Immigrants imagine a new language 'right'

October 08, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

I bought my issue of the Final Call - the apocalyptically named newspaper of the Nation of Islam - in the usual place: the corner of Northern Parkway and Wabash Avenue. I slipped the nattily attired young man a buck and he handed me a paper.

I had scanned the front-page headlines even before I bought the paper. "How the IRS wrecks lives," read one. Another read, "Activists struggle against alcohol, tobacco ads." It sounded like the stuff I could get in any newspaper. Were my friends in the Nation of Islam trying to go mainstream on me?

The most interesting article was inside, on Page 9, covering an issue that should be of grave concern to every American. "Latinos battle for bilingual education," it read. Rosalind Muhammad, the West Coast bureau chief of the Final Call, presented both sides of the issue. But it's the quotes of the pro-bilingual education folks that warrant scrutiny. Here is an excerpt from Muhammad's article:

"Critics are up in arms over a new statewide campaign to end bilingual education in public schools. Many of them charge that the initiative, dubbed 'English for the Children,' is racist and unfairly targets Latino children."

Ah, there's that "r" word again - racist. Well, we've had anyone opposing affirmative action labeled a racist, so why not anyone opposing bilingual education? Never mind that many Hispanics oppose bilingual education. Never mind that some studies

have shown that English-as-a-second-language (ESL) curricula benefit Hispanic students more than bilingual education does. ESL courses would result in Hispanic students learning only English. And among some Hispanic activists, that may not be a desirable goal. It was a chap named Hector Perez-Pachenco who really got to the meat of the matter in the Final Call. Muhammad's article continues:

" 'This is just an extenuation of Proposition 187,' said activist Hector Perez-Pachenco. 'They see our numbers (population) rising, that we're going to be the majority in another 10 years. So little by little, they are taking away our rights.' "

So bilingual education is no longer just a tool of dubious effectiveness used to teach immigrant children English. It is now, according to Perez-Pachenco, a "right." That must come as a shock to those descendants of immigrants whose forefathers didn't have the benefit of bilingual education. It must come as a shock to today's immigrants - Hispanic, Asian, Caribbean, Russian - who want their children taught in English.

But look closely at Perez-Pachenco's comment. It's clear that among at least some Hispanics - probably not a majority, thank heavens - learning English for the purpose of making an easier transition to American citizenship is clearly not the goal. The goal is for Hispanics to become a majority in California, perhaps the entire Southwest. What would follow then would be some sort of at least philosophical, if not physical, reunion with Mexico. Think of it as a Hispanic Anschluss.

That's not the worst of what we must infer from Perez-Pachenco's harangue. A closer perusal of his statement reveals a certain mentality that most Americans will reject almost by reflex. It's not an "anti-immigrant" frenzy sweeping the nation that led to the passage of Proposition 187, which denies California education and health benefits to illegal aliens. It's this "gimme" attitude that some liberal Americans want to inculcate among immigrants both legal and illegal.

It seems in rather poor form for an immigrant to come to the United States and demand bilingual education as a right. Immigrants coming to the United States should think about what they owe their adopted country, not what their adopted country owes them. They shouldn't come here claiming rights not in existence, especially when once they land on these shores they have the benefit of the Bill of Rights, which extend to them more liberties than they probably had in their country of origin.

The only exceptions might be - and this is a very strong might - those immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, countries where the United States has in the past supported tyrants dedicated to crushing democracy, tyrants who have made conditions worse for their people. It may well be argued that immigrants fleeing those countries for the United States are escaping situations pinheaded American politicians made worse.

It's a distinction that probably escaped Perez-Pachenco. It will be interesting to see if, when the Hispanic majority does indeed come to California, that majority still considers itself part of the United States.

Pub Date: 10/08/97

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