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FDR Inspires Immigration Town Hall

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NRM Director Laurie Norton-Moffatt opening up the immigration forum

By Charlie Deitz

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wamc/local-wamc-959563.mp3

Stockbridge, MA – Seventy years ago Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his State of the Union address where he famously identified the Four Freedoms that need to be protected in order to maintain a great society. In celebration of FDR's ideas, the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts has held a series of public forums to explore some of the most pressing issues of our time. Thursday evening, the museum conducted a forum on immigration and our Berkshire Bureau Chief Charlie Deitz was there

Norman Rockwell Museum's Director Laurie Norton Moffatt kicks off the forums by talking about the heated political rhetoric of the last couple of years reducing complex issues down to soundbites, so far the museum has played host to health care and local food forums, this most recent forum on immigration was the third in the museum's freshmen endeavor, here's Moffatt in her opening remarks.

"We hope that the forums can serve as a model for civil discourse."

Of the 35 or so people that attended the immigration discussion, the first speaker Hillary Greene was able to open up by demonstrating that we are all immigrants.

Greene, who is the executive director at the Berkshire Immigrant Center was only able to get a few generations back before everybody had their hand in the air, she then went on to explain that the changing face of Berkshire County isn't hype, but backed up by the national census which was released in detail this week.

"The number of Hispanics doubled,black and African Americans rose by 34 percent."

That's in contrast to Berkshire County losing about 2 percent of its population overall. Another guest speaker was Eleanor Velez, the multicultural admissions and community outreach counselor at Berkshire Community College who has often spoken publicly on behalf of the contentious Dream Act, which would give legal status to minors brought to the states after a period of time, here she commends the county for being welcoming and diverse.

"Display it instead of hiding it."

When they opened the floor to the public, the questions and opinions remained mostly tame, there were a few testimonies from recent arrivals like Marta Escobar

"It's a good place to raise children,everyday I say thank you."

The main discussion which several people weighed in on was the idea of assimilation, and how Americans should approach the cultural expectations of immigrants, Roberta Haas opened the conversation.

Afterward, Hillary Greene weighed in on the fact that she had just sat through a 2 hour immigration forum where there was no arguing.

"In some ways it would have been nice to have a little debate."

Another guest speaker, Gwendolyn Hampton Van Sant founded a group called Bridge, they administer multicultural training sessions through out the county.

"I invite that i want to hear what's really holding you back."

Van Sant adds that many of the attendees are regular supporters of immigration rights, but folks did get to learn about the nuts and bolts of becoming naturalized and how alien status can be changed. Laurie Norton Moffatt reflected that while there was no shouting, it was still a victory for public discourse.

"It was hard for people to get up and express opinions that might have been unpopular."

The advisory council behind the forums are planning another event at the end of April which will center around freedom of speech and the role of media.