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May 10, 2002

 

It was up early and into the bus. We had just one bus this time, a large one instead of two buses. I sat next to Anabella Caldera and she shared the results posting from the night before, something I had not yet seen. The results showed that our debate against Diego Portales had gone well. While they had narrowly outscored us, we finished round one with the second most points of any team, a tremendous accomplishment for Anthony and Carlos. This reality made the choice of the night before even more important. We were in the running, but had made our priorities clear.

 

This bus driver took us down some very strange roads, small streets I had not seen before. Of course, the reason for this was to avoid the horrendous traffic we had experienced in earlier days. It seemed to work, and while we wound around some tight curves, we soon found ourselves at the beautiful Universidad Interamericana campus at Bayamon.

 

We left the bus and had some breakfast that once again was excellent and tasty. People then trooped off for the debates. I had a final word with Anthony and Carlos before their debate, and wished them well. They had a nice crowd assembled for their debate.

 

During the debate the committee met and we certified the results from the night before. Once again, there was considerable discussion of some complaints that had been heard. I really thought that things were going well, and I cautioned that debate tournaments (being competitive and subjective) always had complaints. However, the hosts were very concerned that everyone be happy. They decided to have a short meeting with the coaches about this after round two.

 

Round two was over and I got the report from Anthony and Carlos. Apparently the judges had not taken our strategy very well. One judge had stood after the first speech and informed the government (us) that we were obligated to oppose homosexuality. This seemed highly out of order to me, but there is usually little one can do when judges do what we believe is inappropriate except grin and bear it. We had repeated our deductive claim that if what we said was true (no marriages should be legal institutions) then the resolution was also true (gay marriage should not be a legal institution). This claim became a feature of each and every speech. The non-verbals indicated that our tactic was not going over well. We had tried to do a typical American debate term-by-term analysis of the topic indicating that we had fulfilled our obligation, but there seemed to be a strong opinion that we also had to support the "spirit of the resolution" and oppose additional rights to gay citizens. Well, it wouldn't be the first time that Vermont has lost on topicality.

 

The topics were then drawn for the third round, with an eye towards making sure that people did not have three debates on the same side. We drew Universidad Americana of Nicaragua, an excellent team, and our topic was to defend the mandatory nature of public schools. We brainstormed about a strategy (we would rather have the other side) but this was not a case like round two, and we had no moral qualms about defending this side of the topic. Anthony and Carlos went off with Jackie to prepare while I went to the committee meeting with the judges.

 

A number of issues were discussed at the meeting, and as often happens it was more a question of people venting than there being serious issues to be decided. There was a discussion about objections that had been raised by debaters in the debates, but of course the judges in each debate had resolved those, so there was no sense in second guessing them. There was also a discussion about the criteria judges had used, and of course there was no way to change that. I noted that there was a formal protest procedure and that no one had used it, so all discussion was moot. Having been heard, everyone seemed to be in agreement about proceeding, and the meeting was dissolved. This was another example of the hosts trying their best to be polite to their guests. This is, of course, not the sort of thing one would see at an American tournament, but it was a sign of the growth of Hispanic debating that it had been carried off so well.

 

The committee remained after the meeting for a few minutes to confirm our procedures and our conclusions. While it was a short meeting it did intrude on lunch. I dashed off to see my team and Jackie, and carried on a good conversation with them, adding some ideas that had come to me during the meeting. Then, they went off to write and practice.

 

At this point I had missed lunch. Prof. Charles Zeno asked if I was interested in taking a drive to the coast with the chance for a spot of lunch. Given that we had until 6 PM, this sounded like an excellent plan. Prof. Zeno and I seemed to get along very well, and I looked forward to having some time together away from the tournament.

 

We drove off towards the coast and carried on an excellent conversation, about Puerto Rico, about his work at the law school, about bilingual law practice in Puerto Rico, and other interesting topics. We stopped for gas and then proceeded towards the coast.

 

We arrived at the coast and I could see Old San Juan on the other side of the entry into San Juan Bay. We drove out onto a lovely peninsula that was entirely a park, and it was quite beautiful. We took a scenic tour of the peninsula and then headed back towards the land. When we got to the mainland we still hugged the coast and came to a lovely restaurant where Prof. Zeno indicated we should have lunch. I was all for that.

 

Now was my chance to get some mofungo. The plantains (platanos) of Puerto Rico are a very common part of the daily diet. The green are like a starchy vegetable and the yellow are sweet. A third way to eat these plantains is as "mofungo."This is a form of mashed plantain that is treated in a special way and then baked. At a lovely little restaurant overlooking the water Prof. Zeno and I had a chance to order some mofungo dishes. The mashed plantains are put into a large traditional wooden goblet so that it lines the edge. Then, some spiced food is put in the middle, and in my case it was crab with a Creole sauce. The whole thing is baked in an oven. Very tasty. We talked about life and things as we looked out over the ocean.

 

The time flew by and it was soon time for us to go. We returned to the Bayamon campus just before round three was supposed to start. I rushed into the theater to get my camera gear set up and I had another conversation with Anthony and Carlos, talking to them about how they could use the information about Japan (where high school is voluntary) that we had found. I knew this would be a difficult debate because the Nicaragua team (Mayling and Victoria) are very good and are fabulous speakers.


| JACKIE GETS IN SOME COACHING | FRIENDS BEFORE AND AFTER THE DEBATE |

 

As the debate began and the cameras were rolling I did get a chance to look at the round two results and I was stunned. Not only did the judges not like our approach to the gay marriage topic, but they seemed to really hate it. Our scores were almost half of what they had been in the first debate. This meant that for us the tournament was over before this round even ended, and I told Jackie about it and let him look at the cumulative score sheet. He was disappointed but commented that it is better to lose some points than to promote homophobic speech. I had to agree.

 

It isn't that some topics are undebatable The point is that topics forcing one side or the other into denying the common humanity of groups in society are destructive of the debate process itself. Will gay debaters want to attend a tournament that formally suggests denying them basic rights is a valid option? Will women feel welcome at a tournament that may formally call on them, or anyone, to advocate discrimination against women in the workplace? The debate process itself is so important to me because of the way it provides people with a voice and empowers individuals that I would rather shy away from topics that make fellow human beings feel unwanted.

 

The other issue at stake here is the old maxim of the need to provide a "debatable topic." This may seem closed minded to some, but it seems to me that the need for rights AND equality for all -- all races of all men, women, transgender, and all human beings may no longer be a debatable topic. Certainly we can disagree about the means to these goals, but debates that question this assumption do not serve our interests unless they are presented as a clearly satirical act of irony, an approach that can lead to other problems but at least operates as a criticism of the defense of inequality. Thus, I would prefer to avoid assigning topics that violate this assumption.

 

I watched the third round, Anthony and Carlos the opposition against Victoria and Mayling from Americana Nicaragua. I think they were a little nervous because this was their first time debating in the theater and there was a nice crowd gathered. I saw that Carlos'parents were there to watch the debate. Victoria lodged an objection that we had asked more than one question in our question time, and the judges ruled for her (good job, Victoria). This seemed to bother Anthony and Carlos briefly but they soon had it back together and were debating hard and with substance. The scores would later show that Americana got a narrow victory but that we scored very well. I was very pleased we had done so well against an excellent team like Americana.

 

I heard that in their third round the two women from Bolivia were called on to defend sex discrimination in the workplace, and instead tried to fulfill their debate obligations without promoting sexism, something they had often experienced in their lives. I also heard that we had worked together with them before the debate. Maybe it could be a movement?

 

Dinner was served at the conclusion of the debate, and it was stylish and delicious. Some meals had been served in the student union (use your ticket to get yourself a meal), but most had been in a spacious art gallery with huge windows facing out into a beautiful green space. The walls were hung with photos documenting Senor Alegria's life and work. Tables were set for dining and a small buffet line was operating. This evening the food was especially tasty. I was, however, still remembering with relish my mofungo experience.

 

We knew it wouldn't be us in the final round so we got into Carlos' SUV and headed back to the hotel. Carlos arranged for us to get a super swank hotel room the next night at the Wyndham in Old San Juan where his cousin was involved in the marketing office. That was fine with me because we needed a hotel room for two days as we visited the island before we left.

 

The results would later show that the final round would be between Universidad Santiago de Compostela of Spain as the government and Universidad Central de Chile as the opposition on a topic I had campaigned for and that had been chosen by the committee -- that the problems of the third world have been caused by the first world.

 

Back to the hotel late again, quickly to sleep. Realizing that we will leave this hotel tomorrow and return to our typical debate role as a wandering group.

CONTINUE TO THE NEXT DAY