Our VoiceImmigration

English-only Policies Threaten Civil Rights

Cloee Cooper • Mar 02, 2010

Tomorrow marks the 42nd anniversary of the Chicano Student walkout from LA high schools in 1968.

Bold Chicano students organized high school students across east LA to demand the right to speak their language without institutionally sanctioned abuse in their high schools. Students were forbidden from speaking Spanish in class or from using the restrooms during lunchtime.

While nearly 70% of the high school students in east LA originated from a Spanish speaking country, the teachers were mandated to physically abuse and humiliate students in front of the rest of the class who spoke Spanish. The common drill: a young person slipped and responded to a question in Spanish. The teacher calls the student to the front of the room demanding that they place their hands out for the class to see, and proceeds to use a baton against their hands until blood is drawn.

Despite the restrictive environment that rang loud across the halls “you do not belong here”, Chicano/a students, emboldened by civil rights gains in the 1960s, took democracy, freedom and equality into their own hands. On March 3rd, 1968, over 20,000 students and families took to the streets in east LA to demand equal language rights in their high schools. 13 students were arrested and many more beaten with batons. Months later, high school across east LA were forced to reconsider their English only policies and in 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed which called an end to discrimination based on sex and race within public institutions - a huge victory for our nation.

42 years later, those gains and the civil rights struggle that underpinned them, are under attack. Pro-English and U.S. English, two organizations in the John Tanton Network have recently introduced a bill that opens the door for employers to enforce English-only policies in the workplace. The bill, H.R. 1588 – Common Sense English Act, was introduced by Rep. Tom Price R-GA – a member of the House Immigration Reform Caucus (HIRC), which was founded by virulent anti-immigrant former congressman Tom Tancredo and supported by the Tanton Network. H.R. 1588 would rescind the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that removed barriers based on sex and race in the workplace.

Unfortunately H.R. 1588, is one of many English Only Bills that have been drafted and introduced by John Tanton Network affiliates in recent years. The English Language Unity Act of 2009 introduced by Rep. Steve King R-IA, another HIRC member, is another on a seemingly endless list.

If not now, then when? In the name of Chicano Students who walked out of their classrooms, risking their future to demand opportunity and dignity, we might ask ourselves the question, what will it take for us to step out equally as bold against bigotry and racism now?

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