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A commentary in Nuestro Tiempo (December) rightly pointed...

May 03, 1990

A commentary in Nuestro Tiempo (December) rightly pointed out the many achievements reached by Latinos during the 1980s. In hindsight, however, the '80s also must be remembered as a highly anti-Latino decade.

Anti-Latino remarks were catapulted from being muttered under one's breath to being flashed across newspaper headlines. Charges that Latinos are un-American, refuse to assimilate, and refuse to learn English became TV talk show fare.

The English-only movement became a lucrative fund-raising vehicle for dozens of organizations across the country determined to rid the nation of any public use of Spanish.

Fortunately, the racist motives of the lead organization, U.S. English, were unmasked in 1988. But unfortunately, English-only proponents are still at it. A Chicago alderman recently suggested that merchants be required to pass an English-proficiency test.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 did offer a tremendous opportunity for many to become legal residents and ultimately citizens. But IRCA was fundamentally an exclusionary policy, this nation's harshest immigration law ever. The new law has not accomplished what it was purported to do. It has not stopped unlawful immigration nor the employment of undocumented workers.

The 1986 immigration law did succeed in dramatically increasing employment discrimination against Latinos. The General Accounting Office determined that 16% of employers surveyed discriminate against Latinos as a direct result of the new law.

In addition, Latinos as a group were left out of the nation's economic progress. During the 1980s, the rate of increase in the number of Latinos living in poverty far outpaced the rate of increase in the Latino population overall. Latino children fared the worse. Today, two out of every five Latino children live in poverty. In households headed by a single mother, 80% of Latino children are poor.

The 1980s were a decade of significant progress for Latinos, and that must be recognized. However, we also must understand that the anti-Latino sentiment that flourished was partly a reaction to the increased visibility and influence of this growing segment of the U.S. population.

Latinos and non-Latinos would do well to learn the lessons of the 1980s. Social progress is not achieved without some expense. In the 1990s, we should remind ourselves that increased diversity strengthens our society and must be respected at minimum, and welcomed and promoted at best.

ARTURO VARGAS, Los Angeles

Vargas is director of MALDEF's 1990 census program .

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