Professor Stephen Balkaran: A Voice for America

by Sheridan Cyr

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photo by Sheridan Cyr

Central Connecticut Philosophy Professor Stephen Balkaran immigrated to the United States 27 years ago from the Caribbean and has since become a prominent figure as a voice of the Hispanic community as well as for all citizens who have immigrated to America. He has given over 75 speeches across the country, spreading the ideas that he has captured in over 50 scholarly articles and three books, with a fourth underway.

Speaking with Balkaran was an enlightening experience. He has an incredible argument and motive and the knowledge he has is crucial to American politics in this election. Balkaran is requested all over the country to give speeches and educate the American people on the importance of the immigration vote, culture, expansion and more. His articles are shared in a number of universities, where professors are hoping to educate youth on what they have missed out on from grade school textbooks.

Balkaran is a highly active member of the CCSU community. In his 10 years here, he has brought significant figures such as Paul F. Chavez, the son of late Hispanic Civil Rights Activist Cesar Chavez, and Fred Gray, the civil rights attorney for Dr. Martin L. King Jr. and Mrs. Rosa Parks. He is hoping to have another significant figure visit in the early fall, but has asked not to give it away just yet.

He also runs a summer course bi-annually in which students travel south by bus and trace many of the most significant historical civil rights movement locations. Students see first-hand where Martin L. King Jr. was shot, where Rosa Parks sat on the actual bus that she made her peaceful protest from, churches where many civil rights quests originated and much more. Reading about these events does not compare to experiencing them in person, and Balkaran is thrilled to help American youth capture the historical significance and understanding.

His arguments and beliefs have come to a head in the midst of this presidential election. According to Balkaran, in the next eight years, 36 million new voters will immigrate to America, adding to the 50 million recent immigrants. That’s about 37 percent of the country’s population. Because of the massive amounts of people coming in, it is crucial that presidential candidates consider how they will vote.

“Hispanics are a swing vote in 19 states,” said Balkaran. “Because of this, we have to talk to them in a very sensitive and cautious way.”

Balkaran is specifically considering the remarks of presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who he feels has been harsh and often ignorant toward immigrants.

“It was kind of interesting how a guy who is running for the president of the United States is not really embracing the new America, and doesn’t embrace the diversity of this particular ethnic group, the Hispanics,” said Balkaran.

Balkaran argued that many Americans are unaware of the Hispanic presence in America. Hispanics, he said, have always been present here, even before the pilgrims arrived. When Trump twists his face up and shouts, “go back home,” he does not understand that they have always had a strong presence here.

In an article called “Consequences of Immigration Reform” published in Hispanic Outlook in 2014, Balkaran describes this presidential debate as “the civil rights debate of the 21st century,” said Balkaran. “The political importance of the Hispanic vote is closely tied to the Immigration reform, and, whether we admit it, the American Presidency will be dictated by the Hispanic vote.”

In another of Balkaran’s articles, “What Would America Be Without Hispanics?,” he called on a report from the New York Times that claimed as of 2010 more black or brown children are being born in America than white, and that at the time of publishing, one out of every six people in America were Hispanic.

One of Balkaran’s most interesting arguments is nicknamed “The United States of Amnesia.” This describes how Americans have forgotten altogether what it means to be an immigrant — those who have come to this nation, in particular.

“We always hear the Irish story, the Polish story, the Jews, where are these immigrants today? Where are these groups? They all forgot,” said Balkaran, asking immigrants to recall why they came here, and to remind America that they have a strong, powerful presence. “We are a nation of immigrants, but you know what, we are a nation of selfish people. We came here, we got our piece of the pie, and that’s it. We forgot.”

The remarks Trump has stood by are alarming, to say the least. In another of Balkaran’s articles, “The Hispanic Vote,” he urges that the candidate’s “racist remarks remind us that the hatred towards immigrants is alive and well in a country that practices integration and acceptance of all.” What will happen to this massive portion of citizens if Trump becomes the face of America? It is a question that worries Balkaran and motivates him to continue his fight.

It’s not just Trump. It’s not even just the Republican Party. The Democrats, while not having made such alarming claims, have not really done much at all to attract those 50 million Hispanic voters. Ever since President Abraham Lincoln made the first significant moves toward ending slavery, black and Hispanic voters loyalty to the GOP have typically been counted on. This election, however, is shaking up that notion.