First-graders named Nguyen and Garcia and Myers popped to their feet and recited as one:
“Good morning, Mr. Buchanan. “
Patrick Buchanan nodded, checked their schoolwork, faced teacher Maralyn Rohrer and half asked, half stated:
“They all speak English. “
Buchanan, all but out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination six days before California’s Tuesday primary, toured Greenville Fundamental School in Santa Ana on Thursday to praise its English-only instruction, shake little hands and reiterate the themes that form the pillars of his platform: education and immigration reform.
“The immigration laws under Pat Buchanan will be enforced,” he said after visiting a kindergarten, first grade and second grade.
“We will have that security fence. We will move to cut off welfare to all illegal aliens. “
On a day when his chief rival’s wife _ former Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole, wife of Sen. Bob Dole _ was across town at a campaign photo opportunity of her own, Buchanan was using Greenville as a backdrop for his message of English-only instruction, saying it teaches the language faster, giving children who speak other languages the opportunity to “fully participate in the whole society. “
While he chose to deliver his message in Orange County’s most Hispanic city, Greenville itself differs slightly from other schools in the Santa Ana Unified School District: Parents who send their children to the school understand they will be taught only in English, even if it isn’t their first language.
Greenville also sits removed from Santa Ana’s urban center, close enough to Costa Mesa to be surrounded by gated communities.
The school has a dress code. While almost 80 percent of the student body at other Santa Ana elementaries is made up of students who speak little English, only 11 percent of Greenville’s students are classified as limited English proficient.
Buchanan is a frequent critic of bilingual education programs, which teach children some subjects in their native tongue. Native language instruction has become a focus of conservative wrath; about 30 percent of the students who speak other languages are taught in their native language in California.
Santa Ana has 30,000 students classified as limited English proficient. About 10,000 are taught in their own language. The rest are taught in English, as are the students in Greenville.
“I agree with a lot of what Buchanan says; I don’t care for bilingual classes,” said Mexican-born Teresa Rodriguez explaining why she sends her children to Greenville. “I want my kids to do well in English. I don’t want them to have an accent _ there’s a lot of racism out there. “
Student Allison Conley interrupted Buchanan’s tour to regale him with her own campaign stories: Allison, 12, is running as Buchanan in a mock presidential race at MacArthur Fundamental school in Santa Ana.
When someone labeled her a racist, she told Buchanan, she replied “You don’t know what you’re talking about. “
Buchanan laughed, blamed the epithet on the media, and ordered someone to send Allison some campaign materials.
After speaking to children, Buchanan spoke to reporters. Almost everyone wanted to talk strategy and Buchanan complied, speaking on everything from “the lobbyists on K Street” in Washington to opponent Bob Dole’s “business as usual” to the prospects of a third-party candidacy.
Buchanan played coy on the last question, saying only that he wanted to “reshape” the Republican Party.
Buchanan also said education issues should be decided locally, repeated that federal funding should be curtailed, and lended what seemed measured support to a recent House vote that would allow states to bar illegal immigrants from public schools.
“If folks are here illegally,” he said, “they should go back and wait in line. “
Waiting outside the school stood Margie Harper, still wearing a name tag from Thrifty Drug on her black apron. Security had barred Harper from picking up her twins in kindergarten until Buchanan left. In the meantime, she turned her anger on the candidate.
“I don’t like him at all,” she said. “I think he comes across as a racist woman-hater and I would never vote for him. “
Nearby, a piece of the police line that protected Buchanan still fluttered under a foggy sky.
“Linea para la policia,” it said.