- SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS
Published Sunday, October 25, 1998, in the San Jose
- Law can't dim deep desire for bilingualism
BY JOE RODRIGUEZ
Mercury News Staff Columnist
DARRELL Cortez will not repeat his father's mistake.
I sat with Darrell and Alicia Cortez in their living room in Willow Glen, a short walk
from a popular school that was overlooked in California's nasty language war. They have
two sons at River Glen school, where students learn in two languages -- English and
Spanish -- and graduate bilingual.
Darrell begins with the education of his father. The old man was born in Southern
California to Mexican immigrants, ``but when he went to school,'' Darrell said, ``he was
disciplined for speaking Spanish.''
``They'd slap him with a ruler, or spank him. So he decided he wouldn't let his children
suffer the same humiliation and pain. That's why he never spoke Spanish to us at home.
That's why I lost the language and have struggled since to master it.''
In California, the ballot has replaced the classroom paddle as cultural enforcer.
Still, I won't argue here and now for civil disobedience. Voters decidedly passed
Proposition 227 to end bilingual education. More than a few Latinos and Asians voted for
it. The new law deserves a fair trial by classroom and court first. Besides, it looks like
227 has enough wiggle room and loopholes to allow bilingual ed to survive to some
EVEN so, we shouldn't merely preserve bilingual ed as we knew it.
We need more River Glen schools. I went there recently and found a community of
students, teachers and parents who know that time, numbers and reason are on their
When the Cortez boys, Ricardo and Emilio, switch languages, your ears tell you they're
United Nations translators in the making.
I sat for a while with two of their schoolmates, Xochitl Mart(acu)nez and Todd Anderson.
These ``almost best friends'' put on quite a show for me, moving between English and
Spanish as they talked about the advantages of speaking two languages.
One-third of the kids at River Glen are like Xochitl, Mexican kids who arrive speaking
only Spanish. One-third are Mexican-Americans, like the Cortez boys, recapturing the
language their parents lost. Another third are white kids like Todd learning Spanish for
the first time.
ACROSS the valley, in the high-tech mecca of Cupertino, Chinese-American parents are
pressing for a Mandarin-English school. If California hates bilingual ed, why do so many
desire bilingualism? Listen to two more River Glen parents:
``Because I want my kids to be able to speak with their grandmother in Mexico, to stay
connected to the country of their ancestors,'' said Marisa Brennan, a Mexican immigrant
married to an Irish-American.
``This is a diverse part of the world,'' Marilyn Dion said. She doesn't speak Spanish but
wants her two kids to learn the language. ``I'd like for them to get along with other people
and take advantage of the globalized world.''
For 30 years, the primary goal of bilingual ed was to ``transition'' immigrant kids into
English and to hell with their native languages. Transition. What an insulting, coercive
word. It tells the Mexican boy and the Asian girl, if you desire American acceptance,
forget how to speak with your mother and father. Forget who you are.
For three decades we drained Spanish and other languages from these children when all
they needed was better help adding English. Failing to see the value of bilingualism, we
denied each one of them a larger world, a brighter future. That was the worst tragedy.
Deep down inside, immigrants and U.S. Latinos have always known they can embrace
American citizenship and remain bilingual. Talk with them at home, next to their family
photos and cultural artworks, and they speak their desire. They want their children to
master English and remain fluent in their native languages. In short, to be truly
bilingual. It's time to stand up and say so.
Joe Rodriguez's columns run in most local news sections on Sundays, Wednesdays and
Fridays and are available through Mercury Center. Write him at the San Jose Mercury
News, 750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, Calif. 95190; or e-mail to
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