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Reader's Reference to Latinos' Hikes in Escondido Canyon

July 08, 1993

I must defend myself against the unfounded charges of racism made against me by letter writer John A. Diaz (June 17), who accused me of espousing "in-your-face discrimination" against Hispanics regarding environmental concerns in Escondido Canyon. As a month had passed since my letter was published, Times readers could not be expected to comprehend the extent to which Diaz mischaracterized my position.

Diaz took particular umbrage in my innocuous remark that Hispanics, like other nature lovers, roam the Santa Monica Mountains. Though Webster's will confirm that to roam means to wander or to travel unhindered--common outdoor activities not normally thought as racially charged--Diaz contended that this "conjures up visions of hunters and gatherers scouring the hillside." Visions indeed, all in the mind of Mr. Diaz. Here is my complete sentence: "Thousands upon thousands of responsible Hispanics roam the Santa Monica Mountains leaving nothing but footprints and taking nothing but pictures." From this exculpatory prose, in which I endeavor to support the Hispanic community at large by distancing the proper conduct of the many from the destructive malfeasance of the few, the racially hypersensitive Diaz concludes I was "attempting to make a connection between Hispanics and nomadic tribesmen."

According to Diaz, the main purpose of my letter was "to deny that racism exists among the homeowners in Escondido Canyon." Yet I clearly stated in the very first sentence that I could not deny (or affirm) the prejudice of these individuals. I don't know them, I've never met them. I have, however, met and befriended many, many Hispanics in the 25 years I've lived in Southern California, and I consider them to be among the finest, most wonderful people I've ever known. This avowal could be a bit misleading, however, for notwithstanding my Italian surname, from the heritage of my mother and two of my four grandparents, I am one of you, Senor Diaz. And proud of it.

JULIAN J. MALTESE

Santa Monica

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