Linda Chavez was in Denver earlier this month to launch her new initiative. And I’ve already started getting calls from friends, who are fearful and angry.
They call Chavez La Malinche, which is usually translated as “the traitor.” The label implies much more than that.
La Malinche is a dark legend in Latino history. She was an Aztec noblewoman who served as adviser, translator and mistress for Hernando Cortez, the Spanish conquerer of Mexico.
She claimed she was helping her people by bringing the words of the god-like Cortez to them. But a less generous view is that she played a big role in the destruction of indigenous people during the Spanish conquest. She is reviled by Hispanics on both sides of the border.
What does this all have to do with Linda Chavez?
In the late 1980s, she came to Colorado to spearhead the English Only movement, a divisive campaign that resulted in a state constitutional amendment declaring English the official language. Opponents were labeled disloyal to the United States, an offensive and inacurrate charge.
Chavez, a neoconservative pundit, is president of Washington, D.C.-based One Nation Indivisible, an organization that monitors issues affecting minority groups.
That group is backing a proposal to eliminate bilingual education in Colorado. Chavez said her group chose Colorado as the launching pad for similar efforts. The proposal needs 62,700 signatures to make the November ballot.
n Colorado, students who don’t speak English can attend bilingual classes. Supporters say it keeps students from falling behind while their language skills grow.
But Chavez says students in bilingual classes are not only unfairly segregated but are prevented from learning English quickly.
If Chavez’s measure makes the ballot, voters can expect to hear those arguments and similar ones. The campaign could resemble the nasty English Only experience.
Even if the measure passes, it won’t make much difference, said Roger Martinez, the bilingual education coordinator for the Colorado Department of Education.
First, our state’s constitution gives local districts control over how children are taught – including those non-English-speaking children Chavez says she wants to protect from the evils of bilingualism. The proposal would run into that constitutional provision, he said.
Second, Martinez said, Colorado’s bilingual education programs, except for those in six Front Range districts (none local), are federally funded.
Since federal law supersedes state law, the vast majority of the 25,000 students who are enrolled in bilingual classes will see little change.
So why go through all this divisiveness when the impact will be minimal?
The answer must come from Linda Chavez.
I can’t wait to hear it.