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Move to Make English Official Language Assailed as Divisive

April 23, 1986|From a Times Staff Writer

A movement to declare English the official language in California is divisive and encourages bigotry, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors declared Tuesday.

The board, by a 4-0 vote, approved a resolution by the county Commission on Human Relations criticizing local and statewide efforts to declare English the official language. Supervisor Deane Dana was absent.

Such efforts do not encourage immigrants and non-English speakers to learn English, and only serve to "pit neighbor against neighbor," the county resolution said, adding, "They reflect on our worst fears, not our best values."

The commission said studies show that immigrants understand the importance of speaking English, and that English classes at community colleges and adult schools consistently have long waiting lists.

"We see no threat to English," said Eugene S. Mornell, the commission's executive director.

Nearly All Are Foreigners

"We are all foreigners except for the American Indian," said Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, who asked the supervisors to approve the commission's statement.

One group, led by former U.S. Sen. S. I. Hayakawa, wants to amend the state Constitution to declare English the official language of California.

Noting that English is already the official language of the United States, Irvin Lai, national president of the Chinese American Citizen Alliance, said, "Why now do we affirm to ourselves that English is the primary language? What is behind it?"

He said approval of Hayakawa's initiative, which the former senator hopes to qualify for the November ballot, would "have ramifications of bigotry and racial prejudice."

Conflicts over English language resolutions have arisen recently in Monterey Park, Alhambra and South Gate. In addition, two Northern California cities have declared English to be the official language.

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