and asked people to go out and look for someone wearing a sign reading “illegal immigrant” hidden somewhere on the Diag.
The crowd was composed mostly of protesters. The activist groups on the Diag said they hoped to hold a quiet protest against an event they said was offensive.
Then came the boisterous chants of “No racist harassment on campus” from members of the radical pro-affirmative action group By Any Means Necessary.
Only one person actually played the game. He refused to give his name.
A short time after Boyd started the game, a blond woman dressed in a Native American costume climbed the steps of the Grad alongside the “illegal immigrant,” who turned out to be Engineering sophomore Mike Marcantonio in a Christopher Columbus costume.
The Native American costume was far from authentic. It consisted of a headdress with a plastic red feather and a brown synthetic tunic. The woman wearing it, who refused to give her name, let out a war whoop as protestors shouted at Boyd.
Boyd said he chose to dress the illegal immigrant as Columbus because the European conquest of the Americas parallels contemporary illegal immigration.
“Some of the intermingling was peaceful,” Boyd said. “Some of it was beneficial to both parties, some of it was violent and some of it resulted in total races being demolished.”
He said Native Americans had two choices at the turn of the 16th century: fight the Europeans or accept them. The United States has a similar choice to make with illegal immigration, Boyd said.
The protesters came from a wide range of campus organizations, including the Student of Color Coalition, La Voz Latina, Black Student Union and the undergraduate and law school chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union. Many wore yellow “Michigan Immigrant” T-shirts, which the protesters had made specifically for the event.
Many representatives of those groups were upset that BAMN, known for its incendiary and often disruptive tactics, showed up.
“I asked them not to do it,” La Voz executive board member Alicia Benavides said.
The BAMN contingent wasn’t just made up of University students.
Lashelle Benjamin, a junior at Cass Technical High School in Detroit, said BAMN organizers brought her and 17 other students to Ann Arbor for the event.
BAMN members yelled loudly every time Boyd tried to speak, often drowning him out.
“I think it would have been more successful probably for both sides if they hadn’t been saying the same chant over and over again,” Boyd said.
The crowd was full of criticism for YAF’s plans, but except for BAMN, most weren’t out to confront the group.
“It’s scary and xenophobic,” Rackham student Meg Ahern said. “I just think it’s important that immigrants, international students and international community members know that they’re welcomed and supported.”
Members of Antiwar Action held up a bed sheet with an idea for a game of their own painted in big red letters: “Bag a fascist.” The phrase was a shot at YAF’s far-right reputation.
LSA senior and group member Alex Smith carried a pillowcase that might have been used to capture a YAF member, but he said it was “purely symbolic.”
Unlike many on the Diag, one student said she had ancestors who were never immigrants.
“I’m a Native American, ya’ll are immigrants,” Rackham student Veronica Pasfield said. “It’s a joke that this entire country of immigrants is trying to alienate and improperly politicize immigrants.”
Boyd said he had hoped to start dialogue.
“I’m not giving answers to either side of the issue,” Boyd said. “I’m giving questions.”
But his tactics may have had the opposite effect, according to Dana Christensen, chair of the undergraduate chapter of the ACLU.
“This doesn’t breed education,” she said. “It just breeds hatred.”
Earlier in the day, a coalition of religious leaders and activists braved a freak October snowstorm to hold a prayer for inclusion on the Diag.
“We ask you, oh God, to soften the hearts of the hard-hearted and grant clarity to the minds of the closed-minded,” said Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The group has also sent a letter to the University Board of Regents and University President Mary Sue Coleman asking for a meeting to discuss the game and its impact.