Sen. Lopez's stance on bilingual education a mystery

Come home, Joe Eddie.

That was the message from 30 Latino parents who huddled in
the garage of a Glendale home Monday to share horror stories
about bilingual education programs and rally support for a
proposed ballot initiative that would end them.

There were coffee and tostadas. And there was an empty chair
set aside for a friend who wasn’t there but should have been.

The friend is state Sen. Joe Eddie Lopez, D-west Phoenix, who
opposes the initiative and who has emerged as the Legislature’s
top champion of bilingual instruction.

Lopez has proposed a bill that would increase funding for
bilingual programs but require that students be pulled from the
classes upon parental request.

But there’s no support for Lopez’s bill among the parents in the
Glendale garage. There’s only confusion about why Lopez has
lined up against them.

One of the confused is Norma Alvarez, who has known Lopez
for nearly 3O years. A woman from a working-class family,
Alvarez is the mother of two children who attended a Glendale
school district. She is also a pioneer in “la resistencia”, the
resistance of Latino parents to bilingual education. She started
her crusade about a decade ago — long before Californians
ended bilingual education with Proposition 227 and long
before a group of Latino parents in Tucson proposed an
initiative for Arizona.

Alvarez first got on her soapbox when the program started to
affect her family. When her now-grown son, Jeffrey, got roped
onto a bilingual track for something as arbitrary as his surname
and despite the fact that he didn’t speak Spanish, Alvarez
raised hell. And raised the ire of district officials, who not-so-
politely told her that they knew better and to get lost.

Aided by a community advocate, Alvarez succeeded in
removing her son and, later, other students from the bilingual

That advocate was Rosie Lopez. That’s right, Lopez. Rosie is
Sen. Lopez’s wife.

West Phoenix is a small world.

Rosie Lopez, founder of the Arizona Hispanic Community
Forum, has a reputation as a fighter for educational issues and
parents’ concerns. And so does her husband.

Rosie Lopez is a former bilingual teacher. She supported
bilingual education then, and she still does. But she also
believes that parents should have a voice in their children’s
education and a choice in whether they stay in bilingual
programs. Her years in the trenches convinced her that school
district officials don’t always yield to parents or even listen to

Sen. Lopez has said that he can “sympathize” with parents who
want their kids out of bilingual education and favor English
instruction. But Lopez can do more than sympathize with
those parents. He can empathize with them.

That’s because, nearly 20 years ago, the Lopez’s oldest son was
placed, without his parents’ permission, in a bilingual program
at a junior high school in the Isaac Elementary School District.

Rosie Lopez, who did not grant permission for the placement,
believes that it happened because of her son’s skin color and
surname. She went to the school and, like Norma Alvarez a
decade later, raised hell. She demanded that her son be
removed. Faced with the complaint of a bilingual teacher,
district officials complied.

The Lopez family’s personal history leaves Alvarez bewildered.

“I feel bad for him. I don’t understand why Joe Eddie is saying
all this and supporting bilingual education,” Alvarez said.

“He knows better. He used to help us so much.”

Others in the room shake their heads. They say that Sen. Lopez
is being pressured by the bilingual lobby to defend a program
that nearly swallowed up his own son.

The mystery doesn’t end with one state senator. It extends to
those legions of Mexican-American professionals who support
bilingual programs despite strong opposition to them among
low-income Latinos and recent immigrants.

In a poll by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research
organization, 56 percent of Latino immigrants opposed
bilingual education.

This class division was broached in a Jan. 31 article in the New
York Times Magazine, which noted:

“The beneficiaries (of bilingual education) are much less
attached to it than its advocates, the professionals and
academics who already have the luxury of being firmly
ensconced in the middle class.”

Norma Alvarez is holding out hope that her old friend, Sen.
Lopez, will break his sentimental attachment to bilingual
education and rejoin his old friends. And in case he does, she’s
saving him a chair.

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