We’ve seen or heard the references a couple of times now.

The initiative that would eliminate bilingual education in Arizona allegedly will pit Latino against Latino. An initiative opponent refers dismissively to a few Latinos “upfront” in the push to get the initiative passed.

I fear what we have here is an invitation to a Latino bloodletting.

Let’s not play.

You know what I mean: Support the initiative, bad Latino. Oppose the initiative, good Latino. Or vice versa, depending on how you feel about bilingual ed.

Understand, I stand by an earlier assertion that this initiative will tap into a large reservoir of cultural jinogism here – that folks Brown and White will not look at the facts and make a measured decision. They will instead allow the initiative to appeal to fears about loss of national identity.

Most of the responses I’ve gotten bear this out. Most folks talk about English being the language of this country, the language of success. The worst of the responses, synopsized, talk about a gutter people and their gutter language.

Time out. Of course, English is the language of success in this country. No argument from me nor likely from anyone opposing the initiative.

Stripped of all of the emotion, this is simply about determining the best strategy for teaching non-English speakers.

I just happen to think that a one-size-fits-all initiative shouldn’t shape strategies for teaching kids who learn at different levels and speeds. More important, ideology has no place driving education policy, and I suspect that fear of the “Brown hordes” will, in fact, be the motivation behind much of the vote on this initiative, no matter what the initiative sponsors intend.

That doesn’t mean every person who votes for this initiative is a jingoist. But I’ve heard from enough people on the issue now to know that making a passionate statement about the primacy of English is what much of this will be about in the days ahead. But – deep sigh – the primacy of English isn’t even being questioned.

Here’s the thing. There is no litmus test for being Latino. You can support this initiative – indeed, even be “upfront” and center about it – and not be a race traitor, the tag I know some will attempt to apply.

If, in bygone days, you didn’t boycott grapes, that’s OK too.

Your name might be Garcia, but your Spanish is only good enough to order the chile verde off the menu. You’re still Latino.

Heck, you can have red hair, freckles and your name can be Smith and you still get to be a Latino.

Latinos have been railing for years about attempts to homogenize us – make us seem as if we are of one thought and mind on everything.

It’s time to walk the talk.

Yes, issues like bilingual education – when we know much of the initiative’s ultimate support will come from nativist sentiments – make it difficult.

But there can be honest disagreements even about bilingual education among Latinos and others. There can be passionate arguments, pro and con, but there needn’t be a bloodletting.

There was much to regret about the drive, led by Ward Connerly, an African-American, to roll back affirmative action in California a few years ago. But among the most painful portion was when folks took to calling Connerly a sellout or worse for his views.

Yes, some Latinos will be very high profile supporting this initiative (though I think they’ll still be vastly outnumbered). But being wrong isn’t necessarily tantamount to selling out.

Reach Pimentel at [email protected] or (602) 444-8210. His column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

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