Latinos, Jews to Join in Historic Boyle Heights Celebration
The Jewish and Latino communities will join Sunday at Fiesta Shalom, celebrating their joint past, present and future ties and the achievements of the State of Israel since its independence.
A combination of street fair, live music and dance, food booths, interactive workshops, exhibits, children’s activities and a few rousing speeches, the fiesta will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and play out, appropriately, in front of the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights.
It was at the historic synagogue that the Israeli flag was hoisted for the first time in Los Angeles on May 15, 1948, the day after the Jewish state declared its independence.
For nostalgia buffs, there will be a one-time return of Canter’s Deli, a Boyle Heights institution before it moved west to Fairfax.
Stressing Jewish/Israeli and Latino connections will be Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Sheriff Lee Baca, Israel Consul General Yaakov Dayan, LA City Councilman Jose Huizar of Boyle Heights and John Fishel, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
For the first time, the Jewish Journal and the Spanish-language daily La Opinion have jointly published a bilingual English-Spanish insert in their May 15 editions, with both publications looking toward future collaborations.
Planning for the fiesta started last year, shortly after Dayan took up his diplomatic post in Los Angeles and advanced the idea in a meeting between Huizar and Gil Artzyeli, the Israeli deputy consul general.
“As a Latino growing up in Boyle Heights, I know very well about the community’s storied Jewish and Latino histories,” Huizar said. “Fiesta Shalom gives us the unique opportunity to come together to celebrate these two cultures that have been so influential in making Boyle Heights the vibrant community that it is today.”
Boyle Heights evolved into Los Angeles’ largest shtetl in the five years following World War I, when the city’s Jewish population rose from 19,000 to 45,000, and remained predominant until the late 1940s.
Before the Jewish exodus westward after World War II, Boyle Heights boasted 27 synagogues and shtiebels. The Breed Street Shul, formally Congregation Talmud Torah, was the jewel in the crown and is now being restored, after years of neglect, at the initiative of the Jewish Historical Society.
In those earlier days, Brooklyn Street, the main thoroughfare, was lined with stores advertising their wares in Yiddish, and the “official” Jewish bordello stood at the corner of First St. and Boyle Ave.
As a growing number of Latinos, as well as African-Americans and Asians, moved in, Boyle Heights became a vibrantly diverse community, as Rosalie Turrola, a high school counselor and life-long resident of Boyle Heights, recalled.
“I remember everyone lighting candles on Friday nights, and I loved the potato pancakes,” she told The Journal. “I had a nice neighbor who always called me ‘a shayne maidele’ [a pretty girl].”
Fiesta Shalom has a couple of historical antecedents. In 1894, Max Mayberg organized the first Fiesta de Los Angeles, featuring a carnival and parade, to make the city’s multi-ethnic citizenry forget the economic miseries of the 1893 Depression.
In the late 1940s, the Soto-Michigan Jewish Community Center in Boyle Heights pioneered the Jewish community’s outreach to other ethnic groups through the Friendship Festival, which brought together 12,000 “Mexicans, Japanese, Negro and Jewish youths in a cooperative venture,” wrote historian George Sanchez.
In its modern incarnation, Consul General Dayan said, “Fiesta Shalom will, we hope, send the message of unity and mutual support between communities and Israel from Los Angeles to the entire United States.” The Jewish Federation’s Fishel noted that “the festivities in Boyle Heights celebrate the many community projects that are strengthening bonds between the Latino and Jewish communities throughout Los Angeles.”
Among the sponsors of Fiesta Shalom are the Israeli consulate and tourism office, Jewish Federation, El Al, Jewish Journal, Canter’s Deli and various Latino organizations and officials.
High Ideals and a Hot Bod
Writers as varied as Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott have written of the exotic beauty of Jewish women. But what about Jewish men?
In “It Happened in Havana,” a new play by Raul De Cardenas, that is playing at the Bilingual Foundation for the Arts, Marcos, a Jewish Cuban American, attracts the attention of three sisters and other assorted women, who describe him as “an appetizer,” a “dessert” and other delectations. They can tell that there is something different about him, an idealistic streak, a fierce integrity leavened by a kind of playfulness. Only later does he tell them he is Jewish.
De Cardenas, 67, is Catholic, but his work is informed by family ties to Jews and a lifetime of impressions. He remembers watching newsreels of concentration camps when his parents took him to movie theaters toward the end of World War II. And he grew up with a Jewish aunt and Jewish cousins.
In Marcos, De Cardenas has created a dreamer who is pragmatic without losing his humanity. In the plot’s love triangle, there is one woman who shares his imagination and independence.
The play conspicuously recalls “Romeo and Juliet” with its lovers from warring families, but lacks that play’s tragedy, taking on instead the magical quality of some of the Bard’s later plays. Cuba here becomes a stand-in for the enchanted island in “The Tempest” with Fernanda, the matriarch, a bigoted, female version of Prospero, trying to cast a spell over and rule the lives of all of the subjects in her sphere.
While the Bilingual Foundation for the Arts typically stages plays that were written or take place in the Renaissance, “Havana” is set on Christmas Eve, 1902, just after Cuba has become an independent republic.
A nice touch occurs when Claudia, a vibrant idealist herself, quotes Cuban patriot Jose Marti, only to have her sentence finished by Marcos, quoting Moses. The seamless connection underscores a shared spirit and the dream of all people to be free.
“You can send a message much better with a smile than a tear,” De Cardenas says.
“It Happened In Havana” runs through May 21. All remaining performances are in Spanish: Thurs., Fri., Sat. at 8 p.m.; matinees Sat. at 4 p.m., Sun. at 3 p.m. Bilingual Foundation for the Arts, 421 N. Avenue 19, Lincoln Heights, (323) 225-4044.
Not Our Movie
Contrary to Rob Eshman’s analysis, protests against “Paradise Now” did not increase the film’s potential audience (“Not Our Movie,” March 10). It already commanded attention because of its Golden Globe Award and Oscar nomination and because it was made by a Palestinian (actually an Israeli Arab who lives in Europe) and had a riveting subject: Palestinian suicide bombers.
But Eshman should not be excusing — let alone praising — the film. The film is intentionally dishonest. It whitewashes suicide terrorism, portraying it as a normal response to frustration, political conflict or even, as filmmaker Abu Assad told a University of Judaism audience, to delays at a checkpoint. That’s not normal. It’s pathological.
Furthermore, the film ignores the cultural sickness that creates suicide bombers: the Palestinian Authority’s relentless indoctrination and incitement to hate and violence, the jihadist clerics promoting genocide, the glorification of shaheeds in schools and the media.
In addition, it is absurd to claim, as Eshman did, that the film did not show Israeli victims only because it was made from a Palestinian perspective.
The suicide missions are not about despondent young men driven to suicide, although this is exactly what Assad wants audiences to think. They are about committing mass murder.
Dead and dismembered Jews, including children, are the suicide bombers’ prize trophies, the reason they are adulated. The more Jews maimed, the better.
Finally, the film relentlessly and falsely blamed Israel for the Palestinians’ self-destructive choices. Just as Leni Riefenstahl made an effective film about Nazism, so Abu Assad has made one about Palestinian terrorism. Both are rank propaganda and hide monstrous facts.
Protests of “Paradise Now” were not just in order: It would have been the height of irresponsibility not to raise a cry of outrage.
Roberta P Seid
While I always appreciate the clarity, independence and appropriateness of your editorials, I have to say that the [“Not Our Movie”] editorial was really special. It reminded me — particularly in these times when the pursuit of truth seems so undervalued — of what is best about being Jewish.
Whether laughing or crying, Jews survive and thrive in democratic societies, not by pandering to their own weaknesses and insecurities, but by a zealous faith in truth. Your lucid explication of the Palestinian movie moved me the way that only the best journalism can.
Michael B. Lehrer
Thanks Rob Eshman for your perceptive and brave defense of a controversial film that carries the same message as “Munich.” We, as Jews, must try to see our enemies not just as monsters who commit inhuman acts with the intent to destroy us, but as human beings driven by circumstances and infected by unscrupulous religious and political leaders to do their dirty work, often left with conflicting feelings and doubts about the meaning of their own actions.
Since we must share our world with them, we must keep searching for a way to reach them, to communicate with them, or we will never get beyond the horrendous deadlock in which we are stuck. Film is an effective tool to achieve this.
Jill Stewart (“A Definite Maybe,” March 10) scolds Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for opposing Proposition 227, the initiative that dismantled bilingual education in California. But Villaraigosa was right. Contrary to Stewart’s claim, English-language reading and writing skills have not improved dramatically among Latino children since Proposition 227 passed.
A recent and widely publicized report from the American Institutes for Research and West Ed found that dismantling bilingual education did not result in any improvement in the English language of minority children in California.
Less widely known is the scientific research. Scientific studies consistently show that children in bilingual programs typically score higher on tests of English than do children in all-English immersion programs. In fact, three major reviews coming to this conclusion were published last year in professional, scientific journals.
Klinghoffer vs. Berenbaum
David Klinghoffer is not fooling anyone in his response to Michael Berenbaum’s letter (Letters, March 3) requesting he withdraw his op-ed piece defending convicted felon Jack Abramoff. Yes, Klinghoffer’s op-ed piece did include a plea for sympathy for Abramoff, but the real subtext of the article was a not-so-subtle argument that Abramoff’s sins are understandable, explainable and excusable.
Erin Aubry Kaplan
On Feb. 10, we were proud to be members of Temple Emanuel (“A.M.E., Rhythm and Jews,” Feb. 24). Approximately 700 people filled the congregation with an energy we had not previously experienced at a synagogue service.
This is the beginning of a journey that is generating much enthusiasm in both congregations, a journey toward becoming neighbors in a very divided city. It is unfortunate that the perceived faux pas described by Erin Aubry Kaplan clouded her experience of the evening.
If we are to tell each other our stories through music or words, we will stumble at times. As we get to know each other as individuals instead of congregations, we hope those awkward moments, experienced when we first reach out to each other, will evolve into bonds of friendship as we work to make our city a better place. We are proud to be participants in that journey.
Diane Vanette and Janet Noah
Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills
Get a Life
I read the article, “Get a Life, George,” (March 10) with great interest. However, I was — both as a Jew and “Seinfeld” fan — appalled to find George Costanza being compared to the notorious Jew-haterHaman.
Rabbi Daniel Korobkin writes the following: “This annoyed Haman to no end (I think his last name was Costanza).” Hence, the Costanzas, who are never portrayed as anti-Semitic, are compared to one of the most notorious Jew-haters of that time and in general.
This is especially gruesome, since both Costanza [men] are played by Jewish actors: Jason Alexander (né Greenspan) and Jerry Stiller (Ben Stiller’s father). Should they be hung like Haman? Should their names be cursed with a chorus of groggers, clanging pots, cap guns and sirens like Haman’s name every time it is mentioned? I hope not.
Furthermore, the Costanzas, who never hurt anyone physically, Jewish or not, are compared with a historical figure who planned a pogrom that would have all Jews of Persia murdered. A family that couldn’t harm a fly, not to speak of humans, is compared to a descendent and heir of Amalek, about whom the Torah says the following: “Remember what Amalek did to you as you were leaving Egypt. He happened upon you, and struck the weakest people trailing behind, when you were exhausted. And he did not fear God” (Deut. 25:17-18).
Is this really as bad as the quote by George: “Yes! Yes! Everybody has to like me. I must be liked!”
Korobkin writes: “Because of Haman’s obsession with image, he decided that … he had to wipe out the entire Jewish people.” Where does George Costanza fit in here?
In conclusion, it can be said that Korobkin might be very well versed in Tanakh and Talmud but not in “Seinfeld.” Comparing harmless characters of this TV show to one of the worst Jew haters and pogrom planners is nothing short of historical relativism.
We are obliged to drink so much on Purim that we can’t differentiate between “Haman is bad” and “Mordechai is good.” However, no matter how much I’ll drink, I think I’ll be able to differentiate George Costanza (may he live to 120) from Haman (may his name be cursed).
Rob Eshman’s review of “Paradise Now” adds credibility to the movie’s critics (“Not Our Movie,” March 10). By admonishing one of the would-be bombers that his act would “destroy us” (Palestinian recognition) is precisely the point. We should not be bothered about innocent civilians about to be murdered; our only concern is to have the world believe in our cause.
Contrary to the two anti-heros’ impoverished circumstances, many of the bombers have been identified as middle class (at least by Palestinian standards), so their intended murderous act is not out of economic desperation but cold blooded and motivated by a warped ideology.
“The film and its director were warmly received at a sold-out audience of nearly 500 at the University of Judaism [UJ]” (Where in the World Is ‘Paradise’?” March 3).
I was at the screening at the UJ for “Paradise Now.” The moderator was insensitive to some of his audience for the reason that some of the audience have family in Israel who are members of the Israel Defense Forces and citizens of Israel.
This moderator, who contributes to your paper, opened with the greeting, “Did you enjoy the movie?” What’s to enjoy? Watching murderers being groomed and selected from poor people and being brainwashed?
I think the audience was mostly left wing. I didn’t stay for the panel, as we had to leave, but the director of the movie and the movie should not be glorified, because it sends a message of “murderers who are really human beings” — a contradiction in terms.
Whatever the cinematic skill of the film, it should not have been shown in that venue. I wrote the UJ and many of the rabbis and teachers there, and I am writing you — there were objections to the screening.
Your March 10 opinion page contained articles by Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post (“Every Jew Is on the Front Lines of War”) and Wafa Sultan an Arab American psychologist (Middle Ages and 21st Century Clashing”). Glick whines that Jews are perpetual victims and that the Kadima gang stinks, whereas Sultan extols Jewish virtues and accomplishments.
Unfortunately, Glick refuses to see the forest (either Israeli or Palestinian) for the trees. Glick does not realize that the cause of anti-Semitism is jealously.
The enormous accomplishments of so few people in Israel and the Diaspora foments hatred by those who are failures in our modern world. Smart Jews know that Israel cannot be destroyed militarily and that the West Bank is an unnecessary burden. The Gaza disengagement gave Israel a great worldwide public relations boost.
I believe that when a Palestinian state is finally established, whether behind a wall or not, worldwide anti-Semitism will no longer be as fashionable as it is today.
Martin J. Weisman
Jonathan Klein may not realize it, but he is indeed helping to save countless lives by “refusing to consume the flesh of once-living, breathing animals” (“I Love You, Carnivore,” March 3). It is estimated that each vegetarian saves 83 animals every year.
The Jewish religion has an entire code of laws mandating that animals be treated with compassion. “Tsa’ar ba’alei hayim” is the commandment to prevent the suffering of all living beings.
In addition to saving animals, vegetarians also save more water, land and resources than just about anyone else on the planet. And, of course, vegetarians are far less likely to die from heart disease, cancer and other diseases, so we can spend more time with our loved ones.
I have been vegan for 17 years, and I don’t miss meat one bit, because mock meats have basically the same taste and texture as meat. There is a lot of helpful information on vegetarianism at JewishVeg.com. I encourage everyone to check it out.
To read more letters this week, visit www.jewishjournal.com.THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; or fax: (213) 368-1684
Think of the American Jewish and Latino communities as two longtime friends who have just decided to get more serious.
After years of dialogue — mostly at the local level — top organizations and leaders met in Washington, D.C., last week at the first national Jewish-Latino summit to discuss the development of a common agenda and ways to strengthen the alliance between the two groups.
But even those involved with the summit admit that the issue of bilingual education looms as a potential problem for closer ties between the two groups.
The Jewish community — organized, wealthy and politically savvy — and the Latino community, the fastest-growing minority group in America, need each other to help push their common legislative priorities, leaders say.
The two communities already have worked closely on a number of legislative issues, such as civil rights enforcement, immigration policies and hate crimes legislation.
A joint declaration of principles discussed at the summit is being circulated among Jewish and Latino groups, according to Dina Siegel Vann, Latin American Affairs director for B’nai B’rith International, which co-sponsored the summit.
The declaration calls for fair portrayals of Jews and Latinos in the media, strengthening of public education, support for Israel, increased aid to Latin America and economic empowerment for minority communities.
Groups attending the conference included the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the United Jewish Communities, the National Council of La Raza, the New America Alliance and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
The conversation between the two communities was long overdue, said Maria del Pilar Avila, executive vice president of New America Alliance, an organization of Latino business leaders that also helped organize the summit.
"Together, we are stronger," del Pilar Avila said, noting that a joint Jewish-Latino task force will develop a plan of action within the next two months.
A national survey of Latino-Jewish relations released at the summit showed a number of areas of commonality between the communities, such as support for stronger anti-discrimination laws.
But one striking difference was that nearly one-third of Jewish respondents to the survey do not support bilingual education at all, while almost two-thirds of Latinos said they strongly support it.
That divergence could become a barrier between the two communities, said Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, a New York-based group that focuses on relations between Jews and other ethnic groups, which conducted the survey.
Siegel Vann said that despite the Jewish respondents’ answers in the survey, Jewish organizations by and large do support bilingual education.
Schneier believes education will be the primary issue the two communities can rally around. In addition, he said, areas of disagreement ultimately will energize and help the Jewish-Latino relationship by forcing them to discuss their differences.
Some 500 respondents from each community were interviewed for the survey. The Latino sample was far younger — fully half under the age of 40 — than the Jewish group, almost half of whom were 55 or older.
Other survey findings include:
Forty percent of Jewish respondents are strongly opposed to President Bush’s faith-based initiative, while 40 percent of Latinos support the plan;
Three-fourths of the Jews and half of the Latino respondents said the Catholic Church did not do enough to help Jews during the Holocaust;
Approximately one-third of both Jews and Latinos think there is anti-Semitism in the Latino community, while 36 percent of Latinos — and just 20 percent of Jews — feel there is anti-Latino sentiment in the Jewish community;
Half of the Latino respondents said they were unaware of how Jews were treated during the Spanish Inquisition;
Two-thirds of Latino respondents said schools do not teach enough about the Holocaust, a higher percentage even than among the Jews (55 percent);
Twenty percent of Latinos believe U.S. policy is too supportive of Israel.
The summit showed a commitment by national groups to develop the communities’ relationship and a willingness to learn from the ongoing local dialogues, said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, who spoke at the summit.
A number of local efforts are under way to bring the two communities closer.
For example, the Detroit Jewish Initiative matches the Jewish community with the Community Health and Social Services Center and the Detroit Public Schools on projects to improve the health of Detroit’s Latinos.
In Chicago, the Alliance of Latinos and Jews, developed in 1994, focuses on areas of common concern such as business and economic development, immigration, education, and social and cultural affairs.
National organizations now will push local people to model successful programs, Saperstein said. The Religious Action Center, for its part, will step up its efforts in coalition-building, local social services and intercultural programming, he said.
The Racialization of
Last week, President Clinton diverted himself fromfending off scandal and defaming his accusers to denounce the Unzinitiative, Proposition 227, which is designed to end the currentsystem of bilingual education. In the process, he may havecontributed to the growing, and potentially debilitating,racialization of Los Angeles’ political scene.
Clinton’s endorsement has provided a criticalcover for leading Latino politicians to accuse the Proposition 227backers of being party to a broad-based anti-Latino politicalmovement. This California version of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “vastright-wing conspiracy” sees the measure’s “English for the Children”platform as another racially tinged “wedge issue,” in the spirit ofthe anti-illegal-immigrant Proposition 187 and anti-affirmativeaction Proposition 209.
Like most conspiracy theories, this one is notonly flawed from the start, but it’s also dangerous if widelyaccepted. Proposition 187 was launched by nativists in Orange Countywithout support from Gov. Pete Wilson, who later adopted the issue tosave his own political skin. Proposition 209’s drafters were two BayArea academics disgusted with the war on merit being waged bydeconstructionist academics; many of that measure’s early supporters,including this writer, vehemently opposed Proposition 187.
Similarly, Ron K. Unz, who has financedProposition 227 with his own Silicon Valley fortune, hardly fits theracist stereotype promoted by some Latino activists. The son ofJewish immigrants to Los Angeles, he was the foremost financialbacker of the campaign against Proposition 187 and ran in the 1994Republican gubernatorial primary largely to protest the incumbent’sposition on immigrant rights. Yet, now, Unz is being tagged as an”immigrant basher” by politicians such as Rep. Xavier Becerra, whoonce were happy to see him as an ally.
Until recently, some observers, such as myPepperdine University colleague Gregory Rodriguez, had hoped thatProposition 227 would escape the racial stereotyping that doggeddiscussions of both propositions 187 and 209. With Latinos backingthe measure by wide margins in early polls, and only professionalcivil rights lawyers and bilingual teachers fervently opposed, areasoned debate on the measure’s relative merits seemed possible. Thedebate would focus on what is best for California schoolchildren,particularly those with limited English skills. Indeed, it could evenbe said that Unz has already won his point, since Proposition 227’simpending passage has forced reluctant Latino legislators to beginreforming the failed bilingual system.
But such advances in common sense now are indanger of being offset by the issue’s rapid racialization. Egged onby their political leaders and Spanish-language media, such asUnivision, which could be seen as having a financial stake inretarding the adoption of English, Hispanic support for the measureis flagging, down from around 80 percent to less than 60 percent. Bycontrast, Anglos, African Americans and Asians can be expected tosupport it by wide margins.
This racialization, not the issue of bilingualeducation, poses the real problem for Los Angeles. Latinos skepticalof bilingual education, notes Linda Griego, a former board member ofMALDEF, a leading anti-Proposition 227 organization, says that evenanti-bilingual Latinos are reluctant to back the Unz measure becauseof “emotional responses” set off by repeated linkage to propositions187 and 209. Old-style Chicano nationalists, such as Cal StateNorthridge Professor Rudolfo Acuna, openly demand that racialcompadres follow “Latino liberal narrative” favoring bilingualeducation. In my father’s days back at NYU in the 1930s, they calledit “the party line.”
This admixture of race and politics was notinvented by Latinos or Democrats but by Republicans, who, first underNixon and later Wilson, tapped deeply into the wells of Angloresentment. By endorsing Proposition 187, Wilson made a brillianttactical decision in terms of winning Anglo votes, but he committed astrategic blunder that may haunt Republicans for decades. One sign ofchange: Clinton took barely 51 percent of Latino votes in 1992 butmore than 80 percent four years later.
The consequences of such racially polarizedpolitics holds dangers for Latinos, California and Los Angeles.Instead of healthy competition for an emerging and critical electoralconstituency, we may be witnessing the birth of a one-party votingbloc. Once, Republicans were capable of winning a solid one-third totwo-fifths of Latino voters, who generally hold fairly conservativepositions on issues such as abortion, crime and welfare; today,wearing the GOP label has about the same appeal among Latinos asHamas has for Jews.
To many liberals, including Jews, thisconsolidation of democratic power may seem unalloyed good news, butthey have not figured the long-term costs. With the Republicanschased out to the edge cities and rural areas, the largely Jewish andAfrican-American political power brokers will now have to accommodatean increasingly Latino-dominated Democratic politics. And the earlyindications are that the process will not go smoothly.
Already, Zev Yaroslavsky, the county’s dominantJewish politician, struggles with Congressman Becerra, SupervisorGloria Molina and other Eastside legislators over the beleagueredMTA. In the increasingly Latino east San Fernando Valley, CityCouncilman Richard Alarcon’s race against Richard Katz suggests animpending clash of ethnic aspirations; an upstart Latino candidacyagainst Rep. Howard Berman, a close ally of the late Cesar Chavez,suggests that there may now be no secure cover beyond skin color. InSouth Los Angeles, Latinos, already the statistical majority, willsoon threaten the entrenched African-American power structure in thecoming years.
Some, like Loyola University’s Fernando Guerra,sees “racialization” — with all its potential for divisiveness — asboth inevitable and even tactically sound. Constituting roughly 40percent of Los Angeles County’s population, Latinos, due to theirvast numbers of noncitizens and relative youthfulness, stillrepresent only roughly half that percentage in the electorate.Concentrated racial solidarity expressed through one party, while itdiminishes the true diversity within the community, makes a kind oftactical sense. By stacking Latino votes in one pile, they canachieve a critical mass far more quickly than would be otherwisepossible.
But, in the long run, this strategy poses dangersnot only for Jews, African Americans and other non-Hispanics, but forLatinos as well. Unlike Jews or blacks, who represent a permanentminority, Latinos are destined to become the dominant political forcein our society. When a promising young politician such as CongressmanBecerra starts sounding like a Hispanic version of the ever-shrillRep. Maxine Waters, the implications are far more terrifying becauseof Latinos’ emerging demographic might.
Fortunately, this steady devolution towardbalkanized, racialized politics can still be averted. As bothRodriguez and Guerra observe, Mexican-American and Central Americansare largely a mestizo people, an ethnic admixture of native Americanand European. They share a relatively tolerant attitude towardintermarriage, powerful work ethic, rapid growth of enterprise andgrowing home ownership, and are rapidly integrating into society asco-workers, partners, neighbors and even family. It is hard to seehow the future of this increasingly dominant and widely diverse groupcan be well-served by following a narrow racial politics that couldleave Los Angeles a Spanish-speaking Detroit.
But defusing racialization should not be seen as achallenge only for Latino leaders. Asian, Anglo and African-Americancommunity figures — i
n business, government, the clergy andcharitable enterprises — must also come to grips with the newdemographic and political realities. The days of satisfying Latinoswith tokenism or even well-intentioned inclusion in “rainbowcoalitions” has come to an end; railing against the “brown tide” iscounterproductive and hopeless. The Latinization of Los Angeles, and,indeed, California, is now largely inevitable. The challenge now isto de-racialize the process enough so that these changes work to thebenefit of our community, rather than its fragmentation.
Joel Kotkin is a senior fellow with thePepperdine Institute for Public Policy and a research fellow in urbanstudies at the Reason Foundation.
Here we go again. For the third time in four years, Californians are about to be treated to another racially tinged slugfest, this time over bilingual education.
Slated for the June 1998 ballot, the measure — called “English for Children” — would direct California’s educational resources away from bilingual programs, which seek to teach children in their native language before moving them to English with the more traditional “immersion” method. Its leading proponent, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz, sees the initiative as necessary for ending California’s continuing slide toward educational mediocrity, and as critical for helping our large immigrant population gain greater self-sufficiency. The measure also calls for some $50 million more to be spent on adult English education.
Of course, many, particularly in the left-leaning media and among the political and academic elite, will no doubt castigate “English for Children” as yet another example of roiling anti-immigrant, racist-inspired politics, the legitimate offspring, as it were, of propositions 187 and 209.
Unz, a conservative Republican who ran against Gov. Pete Wilson in the 1994 GOP primary, has already been accused of harboring “anti-Latino racism” by Nativo Lopez, president of the Santa Ana School Board.
But before signing up to fight Unz’s initiative, even knee-jerk Jewish liberals should think twice. For one thing, Ron Unz may be a conservative, but he also strongly opposed Proposition 187, not only with words but with hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money. Indeed, Unz has been one of the nation’s most fervent, even uncritical, supporters of immigration; that was one reason for his 1994 challenge of Wilson.
More to the point, there is compelling evidence that bilingualism does not serve the interest of immigrants — indeed, many Latino parents have campaigned openly against the education establishment’s insistence on steering their kids into bilingual programs.
Nor is “English for Children” easily dismissed as anti-teacher; many teachers, and even union officials, including the late American Federation of Teachers boss Albert Shanker, have long been critical of bilingualism.
Indeed, for Jews, most of whose parents and grandparents learned English through immersion, belief in English-dominated education should be as natural as lox and cream cheese on bagels. As Irving Howe noted in his “World of Our Fathers,” a situation close to hopelessness existed even for the most learned Jews in turn-of-the-century New York. “There are many intelligent people,” he quotes the old Yiddish Forward, “[who] spend their lives in a candy store on Ludlow Street, or a paper stand, wasting way….”
Substitute Spanish for Yiddish, Mexicans or Salvadorans for Jews, and Pico Union or East Los Angeles for New York’s Lower East Side, and you can see the analogy. Jewish immigrants learned English, often painfully, and, in the process, lost Yiddish and much of the shtetl culture. But they gained a new world and a brighter future.
And, over time, the English language and American culture also gained some of its most brilliant voices — Malamud, Roth, Bellow, to name a few. In the coming decades, we should be able to look forward to a comparable effervescence of Latino-American culture, as we can already see in the writing of brilliant essayists, such as Richard Rodriguez, or in the music of Los Lobos.
Yet if the right choice on “English for Children” seems clear, I would join the Unz crusade, but with one critical concern. Attached to the anti-bilingualism drive comes a new ideology — captured in the term used by Unz, “one nation” — that expresses a stronger, and potentially dangerous, reaction to the dangers of the multiculturalist agenda. Having been driven to distraction by the destructive tribalism of the left, the “one nation” ideology answers with a