It was no accident the College Republicans at Western Michigan University picked Thursday to host conservative commentator and three-time presidential candidate Pat Buchanan.
They intentionally picked the day that commemorates Mexican-American civil-rights leader Cesar E. Chavez to make a statement about illegal immigration from Mexico.
“Viva Buchanan! Celebrate Cesar Chavez Day with Pat Buchanan,” reads one poster advertising Buchanan’s 7 p.m. speech. “College Republicans declare March 31st America First Day,” reads another.
But the event’s timing and the posters have drawn strong rebukes from other student and community leaders.
“In the Hispanic community we esteem Cesar Chavez much like African-Americans do Martin Luther King Jr.,” said David Juarez, a Kalamazoo city commissioner who plans to speak during a march Thursday to honor Chavez.
“When I was kid I worked out in the fields with my family,” Juarez said. “I understand the struggle that (migrant workers) hold. I also understand the struggle immigrants from Mexico have.”
Emily Stuart, director of the Peace Center at WMU, characterized the posters as offensive and said the College Republicans were blatantly dishonoring Chavez’s memory by bringing in a speaker she described as racist, sexist and xenophobic.
“It’s a slap in the face,” Stuart said. “It’s just ignorant. I don’t know how (the College Republicans) expect to recruit members by putting things like this out.”
But Matt Hall, chairman of WMU’s College Republicans, defended the group’s actions, saying the United States is hurt by illegal immigration.
“This is a national-security issue, a cultural issue and an economic issue,” Hall said. “Mr. Buchanan has been one of the vocal critics for immigration. I think he will be a smart voice for reform.”
Hall questioned why WMU should celebrate Cesar Chavez Day.
“What does Cesar Chavez have to do with Michigan?” Hall said. “Why does our university have a big event for Cesar Chavez Day and have Gov. Jennifer Granholm coming?
“We don’t have a big event for George Washington,” Hall said. “Why is it we are celebrating a holiday that has nothing to do with our state and our history?”