Revolution #51, June 18, 2006

East L.A.: Bilingual School Comes Under Right-Wing Attack

There is an atmosphere in this country where the actions and goals of vigilantes like the Minutemen and its appeal to a right-wing base of people are gaining legitimacy, and a fascistic mentality of defending the “homeland” is promoted by both vigilantes and the government. Vigilantes are continuing to rally forces to build additional border fences between U.S and Mexico. Six thousand National Guard troops will be patrolling the border. The Senate recently passed a bill declaring that English is the national language of the United States. All of this is not only giving rise to but emboldening and strengthening an ugly xenophobic movement in this country.

In a community in East Los Angeles, Academia Semillas del Pueblo, a school that teaches their students in a bilingual English and Spanish program—as an approach to raising the students’ proficiency in English while instilling pride in their native language and culture—has received violent threats and hate calls focused on the school and Marcos Aguilar, the Principal Director of Development and Operations.

Doug McIntyre, a reactionary right-wing talk show host on KABC 790 AM, has been leading a campaign attacking this school for its multilingual and multicultural programs, accusing the school and its founders of being racist separatists and of excluding non-Hispanic students from attending the school.

In an interview Doug McIntyre told (a fascist web news source that is a common link on websites such as Horowitz’ Front Page and other right-wing blogs), “The whole multi-culture-diversity argument is blowing up in our faces... What's lost is we have a culture, too. But when you defend American culture—which I believe is the most diverse in the world—you are branded a xenophobe.”

On June 2, after two weeks of repeated attacks on Marcos Aguilar and Semillas del Pueblo, the school received a bomb threat that said, “That school is going to smell like burnt tortillas and beans… I hope you all burn. I hope you’re all there when the place goes up—and check for bombs, too.”

Academia Semillas del Pueblo is a K-8 charter school, an independent public school that focuses on creating innovative ways to improve student achievement. It is located in El Sereno, a community in East L.A. that is predominantly Latino with a significant Chinese population. The school offers a bilingual program in English and Spanish and also encourages students to learn other languages like Nahuatl, an Aztec language that is still widely spoken today, and Mandarin. The student body at the school is mostly Latino, with some Asian, Black, and white students.

Days before the bomb threat on the school, a reporter who works with KABC, Sandy Wells, visited the school and demanded to speak with Marcos Aguilar. He also attempted to interview students, parents, and staff and take photographs of the children who attend the school. He was asked to leave the premises by the school principal. Wells claims that as he was leaving, a large vehicle drove onto the curb, chased him, attempted to hit him, and that a man inside the car took away the audio recording he had. McIntyre and Wells have repeatedly implied, on the air, that Marcos Aguilar had something to do with this incident.

This story whipped up a frenzy among listeners who constantly called in saying that this school is proof that there’s a “Reconquista” movement to take over the Southwest and that Marcos Aguilar is training students to be “anti-American.”

Marcos Aguilar says that he sees this school not only as a product of the civil rights struggle but also of a continuation of it. On Thursday, June 8, Semillas del Pueblo held a press conference and a school tour. At the press conference a number of language and linguistics experts from UCLA, Cal State L.A., Cal State Dominguez Hills, and other literacy programs spoke on the uniqueness and effectiveness of a dual-language program that encourages students to become multi-lingual.

Dr. Reynaldo F. Macias, a professor of linguistics at UCLA, stated that teaching two languages “contributes to the positive self confidence of the children that participate in this school—a notion that is the basis of good learning and good teaching.”

“[Nahuatl and Mandarin] were chosen as second languages because there is a connection historically, culturally, and ethnically to the community that is surrounding us, but also to the broader community in the world. This is where the local becomes global. It seems to me that teaching in a dual language format and teaching two foreign languages ought not be controversial. When has it become a problem or a danger to teach more than teach less?”

McIntyre and others who launched the attack on the school claim that the school is “segregationist” and is doing a disservice to the children by not teaching them to integrate and assimilate into the American mainstream.

A teacher at the school commented that the students are being taught to be “critical thinkers, open minded, curious and intellectually stimulated.” Parents said that they have never seen their children so eager to go to school.

Marcos Aguilar said, “We want to build bridges with people of other races, with women who work in homes, with homosexuals, and anybody who is seen as ‘the other’—with anyone who is seen and looked down upon. We stand with them, with those people who perhaps make others feel uncomfortable. We stand with them.”

He also made a chilling comment: “I want to thank everybody, including Mr. McIntyre, for reminding us that we live in America today and for reminding us what America is today. That today, through hate radio, a children’s sanctuary can become a political and military target. That with hate speech, 5-year-olds can be labeled as ‘future terrorists’ in the U.S. of America.”

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