The ongoing saga of Rhode Island state Representative Robert A. Watson reached its political climax this week when local and national Guatemalan organizations demanded that Watson apologize for remarks he made at a Providence Chamber of Commerce luncheon on February 9.
As reported in several Rhode Island media outlets, Watson, a Republican and the state’s Minority Leader, said the following when discussing legislative priorities:
I suppose if you’re a gay man from Guatemala who gambles and smokes pot, you probably think that we’re onto some good ideas here.
According to the blog of The Providence Journal, Watson has refused to apologize for these comments. It reports:
Watson told The Journal Wednesday afternoon he did not feel the need to apologize.
“I apologize when appropriate and/or necessary,” Watson said by phone. “I identify this situation as representing neither circumstance.”
Alejandra Gordillo, executive director of the Guatemalan Council of Guatemalans Living Abroad, was the main speaker at the press conference. She said she was there to “express the support to the Guatemalan community and reject any offense” to Guatemalans living abroad.
“We are going to be monitoring this process, and the result of this lamentable issue,” she said.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly quoted Watson as saying, “I guess that if you are a Guatemalan gay man who likes to gamble and smokes marijuana, you probably think we’re onto some good ideas here.”
“I hope that we will be able to end this unfortunate situation,” said David A. Quiroa, president of the Guatemalan-American Alliance. “I do expect to hear an apology from Representative Watson in order to restore civility in the Rhode Island Guatemalan community.”
In the meantime, Watson also appeared on local Rhode Island news. We were able to stream the audio of the video segment and present the portion of interview where he claims that his comments were “political satire” and only offended “some” Guatemalans.
One blog post from Providence, titled Why Watson Is Not Wrong, defends his actions using the sarcasm argument. Here are excerpts of that blog post:
But what has inflamed the newest fake political controversy was that the highly articulate and intelligent Watson, in expressing his frustration about the direction in which this legislative session seems to be headed, resorted to sarcasm ( a commonly applied tool of language that is apparently often misunderstood in translation). So he put it this way: “This year, it shouldn’t be about illegal immigration, but I suppose it will be. It shouldn’t be about gay marriage, but it will be. I suppose if you are a gay man from Guatemala who likes to smoke pot and gamble, you probably think we’re onto some good ideas here.” (The pot reference was to the medical marijuana site licensing issue, and the gambling reference was to the annually recurring debate which will shift to Twin River this session)
Another column, titled Watson Has Nothing to Apologize For by Don Johnsen, states the following: “[Watson] said nothing derogatory about Guatemalans.” The column ends:
Meanwhile, the controversy over Watson’s folly serves his purpose: calling attention to the state’s looming financial meltdown. This is not the first time he has bravely invited a storm of criticism with his outspoken views on our dysfunctional legislature. It would be far easier for Watson to apologize to the Guatemalans — not to mention gays, gamblers and pot smokers. But why should he?
This same column includes the following comment by a reader named Morgan Freedman:
It could have been worse. [Watson] could have apologized with:
“To those that are here from Guatemala and naturalized, I’m sorry that you think that you’re Guatemalan first and United States citizens second. To Guatemalans living up here legally, I’m sorry that your [sic] Guatemalan and not U.S. citizens. You’re missing out. To Guatemalan illegal aliens, I’m sorry that you’re here at all. Leave and re-enter the correct and honorable way. We welcome all your poor, tired masses of gays and gamblers. Dope heads stay away. We already have too many of those.”
So in the end, all this “sarcasm” sounds a bit too familiar to Latinos. So the new word is “sarcasm,” right, ok that is good to know. Just like the BBC and the lads from TOP GEAR.