A Reader Writes by Francisco M. Hernandez: An overreaction in Fullerton

March 22, 2002

Great Scott, Mr. Fullerton! Are you angry because, while you were teaching democracy, someone not of your persuasion exercised rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, daring to offer a view of the world not in concert with yours?

Perhaps the values behind your words (and behavior) surrounding the incident in your essay of March 1 deserve scrutiny, not as in "right" or "wrong" but to explore if you truly represented your views, freely chosen. To me, your assertions raise some issues that reflect upon you both as an educator and member of the Imperial Valley community. My purpose, with your permission, is not to get you to think differently, but to get you to think.

There is a political reality looming in our valley, five decades in the making. Over two generations, a community has evolved from a perspective that held "mejor no digo nada" (it's best to be quiet) to a world view that asserts SI SE PUEDE! (no translation required) under protections accorded to all.


Under the auspices of the freedom to choose, we prefer to keep both English and the language of our parents and grandparents, maintain the identification with their culture and heritage, participate on our own terms in the political arena and celebrate our co-existence with citizenry who insist on casting off an identification with their immigrant roots, embrace English only and live life as "mono" culturalists. Neither choice is inherently more or less than the other; both, and any variation thereof, are permitted under the Constitution. Come on in to the world of today and enjoy the design of the Founding Fathers.

Am I to understand that a person half your age, with half of your experience, working at a fraction of your salary, made a victim out of you? Did you orient this young lady, on whom you cast aspersions so readily, before she came into your classroom to speak? Did you state unequivocally, "When I am teaching government, do not dare espouse any point of view other than that with which I am comfortable! When I am teaching government do not come into my classroom and speak any language other than English!"?

You admit no fluency in Spanish, hear nouns as prepositions, yet proceed to negatively characterize the portion of her message that was delivered in a language that you have yet to learn or accept, in spite of all your years in el Valle. You decry a staple of outreach work — that one would speak in the language(s) of the people to be reached. Hearing the words "raza" and "clases bilingues" without the full import of the context does not a federal case make. Perhaps you indulged in a rant based on incomplete information and unfounded conclusions, hardly a model of reasoned political debate.

You failed to add that, in what my opinion is an unprofessional manner, you subjected her to your haranguing diatribe in the presence of students. You were not "asking her to confer" nor was it an "interview," it was an inquisition.

One may conclude that you are for the empowerment of Latinos as long as we think, say and act as clones of your monocultural world view. You do a disservice to the Southwest Voter Registration Project, which has been in the Valley since the mid-70s, working by increments to give the majority in the Valley a proper voice and role in the political process. The current program is not run by Mr. Santillan, who is associated with it, but by Mr. Juan Gallegos, who is from San Diego but has been in the Valley working tirelessly on behalf of the entire community. That the efforts of everyone in the project are successful is apparently to your dismay. Yes, they have conducted their outreach in most schools in the Valley, but you were the only one to go ballistic and become self-righteous; is this anything upon which you should reflect?

Should anyone be concerned that a teacher, who manages a class of over 30 students can only offer up one student who is doing ‘A' work? Is there a nascent implication that the others are lazy or less because they cannot tell you, in English, what you want to hear?

On one hand you asset that kids "are smarter than we give them credit for" yet you insist on being a self-appointed censor of all content to which they will be exposed. Your words may be the most revealing evidence that you have not succeeded in being "resolutely neutral" nor in suppressing your own "over the top cultural bias."

For example, please explain, what is a "very Mexican Latina"? I offer that you are not the only one who has a firm grasp "of what this country is all about" and admit distress that you would then characterize the constitutionally protected choices others make as "poison."

May I suggest it is unbecoming to you, as an educator, to go for the facile embrace of "hipness" in using the phrase, "I got punked in my own classroom" over what would be more accurately stated as, "I chose to see myself as a victim in my own classroom."

You, however are not "most repugnant" to me for your views; I trust that if you teach, you can learn; consider that your anger is fear in borrowed clothing. You are invited to let each person choose whether to be "mono" or "multi" in culture, language and attitude toward others. Accept the coming reality in which the majority rules. Embrace the freedom to choose, a concept as American as chips and salsa.

>> FRANCISCO M. HERNANDEZ is a Brawley native, a product of local schooling and an Imperial resident. He is a University of California, Berkeley alumnus with a bachelor's degree in Chicano studies and a master's degree in education from San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus. He is an independent consultant specializing in multicultural staff, board and organizational development, team building, parental school involvement and teacher education.

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