On the Left for English in Colorado

For decades, Rita Sandoval Montero has been among Colorado’s most committed and uncompromising Hispanic political activists.

As with so many activists, her roots are on the Left. Her personal curriculum vitae reads almost like a radical history of the Protest Decades, with university activism, support for migrant farmworker causes, work in the National Lawyers Guild, and even involvement in the brief rise of the La Raza Unida, the Hispanic political party that so unnerved the dominant Anglo establishment of the American Southwest during the 1960s and early 1970s.

But whereas the vast majority of the radical activists of that period either compromised their beliefs en route to joining the political establishment, or even abandoned politics entirely for the corporate suite and the expense account, Rita remained true to her positions and ideals. Generally disenchanted with a Democratic Party that seemed to have become merely a pale imitation of moderate Republicans, Rita gradually shifted the focus of her efforts to non-party causes.

Thus in 1990 she played a leading role in the Colorado campaign against a statewide “Official English” initiative sponsored by U.S. English, a ballot measure which she regarded as a thinly- veiled xenophobic attack against Colorado’s immigrant and Hispanics. A few years after that, she won a seat on the Denver Board of Education, serving as its only Hispanic member, seeking to represent a rapidly growing but often ignored segment of the Denver parent population.

Although at the time she generally supported bilingual education programs, once she encountered their dreadful reality, she became their most implacable foe, spearheading years of legal effort to reduce or curtail them. With those bilingual reforms now having proven themselves to be completely ephemeral, Rita gradually shifted to outright support for California-style English immersion, and concluded that the general dismantling of Colorado’s sizable bilingual education infrastructure was an absolute necessity. Rita will likely lead a Proposition 227-type ballot initiative, aimed at the November 2002 ballot.

She is not alone. Just yesterday a group of immigrant parents held a public protest against Denver’s continuing policy of placing Hispanic children in Spanish-almost-only classes, regardless of their parents’ wishes. Colorado appears likely to join California and Arizona as a bilingual-education-free-zone by the end of next year.

Perhaps where leftist Hispanic Democrats lead, conservative Anglo Republicans will eventually decide to follow.

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