- SACRAMENTO BEE
MAY 21, 1999
- Zedillo reads in Spanish to California students
despite English-immersion law
By MICHELLE DeARMOND
Associated Press Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo read a Spanish-language
version of Gov. Gray Davis' favorite children's book to a class of fifth graders Thursday
as the pair finished a three-day tour of California, where voters banned bilingual
education just one year ago.
Zedillo's rather animated reading of "The Little Engine That Could" followed Davis' own
reading of the book in English. Zedillo spoke primarily in Spanish during the historic
trip with Davis, who opposed the controversial ballot initiative Proposition 227 that
abolished most bilingual education programs in the state and replaced them with
Although the bilingual presentation did not violate the state's anti-bilingual law, it was
in stark contrast to the English-only schooling mandated under Proposition 227. Davis,
who did not mention the law during his speech, has not talked about bilingual education
much since taking office, but appeared to be making a statement by condoning the use of
Spanish at the public school.
Sheri Annis, press secretary for English for the Children, the sponsoring organization
for the initiative, praised Davis and Zedillo for showing the students the importance of
English. Because the men did not actually teach a class, they were not in violation of the
law, she said.
"We're happy to know that these children are bilingual, and the best way to ensure that
Spanish-speaking kids are bilingual is to teach them English," Annis said. "English is
seen as a very important language for business and science and that's why they teach
English to the kids in Mexico."
Annis noted, however, that the organization hopes Davis doesn't try to undermine the new
"What we hope is that Gov. Davis will ensure that the will of California voters is not
frustrated by circumventing 227, of which we are now seeing attempts in the
Assembly," she said. "We think that Gov. Davis would want to ensure ... that he does not
turn his back on 61 percent of the voters."
Proposition 227 was designed to replace bilingual education with a one-year English
immersion program to get children quickly into the mainstream. Parents were allowed
to apply for waivers under certain conditions, although parents at Breed Elementary
School did not choose to seek one.
Nonetheless, teachers do speak in Spanish sometimes to the students at Breed, especially
during the introduction of a new concept, said Principal Katty Iriarte. The school used to
have bilingual education programs, but switched to the new system after Proposition
227 passed and now purchases English-language materials and emphasizes acquisition of
"They understand both languages so it's no problem. They can switch back and forth with
us," she said.
Breed's system appears to runs contrary to Proposition 227, Annis said, adding that
schools across the state have interpreted the law's "nearly all" English instruction
liberally to allow more Spanish than the authors intended.
The bilingual presentation was one of several public appearances in which the two
leaders lauded one another and advocated improved relations between their governments.
Davis, who peppered his speeches with Spanish phrases, has worked to repair ties to the
country now that former Gov. Pete Wilson, who supported measures considered
unfriendly to immigrants, has left office.
"We have all sorts of reasons why we should come together," Davis said. "God made us
neighbors. God made us next-door neighbors and he expects us to act like good next-door
Davis also announced new investments in Mexico by three California firms.
Sempra Energy International is helping to build a 23-mile pipeline linking California to
Mexico. Novazone will provide water filtering equipment for Mexican resorts and
hospitals. And Leap Wireless International will help provide digital phone services in
four Mexican cities.
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