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Hispanics 'Are of One Voice' in Support of Bilingual Education

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The authors of a survey of the nation's three largest Hispanic groups--Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans--say they have found surprisingly high levels of support for bilingual education, provided its purpose is to teach English.

Bilingual education appears to be one of the few areas in which Latinos "are essentially of one voice,'' a report on the survey states.

And, the authors conclude, that voice appears far more supportive of bilingual education as a means of learning English than is claimed by many critics of bilingual education, who maintain that such instruction is a barrier to Hispanic youngsters' learning English.

The findings of the Latino National Political Survey, released last month, were based on responses from 1,546 Mexicans, 589 Puerto Ricans, and 682 Cubans over the age of 18 interviewed in late 1989 and early 1990; all were U.S. citizens.

Together, the three ethnic groups account for more than 80 percent of the nation's Hispanic population, which numbered 21.4 million in 1990.

In each of the groups surveyed, more than 80 percent supported bilingual education, and even larger percentages said the objective of bilingual education should be to teach students either English exclusively or both English and Spanish.

"Contrary to the claims of supporters of the 'official English' movement,'' the report says, "Latinos see bilingual education as a way to learn English, and they strongly support access to this opportunity.''

Bilingual Ed. Questioned

The report also notes that more than two-thirds of the members of each group born in the United States considered their English better than their Spanish and that a majority of the Mexican and Puerto Rican respondents said they spoke either English or a mixture of English and Spanish at home.

"These findings,'' the report says, "should counter the frequently heard assertions that Latinos are unwilling to learn English and are fighting to maintain Spanish.''

James J. Lyons, the executive director of the National Association for Bilingual Education, said the survey's findings are consistent with his organization's position that most parents with Spanish-language backgrounds want their children to receive instruction they understand while also learning English.

But Linda Chavez--a prominent critic of many bilingual-education programs and a former director of U.S. English, which advocates designation of English as the nation's official language--last week asserted that many Hispanic parents have been misled into believing that their children need bilingual education to learn English.

"There is no evidence to support that bilingual education is the most effective means to teach English,'' said Ms. Chavez, whose recent book, Out of the Barrio, accuses some Hispanic leaders of promoting bilingual education for the sake of maintaining the distinct Hispanic culture that serves as their power base.

Other Views Differ

In areas other than bilingual education, the opinions of the three ethnic groups covered in the survey often diverged.

Moreover, the respondents reported little interaction with members of either of the two other ethinic groups, and their members overwhelmingly preferred to be identified in terms of their national origin, such as "Mexican-American,'' rather than as "Hispanic'' or "Latino.''

The survey also found that:

  • The majority of Puerto Ricans had taken bilingual-education courses, but the majority of Mexicans and Cubans had not, regardless of whether they were born in the United States or elsewhere.
  • More than 60 percent of foreign-born Mexicans, 40 percent of Puerto Ricans born in Puerto Rico, and 37 percent of foreign-born Cubans had no more than eight years of formal education, making them significantly less educated than their peers born here.
  • More than three-quarters of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans attended public schools, but nearly half of Cubans attended private or parochial schools for all or part of their educations.

The Latino National Political Survey was conducted under the auspices of the Inter-University Program for Latino Research; funding for the project was provided by the Ford, Rockefeller, Spencer, and Tinker foundations.

The survey's principal researchers were Rodolfo O. de la Garza, a professor of community affairs at the University of Texas at Austin; Angelo Falcon, the president of the Institute for Puerto Rican Policy in New York City; F. Chris Garcia, a professor of political science at the University of New Mexico; and John A. Garcia, an associate professor of political science at the University of Arizona.

The survey's findings are presented in "Latino Voices: Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban Perspectives on American Politics,'' copies of which are available for $29.95 each from Westview Press, 5500 Central Ave., Boulder, Colo. 80301; (303) 444-3541.

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