Local Asian civic leaders back Prop. 227

EDUCATION: But the county's Asian-American community remains divided on the anti-bilingual measure.

GARDEN GROVE – Councilmen Ho Chung of Garden Grove and Tony Lam of Westminster stood Thursday with the proponents of Proposition 227 and endorsed the ballot initiative, which would eliminate bilingual education by teaching students English within a year.

At a news conference with Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz and Santa Ana teacher Gloria Matta Tuchman at the Ramada Hotel, Chung and Lam became among the first civic leaders to take a stand on the initiative, which politicians so far have sidestepped.

But Chung, a Republican running for the 68th district Assembly seat, said it isn’t politics stirring his support.

“I learned from my children that English should be learned at the earliest age possible,” he said. Two of Chung’s four daughters learned English through immersion programs after he immigrated to America 30 years ago. “We have to invest in the best possible program – we cannot provide for the interest of one group.”

In 1997, Hispanic children made up 1.1 million of the 1.4 million limited-English students in the state. Vietnamese, Hmong, Chinese, Cambodian, Filipino and Korean children combined totaled about 165,000 of California’s limited-English population.

Orange County districts with large Asian populations, such as Orange and Westminster, petitioned for bilingual waivers by arguing that a shortage of bilingual teachers for their diverse students made a native language program impossible to implement.

The state board granted Westminster a permanent waiver. During negotiations with Orange, it eliminated the waiver process altogether and gave local districts final say on bilingual programs.

But bilingual programs for Asian students exist in several Southern California cities, including a Khmer program in Long Beach and a Korean program in Cerritos.

And the Asian-American community often splits along generational lines on how best to assimilate.

Craig Ihara, coordinator of Asian-American studies at California State University, Fullerton, says the Unz initiative is short-sighted and he is surprised that Chung and Lam would tromp on bilingual programs.

“It is unfortunate that Asians are getting used as a kind of conservative example,” said Ihara, a professor of philosophy. “The initiative is a bad solution. It’s so restrictive and doesn’t take into account the complexity of how to best integrate non-English speaking children into society.”

Vietnamese community activist Lan Quoc Nguyen takes a more moderate stance.

“Don’t ban it and don’t impose it,” Nguyen said, “Let the parents or the students decide what works best for them. Keep the options available.”

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