TV's 'What Would You Do?' tackles SB 1070 here

2010-12-19T00:00:00Z 2011-02-07T15:41:40Z TV's 'What Would You Do?' tackles SB 1070 hereBrady McCombs Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 19, 2010 12:00 am  • 

When a man dressed like a security guard demanded "papers" from two Hispanic patrons at a local Mexican restaurant recently, Andrea Morken stood up.

"Excuse me. I don't think you can do that," Morken said loudly enough for the rest of the diners at BK Carne Asada and Hot Dogs to hear.

The Anglo guard struck an aggressive pose and repeated his demand.

"Actually you can't do that and that's not going to happen right now, right here, today," said Morken, who owns a day spa in Tucson. "So you just need to get on out of here now."

Others agreed, telling the security guard to leave the men alone.

"I am an American citizen," he shot back, "and I have the right to see if these two are illegals or not."

The man eventually left - to the applause of the diners - but he returned shortly and said he had called the authorities to come pick up the two men.

Fed up, Morken offered the patrons a ride. The older of the two stood to comply, then took off his sunglasses.

"Do you know who I am?" he asked.

It was ABC's John Quiñones. The man eating with him and the security guard were both actors. And the entire incident was being filmed by hidden cameras inside BK, 2680 N. First Ave., for an upcoming episode of the ABC show "What Would You Do?"

The episode is to air early next year, likely in February, said Quiñones. The show uses actors and hidden cameras to see how people react in provocative situations.

Focusing an episode on the emotions and confusion surrounding Arizona's controversial new immigration law was a no-brainer, Quiñones said during a phone interview this week from New York. While some episodes are whimsical, the veteran investigative journalist said he likes to keep a hard edge on the show.

"It's a story that is close to my heart as a Mexican-American and a big issue nationally," Quiñones said. "It just lends itself perfectly to 'What Would You Do?'"

The crew re-enacted two scenes over and over again on Nov. 11-12 at the Tucson eatery known for its Sonoran hot dogs. The "guard" questioned either two men eating together or a couple and their 7-year-old daughter.

The actors weren't playing illegal immigrants, but rather Hispanics who spoke little English and didn't carry citizenship documents or visas, Quiñones said.

ABC expected the scenario to elicit support for both the security guard and the Hispanics, he said. But only a couple of people applauded the security guard over the course of the two days. Everyone else reacted in support of the Hispanics being questioned, said Quiñones and BK owner Benjamin Galaz.

"All the people reacted against the racism," Galaz said. "They all knew about the law (SB 1070) but that it wasn't the time or the place to disrespect that family."

The ABC crew filmed a similar episode at a deli in New Jersey, where a worker refused to serve Spanish speakers. During that filming, the reaction was much more mixed, Quiñones said.

ABC officials approached Galaz in October about filming an episode at the restaurant, near East Grant Road and North First Avenue. Galaz also owns the original BK restaurant on the south side, at 5118 S. 12th Ave., but ABC wanted the north-side location because it's in a more ethnically mixed area and they figured they would find people on both sides of the issue, he said.

Galaz didn't decide for a week, weighing the potential pitfalls of getting involved in a hot-button political issue. Ultimately, he said yes because he wanted to showcase to the country that Hispanics and non-Hispanics get along just fine in Tucson. While most of his workers are Hispanic, a large portion of his patrons are non-Hispanics, he said.

An ABC crew worked overnight for three days to equip the restaurant with hidden cameras and microphones, Galaz said. They did it while the restaurant was closed to ensure only Galaz knew.

Not everybody enjoyed being part of the show. The staged scenario is not the proper venue to explore SB 1070's effect on Arizona, said Peri Conley, 32, who witnessed the events on Nov. 11.

She initially signed an ABC waiver allowing her face to appear on the show but later rescinded it. She was told her face would be blurred if she appears in a scene.

The scenarios were not realistic enough to draw conclusions about how Arizonans would react, Conley said. For starters, such an encounter would more likely occur during a traffic stop or on the streets with nobody around to react.

Conley was at the restaurant during two re-enactments. She missed the first one because her back was turned to the scene. Before the next re-enactment, ABC officials asked her not to react since she already knew it was staged. She said several people who were portrayed as diners that day were with the show, making her question how many people were actually able to react.

"It was very staged," Conley said. "Every element of this was very fake to me."

Her biggest concern is that several people left before they learned the incident was staged. They might have told family and friends that security guards can ask for people's papers, spreading misinformation.

"I've lost many nights of sleep thinking about this and I'm white," Conley said. "If this affects me, how can this affect somebody who is not white at this time, right now, when everybody is on edge about it?"

"She Felt so strongly"

Morken, who Quiñones said had the strongest reaction during the two-day shoot, wasn't thinking about politics when she intervened on behalf of the two patrons being questioned.

"It felt like an angel walked into the scene," he said. "It was amazing that she did this. She felt so strongly about this. … It was funny, but it was also heartwarming."

After Quiñones stood and leveled with Morken, he started to ask her, "With all of the controversial laws in Arizona currently on the table …"

Morken cut him off. "It wasn't about that," she said.

"Then why do you do what you did?" Quiñones asked.

"I figured those guys probably had some wives and there were some little children involved, and I just didn't want to see their families torn apart today."

Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or bmccombs@azstarnet.com.

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