Jewish World Review Oct. 25, 2002 / 18 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez
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Consumer Reports

Bilingual hate and violence | Someone set Rita Montero's Volvo on fire as it sat parked in front of her Denver home last week. Maybe it's just a coincidence that Montero is leading the effort in Colorado to replace failing bilingual education programs with English immersion classes. But she doesn't think so, and neither do I. Colorado and Massachusetts are the two states where ballot initiatives this year will offer voters the chance to eliminate bilingual education, as California did in 1998 and Arizona in 2000.

Three weeks ago, Colorado heiress Pat Stryker donated $3 million to try to defeat Montero's effort, Amendment 31 on the ballot, which until then was leading in the polls nearly two-to-one. Stryker's money has paid for the ugliest ad campaign in the state's history. The radio and TV ads now saturating the Colorado airwaves attempt to scare Anglo parents into thinking that if the measure passes, hordes of Mexican immigrants will invade their children's classrooms. Apparently, the bleeding-heart liberals opposing Amendment 31 aren't above using a little racism to achieve their aims.

No doubt these high-minded citizens are shocked that the campaign would turn violent -- or that Montero herself would become a target. I'm not. I've been in Montero's shoes many times.

Like me, Montero is a Mexican-American who for many years was an activist on the Left. Now having decided that Hispanic children need to learn English if they are to succeed in America -- and they won't if they're instructed in Spanish all day -- Montero has been labeled a traitor, a turncoat and a heretic by those who used to be her allies. For them, this battle has become personal. They're out not just to win but to destroy Montero.

In the early 1970s, I taught in affirmative action programs aimed at Mexican-American students, first at the University of Colorado in Boulder, then at UCLA. When I took on Chicano activists who wanted to lower standards and turn the programs into Anglo-hating indoctrination camps, I, too, became a target. In Boulder, Co., after a heated exchange with one Chicano radical who brandished a switchblade to make his point, I discovered a dead cat on my doorstep the next morning. At UCLA, after more run-ins with Chicano militants, the inside of my car was smeared with excrement and I received bomb threats with weeks of harassment at my home. Years later, when I began to criticize bilingual education programs, protestors frequently shut down my speaking appearances at university campuses, and once even physically attacked me with picket signs, with one man landing a nasty punch on my shoulder.

I've written about these experiences in my new book, "An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal (Or How I Became the Most Hated Hispanic in America)." As I've been out around the country promoting my book, I'm always asked whether I really believe Hispanics hate me. Of course not, but many so-called Hispanic leaders do. They find me -- or more accurately, my views -- threatening. If Hispanics are able to make it in the United States by doing what every other immigrant group has done, by learning English, moving up the economic ladder and assimilating into the cultural mainstream, then ethnic hustlers in the perpetual grievance industry might be out of jobs.

I doubt Rita Montero will be scared off because someone torched her car, any more than I was by the harassment I've faced. I've known Rita for almost 20 years, meeting her first when she was among the many protestors who showed up at one of my speeches. Montero was an early advocate of bilingual education, but she learned through first-hand experience how awful these programs could be. Montero's son was in a bilingual program in Denver, and when she tried to have him removed she ran into a brick wall with program administrators. Her fight led her to run for the Denver school board, where she was elected and served with distinction. A coalition of Chicano militants and Anglo liberals defeated Montero's re-election bid -- and now the same coalition is busy trying to defeat Amendment 31. But if the voters of Colorado have any sense, they'll reject this coalition's fear and hate mongering.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate