STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This week on MORNING EDITION, we're going to dig a little more deeply into the debate about immigration. Proposals to change immigration rules have been debated in Congress for months, and you may think you've heard everything there is to say on the subject, until you hear the people we will meet this week.
And we begin with the comedian Carlos Mencia.
(Soundbite of "Mind of Mencia" Comedy Central)
Mr. CARLOS MENCIA (Comedian): You know what they said in California? I saw it on C-SPAN. People we vote for, here's what they said. Um, I propose that we kick all the illegal aliens out of this country. Then we build a super fence so they can't get back in. And I went, Um, who's gonna build it?
INSKEEP: This is from the Mind of Mencia, which is Carlos Mencia's program on Comedy Central.
(Soundbite of "Mind of Mencia")
Mr. MENCIA: If the wetbacks are gone, there goes the workforce. Maybe what we should do is make them build the fence first. Then kick 'em out.
INSKEEP: A lot of Carlos Mencia's material is on the web, and if you listen long enough you are almost sure to be offended by something. Like the routine in which he repeats a list of derogatory terms for almost every racial and ethnic group in America.
Mr. MENCIA: (From Mind of Mencia on Comedy Central) If I forgot anybody I apologize.
Mr. MENCIA: Like, I use the word beaner on my show a lot.
Mr. MENCIA: But here's the interesting thing. I started to say Hispanic, and people were just, they were saying things like, I'm not Hispanic. Hispanic is a word created by the Nixon administration. I was like, all right, I won't use the word Hispanic any more. Chicano. Well, I'm from El Salvador, and Chicano means Mexican, but Mexican that was born here. And what if I was born... All right, sorry, I didn't mean to use that word. How about I use Latino? I don't speak Latin! I speak Spanish, and I don't even speak Spanish that well! All right, I'm not going to use that one. What about beaner? Nobody? Fine?
So it was like, all right, beaner it is. And it was by default. It was like the least offensive word to all these political people, so I just started using it.
INSKEEP: What is your ancestry?
Mr. MENCIA: My ancestry is really weird, because my great grandfather was from the Caymen Islands, and then his father was from England. But I lose track at that point. My father's last name is Holness, H-O-L-N-E-S-S, which I tracked down to be of German descent. But my last name is Mencia, so most of my family I tracked through Spain and a lot of indigenous people in Honduras.
INSKEEP: So you're a German-English-Caymen-Honduran, well, what is it...
Mr. MENCIA: But my mom, who I grew up with, who raised me, is Mexican, and my dad's from Honduras.
INSKEEP: Oh, that makes perfect sense then.
Mr. MENCIA: Yeah, exactly. So it's like, I - but that's part of why I can do this kind of comedy, because I was always an insider and an outsider at the same time.
INSKEEP: You're very much pro-immigrant. You've actually got routines in which you encourage more people to cross the border - to tell them that if they're unhappy with their lives to come on over. And yet at the same time, is your comedy kind of conservative in a way? You're telling...
Mr. MENCIA: Yeah. If you take, for example, the Hispanic vote in this country, all right? It's mostly Democratic. Yet, if you talk to them based on issues, just issues and politics, they're very conservative.
I remember my dad was like, I vote Democratic. And I was like, but dad, everything that you say is conservative. Why do you vote Democratic? And he was like, well, I mean I identify with the Democrats. And I go, dad, you're for spanking people at school, you're for, you know, everything that was not Democratic. And he was like, yeah? But who gives us the cheese? And I was like, all right, great.
INSKEEP: Do you think all this debate over immigration has changed the way that immigrants see themselves?
Mr. MENCIA: Yes. When the first rally started, I got in trouble because I went on the show and I said: listen, you do not come to a country, say that you love this country, say that you want to stay in this country because it's such a great country, and carry the symbol of a different flag. And...
INSKEEP: People waved the Mexican flag at these rallies?
Mr. MENCIA: Or other flags. That's what people see. They see that you have allegiance toward another country, more than this one. And I think that, after all the stuff that went down, they began to see that America doesn't want to kick them out, but that what America wants is appreciation and acculturation. Because that's what this issue is about.
When I went to Birmingham, Alabama, there were people upset. Were they upset that there were people cutting their grass? No. They were upset that when they went to the mall there were places that only spoke Spanish. There were people that were walking around with Mexican flags making Birmingham look like a different place.
INSKEEP: You have routine in which you say that you are totally fine with racial profiling.
Mr. MENCIA: Yes. But it's only because we do it all the time.
(Soundbite of "Mind of Mencia" Comedy Central)
Mr. MENCIA: When I dress like this, driving a $120,000 car, Carlos gets pulled over about 80 percent of the time. When the cops pull me over, I don't get mad. Sir, do you know why I pulled you over? I'm like, Hello! Go ahead and check my car. Are you sure? Dude, it's cool. I have time. I always come early.
INSKEEP: During the routine, you say something that surprised me, when I heard it. You said that it's just fine if some cop looks at you and assumes that you're a drug dealer, because actually, when you were 19, you were one.
Mr. MENCIA: Right.
INSKEEP: Is that true?
Mr. MENCIA: Yeah. I was stupid and I was dealing drugs. And I had a full time job at the time and I was going to school full time, trying to get a degree in electrical engineering. Somebody owed me money, so this is how stupid I was. I called him up and I said, I'm coming to your house. If you don't have my money you better not be there. And when I got there the person wasn't there. I broke into their house, took video equipment, all kinds of stuff, so that I could sell it to make my money back. And on the way home I realized, what did I just break into somebody's house? My God! What is wrong with me? And at that point, I stopped and everything just came to a screeching halt.
But, yeah, I mean, you know, I'm not ashamed. I am frail like everyone else and I take that into account when I talk about things.
INSKEEP: And now you're a parent.
Mr. MENCIA: Yeah, we're expecting one right now, as a matter of fact.
INSKEEP: What are you telling your kids, or planning to tell your kids, about their identity, and about some of the issues that you touch on in your comedy?
Mr. MENCIA: I'm going to talk to them about what I know best: my family. Their father, you know, their grandfather. They're grandfather's grandfather. But I'm going to teach them what I was taught - love, respect, decency, honesty. I mean, the biggest thing in the world is compassion. My comedy is about, lift yourself. See reality. Change the reality if you don't like it. But if you can't, then deal with things as they are because crying about it isn't going to change anything. Changing it or doing something about it, will.
And so, I'm weird, you know? I'll go off on a rant about, I don't care what kind of job you have. It' not my fault you have your job. If you don't like your job, then change it by getting some better skills. Until then, shut up and get my burger with a smile like in the commercials.
INSKEEP: The comedian Carlos Mencia begins this week's talks on immigration. You can already hear some of the themes: assimilation and identity. Tomorrow we'll talk with the author John Updike. His imaginings of an immigrant's son led to a novel called, Terrorist.
This is NPR News.