The Most Spanish-Speaking City in America

One subtle aspect of the political world is that lies are frequently more revealing than truths.

When a politician tells the truth, he may be doing so for a wide variety of possible reasons. Perhaps he is an honest person, perhaps the actual facts are to his advantage, perhaps he is worried that his lies would be too easily revealed and used against him.

But by contrast, a politician’s falsehoods and the counter-factual view of reality that they present inevitably provide an extraordinarily revealing glimpse into his heart—or perhaps his head.


Consider the claims of Nativo Lopez, the leader of one of Southern California’s most powerful Latino political machines, now suddenly fighting for his survival against a recall election aimed at removing him from the local school board that he controls, which constitutes the core of his political power and financial patronage network.

Over the years, Lopez has endlessly denounced our efforts to dismantle California’s bilingual education programs. He helped organize the local campaign against Proposition 227, and even after that measure’s landslide 1998 victory, he repeatedly promised to fight its implementation tooth and nail, by legal challenges and otherwise. He has certainly kept that pledge, with some of his resistance arguably also straying across the line between the legal and the illegal.

But now, with almost 15,000 signatures turned in to force his name onto a recall ballot in his overwhelmingly Latino and Democratic school district, he has suddenly begun denying—to a somewhat skeptical media—that the drive against him has any connection either to Proposition 227 or to bilingual education or to the unhappiness of local parents that he has flouted their wishes and also the law on those matters.

Instead, according to Lopez, the motivation of his opponents derives from a dispute concerning the location and construction of a new elementary school in his overcrowded school district.

Now I must freely admit that as someone who does not live in Santa Ana, I hardly constitute the best source for discovering which issues drive local political campaigns there. Certainly issues of zoning and school location might energize community activists in ways that are hard for outsiders such as myself to imagine.

But what I do know is that when a small group of local parents, led by Vivian Martinez, first contacted me nearly a year ago, all their complaints involved Spanish-almost-only classes at their local Edison Elementary school, with not a word mentioned about that alleged school site dispute. When I met with those angry parents and others several times over the following months and explored different means of solving their problems, “English” and Proposition 227 represented nearly the sole subject under discussion. When they subsequently decided to launch their recall campaign—against my own political advice—lack of English in the schools was at the top of their official list of complaints. When I took several trips down to Santa Ana to watch their volunteers solicit signatures within the community—in order to realistically gauge local sentiment—“English” seemed the hot-button issue that caused the overwhelmingly Latino local voters to sign the petition. And when I finally decided to commit the financial resources to overcome Lopez’s political machine and ensure the success of the recall drive, whose volunteers had already gathered thousands of signatures on their own, the obscure question of where to locate a new local elementary school was hardly uppermost in my thoughts.

But Lopez foolishly attempts to deny this obvious reality. Sunday’s 1500 word article describing the recall drive, on the front-page of the California section of the Los Angeles Times and complete with photos, carries absurd claims by Lopez that the effort has absolutely no connection to the issue of bilingual education. After so many years of denouncing and denying Proposition 227, why has Lopez suddenly grown so desperate to avoid the subject?

The answer is simple: political survival. Lopez is no fool, and he knows enough about the feelings of his own constituents to realize that if he stands his ground on opposition to Proposition 227, he will surely be looking for a new job in just a few months, and probably one with fewer of the massive financial patronage opportunities he now so enjoys.

Let us consider the further implications of this inescapable conclusion.

Santa Ana is hardly a political stronghold of affluent white Republicans, instead being a city as heavily immigrant, Latino, and Democratic as can be found anywhere in the nation.

Last year, Santa Ana received heavy coverage in the Los Angeles Times and other major papers when the 2000 Census revealed it to have the greatest concentration of Spanish-speakers of any city in America, outdistancing such prominent centers of Latino immigration as Miami, Los Angeles, and El Paso. The population is barely ten percent non- Hispanic white, and the student population in the local schools is well over 90% Latino as are all five members of the School Board. The voter registration is two-to-one Democratic, with a Latino Democrat as Mayor.

This hardly represents the profile of a city hostile either to Latinos, immigrants, or the Spanish-language itself, or a political stronghold for any quasi-xenophobic “English-only” movement. Yet these Latino parents are the ones most obviously aware of the great importance of having the schools teach their children English, and Nativo Lopez is fully aware that they are so aware. Thus, he desperately—and rightly—fears allowing his recall election to become a referendum on “English” and Proposition 227, which it certainly is and will so remain.

And if and when the voters of America’s most Spanish-speaking city remove from office this powerful and entrenched local politician because of his refusal to support “English,” politicians everywhere—even including the mindless members of our notoriously intellectually-challenged Republican political leadership—should take note of this remarkable fact.

Over the next few months, the eyes of all America may become focused on Santa Ana, and the likely verdict of its voters on this matter, which will surely be seen by one and all—despite Lopez’s best efforts to the contrary—as a crucial political referendum on Proposition 227, four years after original statewide passage.

On another matter, the Denver Rocky Mountain News devoted much of its Sunday opinion page to a 4500-word edited transcript of a debate held two weeks ago in their editorial offices between myself and Gully Stanford, leader of the No campaign.

Also, today’s Denver Post carried an even-handed account of the sharp legal penalties contained in our Colorado initiative, whose inclusive certainly owed much to the years of stubbornness of numerous California and Arizona officials, notably included the aforementioned Nativo Lopez.

I attach copies of both those articles.

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