MANY ISSUES involving blacks and whites and discussed in terms of the unique historical relationships between these two races in the U.S. However, many of the same patterns found in controversies over black-white issues can also be found in controversies between other groups, here or overseas, even when those other groups have no such historical relationship as that between black and white Americans.
Linda Chavez has just published an insightful and valuable new book on Hispanic Americans entitled Out of the Barrio. Not only does it present many eye-opening facts about Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans and other groups with an Hispanic heritage; the patterns it reveals tell us something about the whole race relations industry as it exists today.
Miss Chavez not only distinguishes fact from myth. She distinguishes Hispanics from the vocal activists who speak in their name.
One of the most divisive issues concerning Hispanic Americans is the issue of what language shall be used to educate their children. So-called “bilingual education” provokes hostile emotions on both sides of the issue.
Many people resent demands that Hispanic children be taught in Spanish, and wonder why they should be demanding and receiving special treatment not given to generations of European immigrants who came to the U.S. and learned English. On the other side, Hispanic activists denounce English-language education for Hispanic children as attempts to strip Spanish-speaking children of their heritage, and some have called it “cultural genocide.”
As Miss Chavez’s book makes clear, this controversy is wholly unnecessary because it is almost wholly over false issues. Hispanics are in fact learning English, just as European immigrants did before them. Most second-generation Hispanics are fluent in English and most third-generation Hispanics speak only English.
What is the shouting all about then? Most of the shouting is being done by a hard core of strident activists, “spokesmen,” who have their own agenda — and who have been very successful politically in imposing that agenda in the public schools.
While most American would applaud the fact that Spanish-speaking immigrants and their children are becoming Americanized in speech and culture, like others before them, to professional activists and ethnic “leaders” this means that their constituency is vanishing before their eyes — unless they can stop it.
So-called “bilingual education” is one of the ways of stopping this natural process of Americanization. In actual practice, it is seldom a learning of two languages. It typically makes only token gestures toward teaching English.
The whole point of bilingualism in practice is to teach Hispanic children in Spanish and to alienate them from the American society around them. That way, the activists and “leaders” preserve their constituency.
Like other activists in other groups, they are looking out for themselves — even at the expense of the people in whose name they speak.
Linda Chavez reports her own observations of Hispanic children speaking English among themselves during lunchtime, even though they are forced to speak Spanish during their classes. She also cites a large-scale government study which showed that two-thirds of the Hispanic children enrolled in so-called “bilingual” programs were already proficient in English.
Yet they are kept in such programs for years, not for their benefit, but for the benefit of someone else’s agenda. Often they are dragged into “bilingual” programs over the objections of their parents, or parental acceptance is obtained through trickery, deception or browbeating.
None of this is unique to Hispanics. Maori children in New Zealand grow up speaking English, but Maori activists are pushing the learning of the Maori language in schools and Maori separatism in college. A similar pattern if found among aboriginal activists in Australia.
As for Hispanics themselves, their progress in the economy follows the pattern of earlier European immigrants, while Hispanic activists are loudly promoting the idealogy and rhetoric of victimhood.
As Miss Chavez points out, Mexican American men who were born in the U.S. are rapidly closing the economic gap between themselves and other American men. Among those proficient in English, the gap has already been closed. Yet activists who lump together the recent immigrants from Mexico with native-born Mexican Americans are able to produce statistics presenting a much gloomier picture.
It is sad enough when the interests and aspirations of various groups are so different that tensions and frictions between them are inevitable. It is a needless tragedy when a group, in fundamental accord with the values and practices of their fellow Americans, nevertheless experiences a polarization brought on by the words and deeds of strident activists pursuing their own agenda.
Dr. Thomas Sowell is an economist and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution in Stanford, Calif.