Teachers Urged to be Defenders of Bilingualism

Education: Speaker at state conference says challenges await proponents of multiculturalism in the wake of Prop. 187

ANAHEIM—The keynote speaker at a statewide conference of bilingual teachers urged thousands of educators Wednesday to fight new movements spawned by Proposition 187 that seek to end bilingual and multicultural instruction.

“More than ever before, you must be public advocates for your students,” said poet and journalist Ruben Martinez, who opened the 20th Annual California Assn. for Bilingual Education conference at Anaheim Convention Center. “We cannot remain silent while children are being attacked.”

Martinez’s remarks come amid calls by conservatives for English-only laws and for an anti-affirmative action initiative on the state ballot in 1996. In December, then-Assemblyman Richard Mountjoy (R-Arcadia) introduced a measure requiring the state to “preserve, protect and enhance” the role of the English language as the official language of the state.

On Wednesday, the estimated 6,000 bilingual teachers attending the four-day conference were encouraged to mail form letters to their state legislators opposing such measures. In the afternoon, a workshop trained teachers how to argue more effectively for bilingual education and answer questions about Proposition 187.

“Bilingual education is being attacked,” said Samuel Rodriguez, an elementary school principal for the Palm Springs Unified District. “We have to renew our efforts and spirits against these proponents. The reality is we aren’t just white or Mexican. We are a mixture, and that’s a good thing.”

In November, state voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 187, which would deny social services, public education and most free medical care to illegal immigrants. The measure is expected to be bogged down in court battles, possibly for years.

Martinez said Proposition 187 and spinoff movements are fueled by an unhealthy nativism, which has ebbed and flowed in California since the “American occupation” began centuries ago. Martinez criticized 187 proponents, whom he characterized as “isolationist,” for being fearful of cultural and ethnic differences.

“People are afraid of you,” he told teachers. “Because you are saying it’s good to be (multicultural).”

However, Martinez said, supporters of bilingual education can learn from their unsuccessful campaign against Proposition 187. Martinez said the display of primarily Mexican flags during huge anti-187 rallies unnecessarily alienated large numbers of voters. The decision to protest a “flag-waving” measure like 187 with more flag-waving was probably a mistake, Martinez said.

“Let’s not reduce ourselves to flags that exclude rather than include,” Martinez said to wide applause. “It’s a tough time, but that Utopia we held in our heads a few years ago is still there. We just have to fight for it.”

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