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by John Stewart Whitfield Sunday, Oct. 20, 2002 at 12:00 AM
JWhitfi894@aol.com 773-575-0656 103 N. Jefferson st., Abingdon, Illinois 61410

What Nativism & Xenophobia have to do with Bilingual / Bicultural Education in America



In 1981 a republican state representative visited Cicero School. Among the items on Judy Barr Topinka's agenda was Bilingual Education. Since I had already been through my rookie year in instructing PEP (Potentially English Proficient) students in Rochelle, Illinois, having worked with children of migrant farm workers, that came into town from nearby Rancho Grande, and the program had been cut, needless to say, the wound was still open. My only other experience up to that point had been teaching HS Spanish for a half year in East Moline, Illinois, for a Bolivian instructor who had gone on leave for depression, a short stint as a faculty assistant at W.I.U., just out of the Peace Corps, and teaching English to University Students at National University, in Heredia, Costa Rica for one year in 1977. as a secondary job, while an Ag. Forage & Mineral Researcher in the Peace Corps. A more appropriate term might have been "cowboy".

Unbelievably, the principal tipped me off that Topinka was to arrive at our school. I had K-8 graders, and was the only person at school to serve the needs of the PEP students, and there were several different languages. Mr. Michaels had even told me that she was going to speak out against Bilingual Education, so fortunately there was time to organize. I had already become a friend with Andres and Ada, a Mexican & Puertorriquena, a very happy go lucky couple, and the parents of two students in our program. So honestly, they did most of the organizing in getting parents to show up.

After Topinka's speech in which she said that Bilingual Education was too expensive, and needed to be cut, among other things now known as cheap rhetoric, I did my part, when she asked if there were any questions. Sitting amidst the parents (actually I was a parent also, my son now a college freshman was then a kindergartner, already speaking Spanish, and even helping the teacher in his class with the Spanish speaking children who spoke no English) I proclaimed, "In Cicero you have had a history of the Al Capone era, the unfortunate fame of blacks not being allowed to live, or study in Cicero (sixty minutes has been in Cicero over incidents related to students who did try to study there), and now having given the Spanish speaking community a taste of bilingual education, what kind of reputation will you leave in the minds of the Latino community, if bilingual education is slashed?"

Though I don't recall what the representative's response was, I do remember a period of silence before she responded, and what Mr. Michaels said, quoting Nikita Kruschev, saying "Some are called, few are chosen".

Though it still behooves me on just exactly what he meant, and just why he said that, nonetheless the program not only stayed in tact, but also improved, and expanded. Of course it could do nothing else but improve, as I had found a box of Italian books, (so someone once upon a time had received some instruction in Italian), and a box of primary dittos, though I had met one other bilingual teacher, working in another school in Cicero, that was about it.

Additionally Mr. Michaels encouraged me to start an ESL program for parents. That went so well, that Morgan College, who sponsored the class, offered a College for Kids program for the gifted kids in the district, and invited me to teach Spanish. And Cicero School District #99 offered me to stay on as a second year instructor, but having applied at the American Nicaraguan School in Managua, my spouse homesick for her "patria"(we had heard rumors about Reagon's 'contra war', but decided to go and find out if it was true) and since we hadn't been there, since before dictator Somoza was thrown out in 1979, we took the job offer. I'll never forget saying good bye to Ada y Andres, our V.W. (and their two little children waving adios). bus filled to the brim with our belongings.

Later we heard that they had broken up, and that Ada had returned to Puerto Rico, and Andres to Mexico.

Well, the Nicaraguan revolution wasn't the only thing that Ronald Reagon was in 'contra' (contra in Spanish means against) as other views of the late president were: "absolutely wrong and against American concepts to have a bilingual program that is now openly, admittedly dedicated to preserving their native language, and never getting them adequate in English, so they can go out in the job market and participate (Baker, 1993, p. 254).

Well, can we say he was half right, since the English portion of his statement seems to me that, it is the other way around, that is, that English has always been a main component, if not the main component, in the bilingual programs that I have been a participant in.

Working along side the elite with the diplomatic community's children at the American school in Managua, needless to say, was a stark contrast to teaching the humble children of migrant laborers in Rochelle. (See attached article)

For example the primary school principal there, after visiting my 4th grade class, later spoke to me in his office about using Spanish in my Science class instruction. I had switched into Spanish simply to explain to a child who knew less English, what a concept meant, etc. We later found that he had been a Milwaukee police officer, not an educator. Mr. Hess had also married the librarian (a Nicaraguan), and not only did he not take her back with him stateside, but didn't even bother to divorce her after having left the land of Sandino. You might even say that was nothing compared to the director of the institution whom, it was rumored that he was a C.I.A operative, and everything he did and said indicated that it might well have been the case.

The American school, nonetheless, was an outstanding institution.

After the United States invaded Grenada, everyone except most Americans knew that it was a prelude to what they had in store for Nicaragua, so I preceded my family in returning stateside to look for a teaching job in Illinois. Hector Frances an Argentinean defector of the CIA went on Mexican TV, and revealed the whole Oliver North & Co. plan to destabilize Nicaragua, and once all else failed with the contras attacking from Honduras, and failing to provoke a war between Nicaragua and Honduras, the last step would have been an all out American invasion of Nicaragua.

Frances was disgusted with the U.S. having sided with Great Britain in 'Las Malvinas', the Falkland Islands war.

After having found work in Joliet, I returned the following Christmas for my wife and children, but only after an enormous hassle with the U, S. embassy. Since my wife was expecting, they said that she was not fit to board a plane.

These events in history, that have affected the personal lives of the members of my family in particular, are most definitely related to instruction in the bilingual / bicultural classroom. Though students are most generally affected by such traumatic experiences, surely there are bilingual instructors that have been affected traumatically, additionally. For me, having my children have to sing, while studying in Nicaragua the "rojo y negro" (Sandinista) himno nacional with verses that go: "we'll fight against the Yankee, el enemigo de la humanidad", caused me to work that much harder to do anything that I could, to attempt to stop the, "secret war, strategy of terror" as Hector Frances had said that it was named on Mexican television.

The breaking of the Iran-Contra affair, for me, was like an angel coming down from heaven, the contra end of it, that is.

My oldest child (now a student at Harold Washington College) who must have attended as many grammar schools as Cesar Chavez did, has come out okay though, in fact, while studying at Lozano (then Kosciuszko) school after having come from Nicaragua, I suggested to his 5th grade teacher, Senora Rosa, that she might let him give an oral report on Nicaragua. She later conveyed to me, that he gave a whole lesson, and the kids asked a multitude of questions. When asked about the war, he simply stated, "Oh, la guerra esta en el norte." And when I came to think of it, he was right, the war was in the north, in the mountains south of Honduras. We lived about an hour south of Managua, closer to Costa Rica than to Honduras.

Mrs. Rosa also stated that it was the best lesson that she had ever heard anyone give including all the instructors that she had had, not to brag about my child. The most horrifying incident while I was in Managua, at the American School, was when there was a civil defense drill, and all the students were hoarded into the library. .

The following day I read in the periodicals that a bomb aimed for Miguel de Escoto's house (the minister of the exterior), landed in a nearby schoolyard.

At an ESL workshop in Lincolnwood, I met a group of Bosnian students who spoke to a group of educators. After a young teenager was reduced to tears, describing his thoughts etc., I could not but help telling them afterwards that I was sorry that we hadn't done anything more to help their people in Bosnia. Additionally, I told them that one reason I had told them that, was, that nobody had ever apologized to my Nicaraguan wife (not even from my own family) the devastation that a secret war had done to her country with our tax dollars. These are the ones (the Bosnian students) that will have much input, in stopping the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, just by being in bilingual programs in Chicago's high schools, and by telling their heartening stories.

A couple of other comments by other Bosnian students that I recall were: that they couldn't believe how few subjects students study here, and that they had taken as many as fifteen subjects in High School, when they studied in Bosnia.

The other was, how anxious they were to learn English as quickly as possible, which of course to me seems unnecessary, (that is, being in such a hurry, since we live in such a hurry, hurray, hurry society in the first place, as the union song goes,) but if you think in terms of going on to college, it does not seem peculiar at all.

The past school year, my sixth and seventh graders not only kept up on proposition 187, but on the conflict in Chiapas, and the political turmoil in general in Mexico. For example, they could tell you about the conspiracy to assassinate presidential candidate Colosio, and the murder of Francisco Ruiz Massieu, whom one of the instructors in our school knew personally.

Every Thursday morning I would pick up a pile of thirty or so "Exito's", and on Friday we would read the news, also sometimes using the Raza, Extra, and other newspapers. Students were soon telling me the news.

Many families return to Mexico, disheartened with the incredible shrinking American dream, so I feel that the young sixth and seventh grade boys have a right to know what the news is in Mexico. Additionally, after the Zapatista uprising and perhaps with the ever existing potential for a broader conflict, I could not help relating a story to them when my oldest son was a seventh grader studying in Nicaragua. His mother feared that he would be scooped up off the street, and sent off into conflict in the mountains by one side or the other. Since he was born in Costa Rica, we felt that it would not be right, since Costa Rica is a non-violent society that abolished its military in 1948, after a short-lived civil war. So we drove all the way to Costa Rica from our home in Nicaragua to renew his passport to be able to return stateside etc., thus escaping the possibility of being drafted, because some kids were going to the mountains at a very young age. Needless to say some did not return alive.

Xenophobia, that is, the distrust of strangers because of the fear that they pose a threat to the culture of the natives, is endemic to most societies.

In the case of the colonists, they established the xenophobic pattern that would be followed throughout the history of the United States. The pattern would eventually culminate in the exclusion acts of the 1880's and the quota acts of the 1920's (Curran, 1975, p. 12).

But while xenophobic outbursts against the immigrants have diminished, the focus of hostility has shifted. The new element of hostility is closely allied to another rural shift--the black exodus, which began in 1915. The blacks, and the Puerto Ricans and other Hispanic peoples of Mexico, and Latin America, are the new "culprits of change" and the new objects of hostility (Curran, 1975, p.150).

In the case of Nicaragua, a land the size of Illinois, with a population only roughly the population of Chicago, where the people were able to oust one of, if not the worst dictatorships in the history of Latin America, nonetheless, a counter revolution coming from the U.S.was inevitable, because as Franklin Roosevelt had said about the Somoza family dictatorship, " Somoza was an S.O.B., but he was our son of a bitch."

So, revolutionary Nicaragua became the scapegoat of the Xenophobes in Washington DC, as the revolution in Nicaragua was not going to accept any conditions put upon aid from Washington etc. President Ortega, however, was not about to become their S.O.B. Some 50,000 Nicaraguans died fighting against Somoza's National Guard, a dynasty that lasted 50 years.

Needless to say this was not endemic to Nicaragua, though militarily we had intervened there time and time again.

As a result of the Mexican American War (1846-1848) Anglo-Americans took possession of a considerable Spanish population in the Southwest. (What Higham means is, the entire southwest, formerly part of Mexico, was handed over to the U.S.)

The widely scattered "Californianos" lost their patrimony and disappeared.

In the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico, on the other hand, tightly knit village settlements enabled the "Hispanos" and their identity as ancient inhabitants of the place, proudly distinct from the "Anglos" around them and from the Mexican immigrants in adjacent states (Higham, 1984, p.7, 8).

War with Mexico, and growing territorial ambitions, heightened Americans' passion for internal cohesion, and sense of distinction from others; a new round of confrontations with native Americans across the Mississippi, had a similar effect (Knobel, 1986, p.74).

In the first part of this century, concerning Mexican immigration, so far as it was recorded, reached a high point of 89,000 in 1924. Small farmers in the Southwest cried out against the advantage this cheap labor supply gave to the big cotton planters; and race zealots throughout the country were determined to stop the inflow of "colored blood," whatever the cost in Pan-American goodwill. The State Department, fearing Mexican retaliation against American business interests, opposed the restrictionists forthrightly. In 1929 the State Department forestalled congressional action by adopting a system of administrative restriction with Mexico's cooperation. Merely by a rigid enforcement of old regulations, such as the public charge proviso of 1882, and the contract labor ban of 1885, the counsels who issued visas to prospective Mexican immigrants drastically reduced their number. During the manpower crisis of the Second World War, the government was able to stimulate and assist the temporary migration of Mexican labor (Higham, 1984, p.57).

The Mexican experience furnished a precedent for tightening restriction, generally, when the Great Depression struck. Fearful of any addition to the appalling army of unemployed, President Herbert Hoover in September 1930 instructed counsels to deny a visa to anyone who might sooner or later become a candidate for relief. This very strict interpretation of the public charge proviso, although somewhat modified in the mid-thirties, continued throughout the depression. The precipitous drop in immigration that occurred under this policy (though partly a natural result of the depression) provided an effective answer to the congressional restrictionists who tried unsuccessfully to impose a statutory reduction of 90% on all immigration (Higham, 1984, p. 57).

In Nativism, the focus is on movements. It is on the particular organizations and their leaders--that have found a following by promising to defend America, and its values, from these un-American people, un-American ideologies, and destructive tendencies seen as menacing it (Bennet, 1988, p. 12).

These are the movements that constitute the party of fear. They have inspired fear among those they have defined as enemies. But more importantly, they have been organized out of the fear that powerful, sinister, and conspirational adversaries () threatened their America.

I can't help but think of while living in Nicaragua and having written my mother back here in Illinois to write her congressman about the 'contra war' taking place in Nicaragua. She did help petition our government trying to stop the war, that is until the Reagon administration showed a picture of Russian ships unloading arms at a Nicaraguan harbor on television, and of course that struck fear into her. Later it was revealed, that, what was being unloaded, was foodstuffs, etc.

That however, was their battle cry, that the Soviets were establishing a beachhead in Central America, and the Nicaraguans were coming, with propaganda like movies, such as 'Red Dawn'.

As early as 1828, nativist themes colored the rhetoric of new parties offering to cleanse and protect the land (Bennet, 1988, p. 49).

Cleanse the land? Is this where the Serbs got their ethnic cleansing ideas? If not, who coined the term, and brought it to this hemisphere?

In focusing on the threat to educational and moral standards, nativists found friends and allies. Nativism made natural moral partners: foreigners were wasting themselves in drink, deluding themselves in choice of schooling, risking their souls by accepting the authority of sinister and manipulative priests who denied them access to the true Bible. The Native American was asked to see in the immigrant a vision of dangers confronting himself and his nation. He must try to save America by damming the tide of immigration, and forcing those wretched aliens already here, to change the destructive ways that threatened everyone.

(Bennet, 1988, p. 53).

This image of nativism took political shape in the creation of the American Republican Party, the most important milestone in the 1840's on the road to the creation of the Know Nothing Movement (Bennet, 1988, p. 53). Though claiming to be no instrument of bigotry, the American Republican Party claimed it was only good sense to deny the franchise and elected officials those under the control of foreign authorities. It was reasonable to fear men of immoral character... ignorant of our laws and institutions (Bennet, 1988, p.54).

In the words of a Wisconsin leader of the 'United Americans', the new immigrants were, "under the control of a political and religious system of foreigners antagonistic to the foundations of America." These newcomers, unable to speak English, arrived in a low and vicious condition, allied to serfdom, must not be allowed to overwhelm America. The new nativists called for an end to unrestricted immigration, and to the importation of the dregs of foreign populations (Bennet, 1988, p. 171).

David H. Bennet in 'The Party of Fear' states, "today it is argued, that the assimilation of many newcomers, is itself put at risk, by the insistence of Hispanic groups, on a policy of bilingualism." This can make it difficult, it is asserted, for many immigrants living in ethnic enclaves served by Spanish -language radio and television stations, to master English and follow in the footsteps of ethnic millions who came before (372).

Though Bennet continues, "that they do not represent a return to the nativist traditions of the past", and that, " they are hardly operating in a spirit that springs from the heart of the know nothings"(373), if he were to have finished the Party of Fear in the mid 1990s, instead of the late 1980s, and met up with Newt Gingrich and the contract on America, not to mention the anti-immigrant hysteria of proposition 187, he quite possibly might have drawn a different conclusion about the rise of the new right etc., when he states that they do not represent a return to the nativist traditions of the past.

The theme has everything to do with instruction in Bilingual Education, when you consider the self concept of the PEP child, and what will be his/her destiny, or the destiny of their parents.

The PEP student has every right to reach the love and belongingness plateau that Maslow describes in his hierarchy of needs, and to go above and beyond that plateau in a search, just like we are searching, for self-actualization.


Baker, C. (1993). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism. England: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Bennet, D.H. (1988). The party of fear. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

Curran, T.J. (1975). Xenophobia and immigration, 1820-1930. Boston: Twayne Publishers.

Higham, J. (1984). Send these to me, immigrants in America. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Knobel, D.T. (1986). Paddy and the republic. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.

What Xenophobia and Nativism have to do

with Bilingual/ Bicultural Education

John S. Whitfield

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As usual, the Left T-Mex Sunday, Oct. 20, 2002 at 8:32 AM
As usual, the Left T-Mex Sunday, Oct. 20, 2002 at 8:32 AM
OneEyedMan KPC Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2002 at 1:26 PM
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