Fear, hate can't stop English-only cause
Denver Post, November1, 2002
By Linda Chavez
Someone set Rita Montero's Volvo on fire as it sat parked in front of her
Denver home last week. Maybe it's just a coincidence that Montero is leading the
effort in Colorado to replace failing bilingual education programs with English
immersion classes. But she doesn't think so, and neither do I.
Colorado and Massachusetts have ballot initiatives this year offering voters the
chance to eliminate bilingual education, as
California did in 1998 and Arizona did in 2000.
Three weeks ago, Colorado heiress Pat Stryker donated $3 million to try to
defeat Montero's effort, Amendment 31 on the ballot, which until then was
leading in the polls nearly two to one. Stryker's money has paid for the ugliest
ad campaign in the state's history. The radio and TV ads now saturating the
Colorado airwaves attempt to scare Anglo parents into thinking that if the
measure passes, hordes of Mexican immigrants will invade their children's
classrooms. Apparently, the bleeding-heart liberals opposing Amendment 31 aren't
above using a little racism to achieve their aims.
No doubt these high-minded citizens are shocked that the campaign would turn
violent - or that Montero herself would
become a target.
I'm not. I've been in Montero's shoes many times. Like me, Montero is a
Mexican-American who for many years was an activist on the left. Now having
decided that Hispanic children need to learn English if they are to succeed in
America - and they won't if they're instructed in Spanish all day - Montero has
been labeled a traitor, a turncoat and a heretic by those who used to be her
allies. For them, this battle has become personal. They're out not just to win
but to destroy Montero.
In the early 1970s, I taught in affirmative-action programs aimed at
Mexican-American students, first at the University of Colorado in Boulder, then
at UCLA. When I took on Chicano activists who wanted to lower standards and turn
the programs into Anglo-hating indoctrination camps, I, too, became a target. In
Boulder, after a heated exchange with one Chicano radical who brandished a
switchblade to make his point, I discovered a dead cat on my doorstep the next
morning. At UCLA, after more run-ins with Chicano militants, the inside of my
car was smeared with excrement and I received bomb threats and was harassed at
my home. Years later, when I began to criticize bilingual education programs,
protesters frequently shut down my speaking appearances at university campuses,
and once even physically attacked me with picket signs, with one man landing a
nasty punch on my shoulder.
I've written about these experiences in my new book, "An Unlikely Conservative:
The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal (Or How I Became the Most Hated Hispanic in
America)." As I've been around the country promoting my book, I'm always asked
whether I really believe Hispanics hate me. Of course not, but many so-called
Hispanic leaders do. They find me - or more accurately, my views - threatening.
If Hispanics are able to make it in the United States by doing what every other
immigrant group has done, by learning English, moving up the economic ladder and
assimilating into the
cultural mainstream, then ethnic hustlers in the perpetual grievance industry
might be out of jobs.
I doubt Rita Montero will be scared off because someone torched her car, any
more than I was by the harassment I've faced. I've known Rita for almost 20
years, meeting her first when she was among the many protesters who showed up at
one of my speeches. Montero was an early advocate of bilingual education, but
she learned through firsthand experience how awful these programs could be.
Montero's son was in a bilingual program in Denver, and when she tried to have
him removed she ran into a brick wall with program administrators. Her fight led
her to run for the Denver school board, where she was elected and served with
distinction. A coalition of Chicano militants and Anglo liberals defeated
Montero's re-election bid - and now the same coalition is busy trying to defeat
Amendment 31. But if the voters of Colorado have any sense, they'll reject this
coalition's fear and hate-mongering.
Former Denverite Linda Chavez is president of the Center for Equal Opportunity,
a Washington-based think tank, and was director of public liaison in the Reagan