Bilingual issue a sore that won't soon heal

VOTE: Many express concern about the deep impact of the bitterly disputed measure.

This much seems clear: The debate over the “English for the Children”
ballot measure will continue long past election day.

That’s particularly true in Hispanic neighborhoods, where opposition to Propostion 227 was the most vociferous – but where significant numbers nonetheless cast votes in support of the measure Tuesday.

“(The ballot initiative) has upset a lot of people in the Hispanic community, but it is something we must do,” said Hector Cardenas, 32,
of Santa Ana, who voted for 227. “Our children aren’t learning. We must try something new.”

A Register computer analysis suggested that many Hispanics agreed. The initiative, which would require limited-English students to leave bilingual instruction behind after one year, performed surprisingly well in some neighborhoods with high Hispanic concentrations.

Statewide, the initiative passed by a overwhelming 61 percent to 39 percent margin. In Orange County, more than 70 percent of voters approved the measure.

Still, many voters expressed grave concerns about the impending deep impact of the initiative, which now faces a legal challenge.

Imelda Ramirez, 18, a Santa Ana High School senior who voted for the first time Tuesday, said her decision to vote against the measure was “very personal for me.”

“It is not fair to pressure a child to learn English quickly,”
she said. “A year is just not enough time. I feel lots of students will feel more inadequacy about themselves, and be less successful and possibly give up on themselves if this passes. And that will just make them less prepared for life later on.”

The initiative also found opposition in areas that supported the measure by large margins. In Newport Beach, John Hoover, 37, voted against 227 because,
“Students will need more than a year of English education to be competent at their grade level.

“I’m not convinced bilingual education is working, but I’d like to see some kind of compromise. I (fear) we’ll get a lot of students in classrooms who can’t communicate and can’t comprehend.”

More typical in affluent areas such as Newport was the sentiment that limited-English students must be expected to learn English sooner.

“I think so many foreigners don’t speak English at home that they don’t learn,” said Lottie Jennings, 68, of Newport Beach.

Yet other voters said their decision wasn’t an easy one, reflecting the complexity of the issue. Elinor Johnson, a 50-ish voter at Davis School in Santa Ana, said she voted yes after some soul searching.

“I was going to vote no, but I changed my mind,” she said.
“They need to be pushed, or else they will never learn the language that they need to get ahead in life. I came from Germany, and I had to learn quickly, and I did.

“That’s pretty hard-nosed, isn’t it? If I was Chicana, maybe I’d think differently.”


Register staff writer Eric Carpenter contributed to this report.

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