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A Heartening Response to Incidents of Racism

February 05, 1989

The most dramatic evidence of the urbanization of Orange County and its change from a virtually all-Anglo enclave to a community with a real ethnic mix is found in the new school enrollment figures just released by the County Department of Education.

Anglo students today make up 58.6% of the total enrollment in the county's 28 school districts. That's a drop of more than 27% since figures on the schools' ethnic makeup were first recorded 15 years ago. And the trend remains decidedly downward.

The growing cultural and ethnic diversity in the county obviously poses greater challenges for educators in the classroom--and for residents and public officials throughout the community.

For one thing, there are language differences. In Santa Ana, where nine out of 10 students are non-Anglo, 40 different languages are spoken in the classrooms and community. School enrollments also reflect housing trends in which the high prices in the southern portions of the county have forced many minority families, especially young ones with children, to locate in the central and northern county areas where housing is more affordable.

It would be much more desirable to have the ethnic mix spread more evenly through the county, in part because it would allow young people to experience diversity in school and in their neighborhoods. But too often, instead of celebrating those rich cultural differences, some residents continue to look upon people as Latinos or Asians or "foreigners" rather than as fellow Americans and neighbors.

Several days ago there were reports of the theft or defacement of new road signs pointing the way to Little Saigon, the largest Vietnamese community outside Vietnam. There has been open animosity toward Asian students who have been excelling in academics in numbers far greater than their proportion in the student body. It is sometimes forgotten that these students are America's future scientists, doctors, teachers and leaders.

A cross was recently burned into the lawn of a black family in Westminster. And Latinos seeking to cast ballots in last November's state Assembly election in some Santa Ana precincts were harassed by uniformed guards hired by the Orange County Republican Party.

To the county's credit, each one of these acts has prompted a quick response from residents, who have rallied to condemn such acts of ignorance and racism. That is a heartening sign that there is a growing awareness and acceptance of the rich cultural and ethnic differences that make up the new face of Orange County.

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