Recalling his own childhood as the offspring of immigrant parents, and referencing New York City’s history, former New York Post Editor in Chief Pete Hamill addressed Campbell Hall last night in defense of immigration.
At his lecture, Hamill said he supports the current wave of immigrants from Mexico and Central America, as well as other countries, and compared those immigrants to the Irish immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century. Through a combination of personal anecdotes and light analysis of the integration process, Hamill said the immigrant experience is noble and quintessentially American.
Hamill relied heavily on his experience as the child of immigrants. Both of his parents emigrated separately from Northern Ireland. Hamill was born in Brooklyn and joined the Brooklyn Navy Yard and then the Navy at 16 before studying painting and writing in Mexico City in the 1950s.
Hamill has written for numerous New York newspapers and magazines and has served as editor in chief for both the New York Post and the New York Daily News. As a journalist, he covered wars including those in Vietnam, Nicaragua and Lebanon, and he lived abroad for extended periods. He has also published 10 novels, two collections of short stories and seven works of non-fiction, including a memoir.
In introducing Hamill, Ron Tobin, Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Programs and a long-time friend, called him “the bard of the city, the prose laureate of New York.”
“Pete has become a historian of New York City,” Tobin said. “[He] has not only traveled the world, but lived abroad for a long time.”
During his lecture, Hamill dismissed deportation as a realistic solution to the current immigration debate and said that immigrants need more guidance in the legalization process.
“The impracticality of rounding up 12 million human beings is the heart of the matter,” Hamill said. “The American economy would collapse because someone has to do this work. There’ll be no tomatoes or lettuce or anything else if we round them up and wait for Jenna Bush to take a job in the Salinas valley.”
Hamill said that previous generations of immigrants have successfully integrated into American society and that moments such as the Great Depression and World War II helped forge an identity based on shared experiences rather than background differences.
Santa Barbara High School student Ari Vinion said although she expected the lecture to focus on more academic discussions of the current immigration issues, she said she found Hamill’s perspective interesting.
“I thought it was engaging, like having my grandpa tell me about his immigrations story,” Vinion said.
In his final comments of the night, Hamill said he disapproved of the current political climate in the United States, in which pundits like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh talk but do not work toward real change, comparing them to the Know-Nothing Party of the 1850s.
“Whatever happens in the rest of my life, I would hate to be trapped on a desert island with Ann Coulter,” Hamill said. “I would never [think] I was capable of killing somebody, but I would gladly throw her off the island if the waters were shark infested.”