by Mónica Marie Zorrilla
09/27/2017 - 17:26
Biden & Calderón: POLSCI 101
On the evening of September 26th, hundreds of students, faculty members, scholars, policymakers, and practitioners gathered at the breathtaking Irvine Auditorium to hear from the 47th Vice President of the United States and the former Mexican President. The topic of the Perry World House dialogue? “The Future of the Global Order in an Era of Nationalism, Populism, and Retrenchment.”
"I wish I could give you all a seven year Green Card when you walk across that stage, grab your diplomas, and graduate from The University of Pennsylvania", Biden sympathetically emoted with a hand over his heart to the forty-or-so Mexican university students sitting in the audience.
Later, he would jokingly remark with the same sentiment, “I’m going to try to steal them so that they don’t go back!” This was subsequently met with rapturous applause, including from Felipe Calderón himself.
Broadly, Perry World House- also known as the University of Pennsylvania’s International Affairs Institute -was a two day Colloquium that was designed to “explore how populism, nationalism, and retrenchment, as global phenomena, are altering the global order,” particularly touching on “the impact on academic and policy concerns: human rights, national security, technology, power, and governance.” Since the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement was only just instituted this past Winter 2017, shortly after Biden was surprised with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, with Distinction (the highest civilian honor in the U.S,) it seemed only fitting to bring Joe Biden to lead the inaugural Penn Biden Leaders Dialogue portion of the Colloquium.
Though formally set-up and promoted as a verbose and highbrow formal transaction of ideas between two prominent global leaders, the dialogue was more of a chat between a pair with great rapport. Both Biden and Calderón drew laughs from the audience as well as nods-in-agreement, touching on some of the most pressing issues: Russia, NAFTA, the earthquake, immigration, and of course, the relationship between Mexico and The United States (including the tension that the Trump Administration has inadvertently or directly caused).
"I don't think that Mexico is condemned to be a 'poor country' or a 'third world country' for all time. We need the United States government and the international community to support us and to help us so that we ALL prosper", Felipe Calderón remarked, beginning the answer to a question that a Penn senior posed: Should NAFTA be re-negotiated, and what do you think is the future of Mexican and United States trade? “The vision of nationalism”, as Calderón put it, would effectively ruin the trade agreement, which he believes- and Biden affirms-is not only economically viable for Mexico, but also Canadian and American enterprise. Both leaders pointed out multiple times throughout the hour-and-a-half long conversation that withdrawing from NAFTA would be inopportune (though Calderón went so far as to call the hypothetical political play “a stupid thing!”), since Mexico is one of our nation’s most important trade allies. Moreover, cutting-off trade would not deter immigration. In fact, as Calderón contended, net immigration of Mexicans has dipped into the negatives, meaning that more Mexicans are returning to their homeland from The United States, as they are leaving it.
Biden took it upon himself as the leader of the Penn Biden Center and as the Benjamin Franklin Practice Professor at Penn to close the dialogue with a touching spiel on the elephant in the room: the path that populism has carved for “scared” or ignorant Americans that feel their livelihoods, heritage, and jobs are being “threatened” by The Other, including those they deem to be “bad hombres”.
“We have had xenophobic moments in this country, and as of late, we’ve had more than usual. But, we share the best of every single culture in the world."
"Those who disseminate the narrative of oh, ‘Let’s just sell everything we have, give ourselves and our belongings to a coyote that can take us to cross the border, to a place where nobody wants us and we don’t know the language. Won’t that be fun! Let’s go’ is sorely mistaken. When Mexicans have immigrated, when Africans have immigrated, when Jews have immigrated, and when my people [Irish] have immigrated, it was out of necessity, and was done with optimism, a sense of purpose, and courage! You guys built this country. I think the President doesn’t understand that Americans of European descent, people like me, will pretty soon be a minority. I think that’s awesome. Constantly new blood is our strength.”