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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  November 25, 2011 12:00am-12:30am PST

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. alfredo quinones-hinojosa is out with a memoir about his journey from a farm worker to the highest levels of medicine. also, zachary quinto is here. he is out in a timely film about wall street called "margin call ." we are glad you joined us. coming up, right now. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with
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your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: alfredo quinones- hinojosa is a renowned neurosurgeon and director of the pituitary tumor center at johns hopkins. his remarkable path from mexico to the united states is the
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subject of a new memoir, "becoming dr. q: my journey from migrant farm worker to brain surgeon." an honor to have you on this program. i just want to touch this hand. >> i am honored to be here with you. tavis: it is my delight. let me jump into it. i was thinking that if herman cain had his way, you would have been electrocuted, trying to halt the fence from mexico to the united states. let us deal with this now. what is your sense of the immigration debate? you have to be the poster tough for what happens in america when we treat with disney -- with dignity and america -- dignity and respect the people who come to america. >> i read the newspaper today. it breaks my heart when i hear things like that. i look back at my life, my history, when i first came in the mid to late 80's. i was welcomed. this country opened its arms.
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it said, "the immigrant farm worker, pay your taxes, and you will eventually become a u.s. citizen." now, even in my own life as a brain surgeon, i hear, and sometimes -- i hear comments sometimes about how i should not be here, how it took someone else's spot. it breaks my heart, because the united states was built on the backs of immigrants. we all came into the country with a dream, and i believe that dream. it breaks my heart. there is nothing i can do to change it. i can do my job as a brain surgeon and a researcher. i try to make it better every day for my patients, their families, my family, and the future generations of our country. tavis: i heard that at various points in my career as well,
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that you took someone else's spot. it does not matter what your contributions are to the country. there is always somebody who complained to took someone spot, never mind that there are so few of us and so many of them. when you hear you took somebody's spot at harvard medical school or john hopkins university, what do you hear when you hear that comment? >> i hear hate. i hear people who clearly do not have a great understanding of the american dream. the american dream is based on hard work, on dedication, determination, men wore ship, help, and love for each other. i hear that we are suffering, that we are going to a difficult time in our country. no question about it. but we are making the same mistake we have made through hundreds of years. we say, "who can we blame today
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for the fact that we have a high unemployment rate?" it breaks my heart to hear those comments, to hear the hate people have in the united states nowadays. it is disheartening. however, i still have hope that we have not reached the pinnacle. that is the reason i decided to write this story of adventure, brushes with death. as you remember, the last tuckers of my book is about what i do with my patients, how they inspire me and how they are battling some of the most incredible diseases that affect the human body. tavis: i said i want to touch your hands, because they are obviously gifted. it is quite a story, four hands as gifted as yours are, to start out as a migrant worker in the field. you become a welder. eventually, you become a brain surgeon, a neurosurgeon, using
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the same hands. tell me about these hands. >> do you know how in sports, baseball players hit home runs? football players, they throw and scored touchdowns. i get to do something very few people get to do. i get to touch the human brain. every day, i get to hit home runs, scored touchdowns. the greatest gratification i get from my work is that when i go to the waiting room and talk to the families of my patients, i get standing ovations and tears. they looked at me as a super hero. no amount of money or anything can ever compare to that feeling, to know that the same hands used to do things to put food on the table we eat today. i am just a regular guy.
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i embody the true american dream. i worked hard. i went to school. i am not a genius. i just worked really hard. i want our children to realize that they can fulfill the same dreams. tavis: what the make of the debate about the dream act? >> i live in california. what i make of it is the fact that we are trying. i think we are trying to implement smart loss that will allow us -- laws that will allow us to keep good people and promote growth, no different than what ronald reagan did in the late 80's with me when i first came to the united states. it gives me hope that there are good people thinking of how we can do with the situation now. i do not have a solution. i am not a politician or economist. i am a simple brain surgeon and scientist, trying to do my best.
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but there are people thinking very hard about this, and i congratulate them. tavis: i will go back to the beginning. at 19, you made your way here. you did not go over the fence. you made your way here. tell me how you got here and what you were coming here for in the first place. >> it was simple. when i first came here, as i recollect in my book, this was still the only country where people died to try to come in and filled the american dream. one of my uncles never made it back, my mother's brother. that was in the back of my mind. i was willing to risk my life. all i wanted to do was go back to my mother and father and put food on the table, because we did not have anything to eat, literally. so when i first came i got sent back, and i made it again in my early years, growing up from a
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humble background. i ended up not far away from here, and started working in the fields. eventually, i went from picking tomatoes to driving some sophisticated stuff. what is different from picking tomatoes and driving incredible machines where i got to set like an astronaut? i used to dream as a kid. i watch "star trek." i used to think about this. the famous skills that i used as a welder, as a migrant farm worker, are serious skills i am using today as a brain surgeon. if you look at me in the operating room, i sit in the chair and control the microscope with my mouth. my hands are working. my feet are controlling things. everything is connected, just like working in the field. a lot of those skills have become useful. very few people realize that. you have to have passion for
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everything you do. you have to look the positive side. it does not matter, the job you are doing today. if you have dreams, that will turn into something positive in the future. tavis: you have to admit the brain is a little more sensitive than a tomato. you can smash a tomato and get another one. a little bit different with the human brain. >> i tell you, a lot of the things we take for granted every single day are the things that make us who we are today. i have funny stories in my book. overall, i think of myself as a funny guy, a regular guy. i like to sit with my students. i like to be in the laboratory on friday night. i have passion for life. i love what i do. tavis: again, it is all the killed in the book, but tell me how you eventually got on the track to become the researcher,
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to become a neurosurgeon you are. how did you get on the education track? >> i tried to learn english in community college. i got mentor ship from people based on something i needed. by the time i ended up at uc- berkeley, i had the opportunity to work in a laboratory. one of my first mentors, and joe martinez, said to me, "i will take you to my laboratory, but you are here to explore the universe of the brain." he tied it back to my dreams of being an astronaut when i was a little kid. i got to do this early in my career at uc-berkeley. i used to go into the brains of small animals and study the way their brains were connected. how little did i know that one day that was coined to be my future, exploring the universe of the brain, holding it in my
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hands, looking at cells migrating. my laboratory is one of the few in the world where we can see human cells migrating in the human brain. we take tissue from the operating room. instead of throwing it away, i make my patience part of history. i tell them, "you are going to be part of history, and you are fighting an incredible disease, brain cancer." it does not matter how much money you have. we all die one day. unfortunately, patients with brain cancer die sooner. i give them hope. tavis: how much progress, thanks to work of people like you, are we going to be making on illnesses that attacks the brain? >> in my opinion, over the next 20 to 30 years, we will see real solutions for problems like
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alzheimer's, parkinson's, and brain cancer, thanks to the work of several groups around the world. tavis: the poster child for immigration reform around the country. he is a wonderful neurosurgeon at johns hopkins. his name is alfredo quinones- hinojosa, the turnaround for the rest of us as dr. q. the book is "becoming dr. q: my journey from migrant farm worker to brain surgeon." i am honored to touch your hands one more time. good to have you here. up next, speaking of "star trek ," spock here to talk about another project. zachary quinto. stay with us. zachary quinto is a talented actor whose credits include "he rose -- heroes."
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his latest project is called "margin call." it opens in theaters around the country this weekend. >> what does your model say that means for us here? >> that is where it becomes a projection, but -- >> you are speaking with me, mr. solomon. >> sir, if those assets decrease by just 25% and remain on our books, that loss would be greater than the current market capitalization of this entire company. >> so, what you are telling me is that the music is about to stop. >> -- tavis: that is the best you could do for your film -- jeremy irons, kevin spacey?
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>> it does not get any better than that. stanley tucci, paul betony -- bettany. it is an incredible group of people. tavis: since you just ran that list, that is an all-star cast. what is it about this project that allowed you, as producer, to pull all of those folks to gather around this story line? >> i think it was the material, the caliber of the material, the way the material was written, which is a different point of entry than a lot of stories that deal with the subject matter have been. there is really no effort to cast judgment or break anybody over the coals, or lionize anybody as a hero against this kind of corruption. it is just examining the human side of the impact this catastrophe have on the people who were forced to make the
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decisions that ultimately led to it, because all of them were complicit in that decision making. tavis: we are talking around what the film is. let us go inside after i ask this question. the timing for this project is propitious. i have been reading for this conversation. people have been telling you the timing of this project is bad. but to my mind, the timing could not be any better with that setup. tell me why the timing is good. >> the movie takes place in 2008, at the very beginning of the collapse of the financial system. when we were raising money for the movie, it was just before "wall street 2" about to go into production, just after the crisis happened. people were a little bit squirrely about whether or not they wanted to invest in a movie that had to deal with this,
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whether it would be topical when it came out, whether it would still be relevant. it could not be more relevant now. occupy wall street is spreading throughout the country and the world. we could never have anticipated that, or imagined that. we're certainly grateful. tavis: to your other point of not lionizing, but not demonizing, trying to get to the humanity of what these persons found themselves doing in this 36-hour period -- why not lionize or demonized? certainly, the occupied protesters you mentioned earlier have issues with wall street. >> they have valid issues not only with wall street, but with the government, our culture, and our society. tavis: when not demonize them? >> i feel that cycle is where we have been as a country.
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it is where we continue to go, in a lot of ways. there is a divisiveness in it that i think does not really facilitate any kind of progress. it actually keeps us in a very narrow minded and limited perspective on the fact that ultimately we are all in this together as a society. it goes beyond ideals. it goes beyond right or wrong or good or bad, or liberal and conservative. it goes to where are we taking ourselves as a species, as a race. for me to make a movie that drops a pebble in the pond and allows the ripple to generate a dialogue among the audience, that requires something from the audience -- it does not take them for granted. it asks them to participate. it is a reflection back at them, their degree of comprehension and awareness of what is going
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on and how this is affecting them. tavis: i love projects that get to the humanity of the characters. i think that is how we as moviegoers and film lovers get turned on by projects. something about the project speaks to the humanity and the character, and we feel that. the thing that concerned me about the project is by not -- i do not even want to say demonizing. by not telling the truth, by not putting these guys on the hot seat, i wonder whether there is an empathy that we develop for the characters but they do not deserve. i am trying not to give too much away, but these guys did some pretty big mistakes. you're getting into the humanity of who they are, the dying dog. i am trying to figure out whether we do not develop -- we do develop an empathy they don't
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deserve. >> when you step back and look at how this played out, there were a handful of people who were aware of an complicit in the decisions that led to all of this, but there were thousands of people who were affected by this, and the only choice they had to make was whether or not they accepted the job they took at the firm the worked in. from that point until all this stuff again in 2008, that was the only choice they had, because there were part of something much bigger, something that was going to unfold in one way or another, regardless of their awareness and willingness to participate. that is what we are really looking at with some of these characters. they are making decisions, but there are a host of them -- my character represents that. my character is a trained mit graduate, a trained rocket
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scientist, an engineer. he represents this whole swath of people who were recruited by these firms, making exorbitant amounts of money, utilizing information that is highly focused on other much more honorable pursuits, but able to make a lot more money. they left these jobs. they came into these firms. they were minor players in this machination. when it all blew up, they were left with not only nothing in their own regards financially, or in terms of a career, but imagine the contributions they could have made to culture, to society, to the arts, to science. i guess maybe not the arts, but to science. alyssum and i talked a lot about with the director in terms of my relationship to my character. we are not celebrating anything. we are just painting a picture and allow in the audience to
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determine the grade they see in response. tavis: the patrons had money to give. you are right about the fact -- a respect this about the film. it does, by not proselytizing, put us in a position of deciding for ourselves what we make of these characters, the right, the wrong, the moral issues at play. i assume you wanted it that way, because one of the things we have to decide when we see this is what we think of people who know better but do not do better. >> that is a good point. i think that is the point we are at right now as a society. we are clearly seeing better now than we did three years ago, five years ago, but what are we going to do about it? what is our action going to be? i think occupy wall street has a
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lot of validity, a lot of momentum. i am interested in watching how they define themselves, how they find the clarity, and how they expect to facilitate the change that are asking for. it is one thing to demand change. it is another thing to recognize the enormous work required to generate that change. people have to ask themselves what they are willing to risk. tavis: it is fair to acknowledge that they are not responsible for writing legislation. >> of course. but in terms of their relationships and a larger question of our two-party system -- it is a domino effect, where we are right now. this is a starting point, these conversations. but how we forge relationships with the government that allowed us to reconfigure its structure to a degree we can all participate more? it is obviously very complicated.
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we are at a crossroads that could go one way or another. i think the decisions people are making and the sacrifices and risks that are willing to take will determine a lot of that. tavis: there is obviously a lot of power in this industry. films can make a difference. films can launch investigations and a lot of other things. the think these occupiers you referenced earlier -- do you think that in the anthem and will come of this, or is this just something that is a bunch of noise? >> it is hard to say. it is a big political year we're going into. it is about how people are having these conversations. for every protestor, there is a two-party member there -- tea party member there to invalidate and undermined. the level of conversation needs to shift. if this movement confined send
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clear of the -- can find some clarity and depth, maybe we can have some conversations that are more effective. it remains to be seen. i am watching closely to see how it unfolds. tavis: as are we all. the film is "margin call," produced by and starring zachary quinto. until next time, thank you for watching, and keep the faith. gardell and his popular role on ." -- on "mike and molly." >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with
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your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television]
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