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Monterey Park Struggles to Speak With One Voice on English Issue

October 30, 1986|LILY ENG | Times Staff Writer

MONTEREY PARK — It was dark outside City Hall as about 50 people began to gather.

Standing solemnly in the faint glow of the building's light, members of the Coalition for Harmony in Monterey Park carried red, white and blue posters that called on the City Council to "make harmony and understanding the official language in Monterey Park."

The group had come to Monday night's council meeting to present a petition signed by more than 4,500 people urging that the council rescind a resolution calling for the adoption of English as the nation's official language and for stricter enforcement of immigration laws.

Reaction to Resolution

Other people stood and just watched the rally. Some shook their heads. One man muttered that the group was "un-American."

Such has been the reaction stirred by the controversial resolution in the city of 58,000 that is 40% Asian and 37% Latino.

In a surprise move four hours later, the council voted 3 to 2 to rescind the 4-month-old resolution after Councilman Cam Briglio changed his stand on the measure to bring "peace" to the community.

"Whether I agree or not . . . let's cut out the divisiveness," Briglio said after he moved that the resolution passed in June be repealed.

Recall Campaign

Mayor G. Monty Manibog and Councilman Chris Houseman also voted for the rescission. Council members Barry Hatch and Pat Reichenberger, who supported the resolution in June, voted against rescinding it.

Kevin Smith, a Monterey Park developer who is leading a recall campaign against Briglio, Hatch and Reichenberger, said Briglio will remain a target, despite switching his vote.

"Briglio did not say the resolution was wrong," Smith said. "He just said he wanted to take care of city business."

For three hours before the vote, the council listened to about 25 speakers who voiced emotional views for and against the resolution. The speakers were often cheered or hooted by the 150 people in the audience, some of whom waved signs throughout the meeting. Members of the audience often applauded speakers and urged them to run for City Council.

Opponents of the measure called it a "racist symbol" and a "divider of the community."

Supporters of the resolution said it was a "symbol of togetherness," contending that English should be the common language.

'We Are Dividing People'

Stan Krauthamer, a 27-year resident, chided the council and said he was ashamed of the city's actions.

"I came here to Monterey Park for its diversity," Krauthamer told the council. "We want to welcome people here. We always have. Instead we are dividing people."

Frank L. Cuda, another longtime resident, said he did not think the city should deal with the official-language issue, but added that he did not want illegal residents in Monterey Park.

"We welcome newcomers here and we hope they learn the American way," Cuda said. "But there's no room for lawbreakers. The United States doesn't stand for lawbreakers."

Step in Right Direction

George Ristic, a retired teacher who lives in the city, praised the resolution, calling it a step in the right direction. Children have to learn English to join the "mainstream of life," Ristic said.

Citing a U.S. Education Department report, Ristic said, "We failed to teach kids proficiency in English. People who say bilingual education doesn't affect society are full of crap."

Ruth Wilner, a 28-year resident and a coalition member, pleaded with Briglio to change his stand on the resolution.

"I know, Cam, that you didn't mean to hurt anybody, but (the resolution is) dividing the community," Wilner said. She said later that she aimed her comments at Briglio because they are friends.

Cites Threats and Harassment

Briglio said he has been physically threatened several times since the resolution was passed in June. He has been harassed over the phone and on the street, said Briglio, who added that his wife also has suffered harassment.

Calling for peace in the community, Briglio moved to rescind the measure. He said that some parts of the resolution confused him.

Hatch noted that a statewide measure, Proposition 63, which calls for making English the state's official language, will be voted on Tuesday. "The resolution still lives in the voting booths," he said.

After the meeting, Councilwoman Reichenberger said that the resolution has not hurt the community.

"I want the best for anyone by promoting fluency of English," Reichenberger said. "The attempt for fluency benefits society."

Coalition spokesman Michael Eng said the group's months of work to fight the resolution and the attempt to make English the city's official language has been worthwhile.

"Now we can get on with the healing process," Eng said.

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