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Speaking Spanish at school translates to suspension

Commentary by Hugo Urizar,

CEO Ohio Hispanic/Latino Democratic Party Caucus


Special contribution to La Prensa


In Kansas City recently, principal Jennifer Watts of Endeavor Alternative School—a small public high school in an ethnically mixed, blue-collar neighborhood—suspended Zach Rubio, a bilingual student, for speaking Spanish to a fellow student in the hall.


In the European Common Market, companies use at least 5 languages to advertise products and services and the educated labor force around the globe is at least bilingual. We in the United State of American, however, are leaping backward by actions like the ones taken by Ms. Watts, or by Ohio State Rep. Courtney Combs (R) on “English Only” for Ohio, or by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who vetoed a bill authorizing various academic subjects to be tested in Spanish in the state’s public schools.


“As an immigrant,” the Austrian-born governor said, “I know the importance of mastering English as quickly and as comprehensively as possible.”


We should learn to speak and write in English, and the better we are at it, the more opportunities will be opened to us. All Latinos know that, and we voice it at any opportunity we get.


But that is not really the issue here. This is just another form of discrimination. If you cannot use race as a factor, pick on the language, the food, or the music.


You know what? Most people are hooked on our music and on our foods. So they resort to what I call it “idiomatic racism” or “racism through language.” We must oppose these discriminatory measures wherever we are.


We must ask the School Board of Kansas City to fire Jennifer Watts. The African-American community will never put up with these kinds of abuses.


Do you remember the Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder broadcasting incident? He was not only fired as a sports commentator by CBS, but he was completely eliminated from the public eye, when, on Martin Luther King’s birthday in 1988, he said that ‘blacks are better at sports because of slave plantation breeding techniques.’

“During the slave period, the slave owner would breed his big black with his big woman so that he would have a big black kid—that’s where it all started,” said Steubenville, Ohio’s Snyder, now deceased (1919-1996).


Leaders from the African-American community rightfully took a strong stand on this issue and its message was loud and clear.


We should do the same in the case of Principal Jennifer Watts. Otherwise, people, like CNN’s Lou Dobbs, will keep calling undocumented Latino workers in this country “alien invasion” or a “threat to our national security” with impunity.






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