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Schwarzenegger Language-Advocacy Link Is Criticized

The candidate for governor is called on to sever ties with U.S. English. Some leaders of the group have been accused of racial agenda.

August 30, 2003|Greg Krikorian and Joe Mathews | Times Staff Writers

Arnold Schwarzenegger is coming under growing criticism from civil rights groups and immigrants' advocates for his 16-year membership on the advisory board of U.S. English, a Washington-based organization that bills itself as the nation's largest group dedicated to preserving English as America's official language.

For much of Schwarzenegger's tenure on the board, U.S. English Inc. has been dogged by accusations that the group's day-to-day leadership has used its English-first message to hide a more racially divisive agenda.

Seizing on evidence of the group's ties to extremist groups, the country's oldest Latino civil rights group -- the League of United Latin American Citizens -- called on Schwarzenegger Thursday to quit the U.S. English board.

Other civil rights groups have followed suit, saying that they see a pattern of antipathy to immigrants in Schwarzenegger's service with U.S. English; his support of the 1994 ballot initiative Proposition 187, which would have cut off public services to illegal immigrants in California; and his selection of that proposition's key proponent, former Gov. Pete Wilson, as a campaign co-chairman.

The criticism has been fueled by recent allegations that U.S. English's communications director had ties to white supremacists. Earlier this month, the communications director resigned from U.S. English as did well-known conservative columnist David Horowitz, who said his conscience would not allow him to remain on the board.

"Schwarzenegger is disingenuous if he thinks that, by telling us he is pro-immigrant and pro-Latino, the Hispanic community is going to vote for him," said national President Hector Flores of the Latino rights group. League officials stressed that they have no position on recalling Gov. Gray Davis.

Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute, a Los Angeles-based group that studies Latino political trends, said U.S. English "represents the legitimate face of fascism in America.... And to think that Schwarzenegger has been tied to them for 15 years is awful."

Schwarzenegger has not resigned and has not discussed his U.S. English ties in public. A campaign spokesman, Sean Walsh, said that Schwarzenegger hadn't "been active" with the board in several years and "does not track" U.S. English's activities.

The movie star-turned-candidate does support the broad goal of encouraging immigrants to learn English, Walsh said.

"He came as an immigrant to the country," Walsh said. "He did not speak the language. He, like millions of other immigrants, realized very quick that if you did not master or become proficient in the tongue of the country you immigrate to, you will be severely impacted in enjoying all the fruits and freedoms."

If Schwarzenegger has been inactive he would hardly be the only board member to be distant from the group. Harvard sociologist Nathan Glazer said this week that he had been listed on the board for more than a decade "but the board and I have been totally inactive for a dozen years."

"It was a question of having your name listed," Glazer said. A list of the advisory board posted Friday on the U.S. English Web site includes novelist Saul Bellow, golfing great Arnold Palmer, former Sen. Eugene McCarthy, actor Lee Majors and game show host Alex Trebek.

The organization's chairman, a Chilean-born architect named Mauro Mujica, said the organization's internal politics have nothing to do with Schwarzenegger or California's recall election.

"It's a lot to do about nothing," Mujica said, saying that the group is neither anti-Latino nor anti-immigrant. "It has only to do with the language issues and the belief that immigrants who come to this country should learn the language of this country."

The organization was formed four years before Schwarzenegger joined. A Michigan ophthalmologist named John Tanton , who was worried that the nation's population growth was destroying the environment, founded the group with S.I. Hayakawa, a former Republican senator from California. Today, it claims 1.7 million members.

In 1987, Schwarzenegger joined the board, according to U.S. English. In 1988, Schwarzenegger was a featured attraction at a membership meeting of the group at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, according to U.S. English's then-director, Linda Chavez.

That same year, a provocative internal memo by Tanton on "the non-economic consequences of immigration" was leaked to the press. The seven-page memo posed questions such as "Is apartheid in Southern California's future?" and "Will Latin American migrants bring with them the tradition of the mordida (bribe), the lack of involvement in public affairs, etc.?"

Tanton's memo raised questions about the "reproductive powers" of the races, suggesting: "perhaps this is the first instance in which those with the pants up are going to get caught by those with their pants down!"

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