Hold Your Tongue

CHAPTER SIX
(excerpt)

Hispanophobia 

By James Crawford


 
 


RAUL YZAGUIRRE, president of the National Council of La Raza, minces no words: "U.S. English is to Hispanics as the Ku Klux Klan is to blacks." However harsh that analysis may seem, it is the consensus among Latino leaders, from rightist Cubans to liberal Chicanos to radical Puerto Ricans. English Only has united them like nothing else in recent memory. They perceive it to be a campaign of intolerance, aimed in particular at Spanish and its speakers. To their ears "the legal protection of English" sounds a lot like "equal rights for whites": a demand inspired by the paranoia of the dominant group, a backlash against Hispanic advances in civil rights, education, and political empowerment. In a word, racism. 

After one listens to the anti-Hispanic (not to mention anti-Asian) ravings of some English Only proponents, the word seems apt. Yet it remains a blunt instrument imprecise, confusing, and of course, crushing when it scores a direct hit. U.S. English was concerned enough about the allegation that by 1985 it was holding internal workshops on "Answering the Charge of Racism." On the other hand, the word can have a boomerang effect against those who hurl it too freely. To casual observers of the Official English debate that is, to most monolingual Americans the label appears irresponsible. What does race have to do with language, after all? Is it racist to suggest that immigrants need to learn English to prosper in this country? What's wrong with encouraging them to enter the mainstream rather than remain apart? These are reasonable questions, and, to judge from results at the polls, critics of Official English have been unconvincing in their answers. 

Taking further wind from their sails, in 1987 U.S. English hired Linda Chávez, a former high-ranking official in the Reagan administration, as president of the organization. She was an ideal choice for the job. A seasoned Washington operative, well-connected on Capitol Hill and among "movement" conservatives, Chávez was an experienced television performer, attractive and articulate, with a knack for arguing extreme positions without sounding shrill. And naturally, her ethnicity was no handicap in rebutting charges of racism. "Hispanics who learn English will be able to avail themselves of opportunities," she liked to say. "Those who do not will be relegated to second-class citizenship. I don't want to see that happen to my people." Official English implied no animus toward immigrants, she insisted. Measures like Proposition 63 were aimed at correcting misguided policies that hindered newcomers' assimilation into American life. Besides, Chávez told one group of skeptics, 73 percent of California voters can't be racist. Falling into the trap, some members of the audience shot back, "Oh, yes, they can!" (Who's paranoid now?) 

Emotional attacks on Official English have done little to win over the undecided and often have had the opposite effect. Debating the issue on a 1986 edition of the Donahue show, Arnold Torres, a lobbyist for the League of United Latin American Citizens, berated an opponent: "You don't agree with what we are saying because you're a bigot." This type of name-calling aided leaders of U.S. English in portraying themselves as victims of unprincipled, ad hominem attacks. It also reinforced their claim that "professional Hispanics, as distinguished from Hispanic professionals," oppose the English Language Amendment not on its merits, but because it threatens their status as ethnic brokers.

S. I. Hayakawa, the organization's cofounder and honorary chairman, turned the issue around, suggesting there was something racist about bilingual services: "All of us who are naturalized immigrants are deeply offended when government assumes we don't understand English." As a "minority" himself, the former senator could get away with ethnic generalizations that whites could not. "Why is it," he once asked

    that no Filipinos, no Koreans object to making English the official language? No Japanese have done so. And certainly not the Vietnamese, who are so damn happy to be here. They're learning English as fast as they can and winning spelling bees all across the country. But the Hispanics alone have maintained there is a problem. There [has been] considerable movement to make Spanish the second official language. The Hispanic lobby said we're going to teach the kids in Spanish and we'll call that bilingual education.
Anglo-Americans inclined to embrace such stereotypes, but conflicted about their fairness, could take comfort in hearing them expressed by an Asian immigrant. 

Yet few Asians would have designated the late senator as their spokesman. He long ago alienated fellow Japanese Americans by defending the U.S. government's decision to intern them during World War II (a period he spent teaching semantics at the Illinois Institute of Technology). Indeed, he seemed to enjoy himself most when courting controversy. Hayakawa's political career was launched by television images that showed him, as president of San Francisco State University, tearing the wires out of a sound truck operated by antiwar demonstrators. (They had refused to offer him the microphone, he said, thus abridging his freedom of speech.) Years later, when picketed for his English Only stance, the senator said he was "awfully glad" to see the protesters. "Every time they bring out a big enough demonstration against me, I've won out in the long run."

THOUGH THE RACISM CHARGES PERSISTED, U.S. English became increasingly effective in spreading its message. By 1988, all but two of the fifty states had at least considered legislation to declare English their official language most of them in response to lobbying by U.S. English. A remarkable feat for an interest group founded only five years earlier. Single-handedly, it had placed a new idea on the national agenda, grown into a $6-million-a-year operation, and recruited more members than Common Cause. It was on its way to adding three more states to the Official English column through initiatives in Florida, Colorado, and Arizona. Then came a public relations catastrophe. 

A month before election day, the Arizona Republic published excerpts of a confidential memorandum by the chairman of U.S. English that seemed to confirm everything the critics had been saying about racism, and more. At last, the smoking gun. Here was a document that dropped the pretense of defending "our common language" and explained the "threat" in candid, demographic terms. Unless something was done, it warned, the United States would face a Hispanic takeover through immigration and high birthrates:

    Gobernar es poblar translates "to govern is to populate." In this society where the majority rules, does this hold? Will the present majority peaceably hand over its political power to a group that is simply more fertile? ... Can homo contraceptivus compete with homo progenitiva [sic] if borders aren't controlled? Or is advice to limit one's family simply advice to move over and let someone else with greater reproductive powers occupy the space? ... Perhaps this is the first instance in which those with their pants up are going to get caught by those with their pants down! ... 

    How will we make the transition from a dominant non-Hispanic society with a Spanish influence to a dominant Spanish society with a non-Hispanic influence? ... As Whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion? ... We're building in a deadly disunity. All great empires disintegrate, we want stability.

The memo was a frank revival of the "race suicide" theory: American institutions were imperiled by a new wave of fast-breeding immigrants.<1> Its author was Dr. John Tanton, an ophthalmologist from Petoskey, Michigan, and a "cofounder" of U.S. English, along with S. I. Hayakawa. In reality, it was Tanton who had approached the senator with the idea, the organizational acumen, and the big donor contacts. Hayakawa agreed to serve in a ceremonial capacity, signing direct-mail appeals and op-ed articles and making occasional public appearances. As chairman, Tanton held the reins of U.S. English from the beginning. He handpicked the staff, presided over the board, and set policy directions, while keeping a low profile that enabled him to continue his medical practice part-time and to focus on big-picture questions that preoccupied him. Of the latter, the most pressing was what he termed "the Latin onslaught." Not surprisingly, Tanton was also an advocate of tighter immigration restrictions. In 1979, believing that the volume of newcomers had overloaded the nation's assimilative mechanism, he founded the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a lobbying group similar to U.S. English. He served as its chairman until 1987.

Yet Tanton was hardly the right-wing fanatic that many critics assumed him to be. His roots as a citizen-activist were in two movements long associated with liberalism: ecology and population control. Tanton has said that growing up on a Michigan farm made him "a congenital conservationist." Beginning in the 1960s, he became active in the Sierra Club, the National Audubon Society, and like-minded groups. Environmentalism led in turn to the problem of too many humans. After starting a Planned Parenthood chapter in northern Michigan, Tanton joined Zero Population Growth, rising to become its national president in the mid-1970s. By now, however, the "population bomb" scare had subsided. Americans were having, on average, fewer than 2.1 children per couple what demographers call "replacement level fertility" for industrialized nations. In other words, the U.S. population would start gradually to decline were it not for an extraneous factor: immigration. It was to this threat that Tanton now turned. "More and more countries, most of them poor and less developed, are reaching the point of excessive population, resource depletion, and economic stagnation," he wrote in 1975. "Their `huddled masses' cast longing eyes on the apparent riches of the industrial west. The developed countries lie directly in the path of a great storm from the Third World." 

While sympathetic to these concerns, neither the Sierra Club nor Zero Population Growth wanted to make a crusade of immigration restriction. The issue simply had too many racial overtones. As one former Z.P.G. staffer explained, Tanton and his allies "talk in very legitimate terms, about protecting our borders and saving the nation's resources and so on. But the trouble is, after you've heard them, you want to go home and take a shower." 

Breaking with his squeamish colleagues, Tanton went off to start FAIR, determined, as he later recalled, to defy "the taboo that in 1979 proscribed discussion of the immigration issue." In fact, this was a time of growing interest in the subject. President Jimmy Carter responded by appointing a commission to study U.S. immigration policy and recommend changes (which it did in 1981). What Tanton really meant was that a philosophical departure from the asylum principle only recently revived by the 1965 immigration law coupled with cries of alarm about Third World invaders and calls for strict quotas, was bound to be politically suspect. This created special problems for a lobby like FAIR, observed historian Otis Graham, one of its original board members. During the Anglo-Saxonist era, he noted, "certain intellectuals much concerned with racial purity" had given nativism a bad name. "Though the country has moved far beyond the racial attitudes of fifty, even twenty years ago, there seems still to linger the assumption that restrictionist ideas must somehow derive from the reactionary side of the national character." As a corrective, Graham argued that FAIR must reposition its agenda: "The restrictionist case can and must be articulated from centrist, and even liberal or radical, perspectives." 

Accordingly, the organization settled on a strategy of emphasizing the economic and political impact of immigration on average Americans, while shying away from the more sensitive issues of assimilation and pluralism a populist appeal that left ethnic resentments implicit. In its fundraising letters FAIR did not hesitate to target Hispanic newcomers, undocumented Mexicans in particular, as a menace to the general welfare. Yet it rarely mentioned the impact of the Spanish language or raised the specter of cultural separatism. When Tanton tried to steer the group in that direction, its board of directors resisted. So once again he was forced to create a new vehicle. 

U.S. English took the opposite tack, focusing on language while avoiding immigration. Privately, Tanton believed the two issues were "inextricably intertwined," but as a tactical matter they had to be kept separate. To charge linguistic minorities with refusing to assimilate and simultaneously to propose limiting their numbers smacked of ethnic intolerance, a return to the old nativism. It would reveal an impolitic analysis shared by several (though not all) leaders of FAIR and U.S. English that the problem was not merely the quantity of new immigrants, but the quality: too many Hispanics. 

The two organizations also shared a suite of offices, a multimillionaire benefactor, a general counsel, a political-action-committee treasurer, a direct-mail wizard, a writer-publicist, and of course, John Tanton as C.E.O. Gerda Bikales, executive director of U.S. English for its first four years, was previously an employee of FAIR. There was constant fraternization, even intermarriage, between the two staffs. And yet, both organizations went to great lengths to conceal these connections.<2> Opponents of Official English naturally did what they could to expose them, but to limited effect. While journalists profiled the many faces of Dr. Tanton (small-town visionary and beekeeper extraordinaire) and began to trace his expanding network of tax-exempt "public interest" groups, few people paid much attention. Not until his memo surfaced did the full extent of his agenda become visible. 

Tanton had written the paper for a private study group drawn principally from U.S. English, FAIR, and allied organizations. He dubbed it WITAN, after the Old English witenagemot, or council of wise men to advise the king. Tanton later explained: "It was a whimsical name that we chose for a group of people who meet a couple of times a year to talk about the general problems of language and assimilation and population, to gather wool about what the future may hold. Sort of a think-tank." Sort of a repressed symbol of Anglo-Saxon pride, he might have added. A name that conveys images of blond-haired warriors meeting under the oak tree "to make laws and choose chieftains." (As a put-on, Dr. Mark LaPorta of the Florida English Campaign once informed his opponents that WITAN meant "white man in Druid," prompting an embarrassing press release. But LaPorta was not far off the mark. WASP Power would be a good loose translation.) This kind of nostalgia for a more homogeneous society was precisely what Graham, a regular at WITAN conclaves, had warned against. So attendance was strictly by invitation only and the proceedings were never publicized. 

As the Proposition 63 campaign raged during the fall of 1986, WITAN gathered in its sanctum to ponder the implications of demographic diversity in California. Tanton's memo was a study guide to readings on the subject, taking what he later termed a "Socratic approach" of posing provocative questions. Most of these involved the impact of Hispanics on American life:

    Will Latin American migrants bring with them the tradition of the mordida (bribe), the lack of involvement in public affairs, etc.? ... Is assimilation a function of the educational and economic level of immigrants? If so, what are the consequences of having so many ill-educated people coming in to low paying jobs? ... What are the differences in educability between Hispanics (with their 50 percent dropout rate) and Asiatics (with their excellent school records and long tradition of scholarship)? ... 

    Will Catholicism brought in from Mexico be in the [Latin] American or the European model? ... What are the implications ... for the separation of church and state? The Catholic church has never been reticent on this point. If they get a majority of voters, will they pitch out this concept? ... 

    Is apartheid in Southern California's future? The demographic picture in South Africa now is startlingly similar to what we'll see in California in 2030. ... A White majority owns the property, has the best jobs and education, has the political power, and speaks one language. A non-White majority has poor education, jobs, and income, owns little property, is on its way to political power, and speaks a different language. ... Will there be strength in this diversity? Or will this prove a social and political San Andreas fault?

As usual, Tanton was a bit hazy on the facts. Political involvement in Latin America varies by country, but as measured by electoral turnout, it is generally higher than in the United States. Mexico has a long history of anticlericalism that has minimized the church's influence in government. Two languages, not one, are spoken by South African whites (English and Afrikaans). These points are minor, but symptomatic of his biases. Although Tanton subsequently argued that the memo had been "mis- and mal-interpreted," he concluded it with the observation: "This is all obviously dangerous territory." Little did he know.

WHEN THE STORY BROKE on October 9, 1988, Linda Chávez was preparing to leave for Colorado to stump for Official English. The trip already promised to be difficult. Growing up poor in Denver, of Mexican American and Irish Catholic parentage, Chávez had traveled far and climbed high. Beginning as a liberal aide on Capitol Hill, she drifted rightward during her seven years in the employ of Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers. In 1983, based largely on her writings for neoconservative journals, Ronald Reagan chose Chávez to direct his revamped Commission on Civil Rights. Later he brought her to the White House to direct the Office of Public Liaison. Thanks to appearances on shows like MacNeil/Lehrer and Good Morning America and a credible run for the U.S. Senate from Maryland, Linda Chávez was, at age forty-one, among the nation's most prominent Hispanics. Back in Denver, however, her success had aroused little of the hometown pride one might expect. Many Latinos viewed her as a traitor who had sold her surname to anti-Hispanic causes first, the assault on affirmative action and now the English Only movement. This woman who spoke no Spanish herself presumed to lecture others on the evils of bilingualism and, worse, to represent Official English as beneficial to "her people." The former was contemptible, the latter unforgivable. 

Ironically, Chávez now insists that she has never approved of language legislation including the English Language Amendment and that she made clear this rather significant reservation before Tanton hired her in the summer of 1987. (At the time she told a journalist, "I would never, ever, agree to join a cause I didn't agree with.") Chávez explains that, despite her distaste for state-supported bilingualism, she saw Official English as a mistake: "It's the conservative, almost the libertarian, in me that says, `Why are we doing this?' I couldn't stand up and say it was going to solve the problems people thought it was going to solve. Nor was I ever in favor of `language police' to stop people from speaking another language." English Only initiatives seemed "meaningless" in states like California and Colorado, with growing numbers of assimilated Hispanics like herself, and even in the border states of Arizona, where "second-generation Hispanics are mostly English dominant." Rather than polarizing people with pointless resolutions, Chávez says, she would have preferred to emphasize the narrower and more achievable goals of limiting bilingual education and abolishing bilingual ballots pursuits that U.S. English regarded as less glamorous and therefore less appealing to contributors. 

Yet neither side in the transaction had to be seduced. Out of work since her 1986 Senate campaign, Chávez plainly needed the job, which not only paid more than $75,000 a year but kept her face before the public. For his part, Tanton could not resist the public relations coup of recruiting a Hispanic to represent the organization. Not that Linda Chávez had any warm following among Latinos quite the contrary but Anglos who craved reassurance about the high-mindedness of U.S. English had no idea of the animosity that her name aroused. 

Arriving in Boulder to debate Colorado Attorney General Duane Woodard, Chávez was expecting a rough-and-tumble exchange over Official English. But she was stopped short by questions about the Tanton memo. Suddenly racism no longer seemed like such a wild charge. Reporters wanted to know: did she agree that Latinos threatened to corrupt U.S. institutions, merge church and state, and breed white Americans into oblivion? Though aware of WITAN, and somewhat troubled by it, Chávez replied that she had neither seen the memo nor heard her boss express the sentiments it contained. And she was "very disturbed" to hear them now. Meanwhile word arrived that Walter Cronkite had resigned from the U.S. English advisory board, an association he termed "embarrassing," and asked that his name be removed from the group's letterhead. "I cannot favor legislation," Cronkite explained, "that could even remotely be interpreted to restrict the civil rights or the educational opportunities of our minority population." 

Linda Chávez remembers "feeling I was in an absolutely impossible situation." She regarded the memo as "repugnant and not excusable," blatantly "anti-Catholic and anti-Hispanic." As for Tanton's defense that he was merely raising issues for discussion, she countered, "There are ways in which you can ask questions that beg certain answers that are not dispassionate and disinterested." Returning to Washington, where the U.S. English board was scheduled to meet that weekend, she issued a he-goes-or-I-go ultimatum. In the event, they both chose to resign amid a new series of disclosures. 

It had always made Chávez nervous that Tanton closely guarded the details of U.S. English finances and kept many of the pertinent files in Michigan. Until mid-1988, the organization was part of a corporate entity known as U.S. Inc., essentially a pot of tax-deductible contributions that the doctor ladled out to his favorite causes. Unbeknownst to Linda Chávez a free-market conservative who describes her own position as "aggressively pro-legal immigration" the beneficiaries included anti-immigration groups like FAIR, Americans for Border Control, and Californians for Population Stabilization. After a year of insisting that U.S. English had no axe to grind on immigration, Chávez says she felt betrayed that Tanton had concealed these ties. She was even more dismayed to learn about some of his funding sources. 

In the spring of 1988, when grassroots efforts to qualify the Arizona initiative foundered and U.S. English needed an emergency infusion of cash to hire professional canvassers, Chávez says Tanton turned to an anonymous donor, Cordelia Scaife May. The name meant little to her at the time, other than its association with the Mellon fortune. A reclusive heiress, whose personal wealth is estimated at more than $500 million, May turned out to be the largest contributor to U.S. English, FAIR, and Population-Environment Balance (yet another Tanton-linked group). During the 1980s, she donated at least $5.8 million to this network of organizations via her Pittsburgh-based Laurel Foundation and personal trust funds.<3> May's support was kept in the strictest confidence. By 1986, according to federal tax documents, she had given U.S. English $650,000 more than 10 percent of its total expenditures but in an interview that year, executive director Gerda Bikales denied the group had received any foundation grants, insisting that its funding came entirely from "membership." 

Cordelia Scaife May is the sister of Richard Mellon Scaife, a preeminent funder of the New Right, but her own philanthropic interests run toward population control efforts irrespective of political ideology, a legacy from her childhood friend and mentor, Margaret Sanger. Married twice, though briefly, May is childless and believes the world would benefit if others followed her example. (Her car once displayed a bumper sticker reading, Stop the Stork.) Like Tanton, she seems concerned with a particular source of population growth. Her funding decisions have increasingly favored groups working to reduce fertility in the Third World or to limit the flow of Third World immigrants. 

In 1983, May's foundation spent $5,000 to help distribute an obscure French novel, The Camp of the Saints, by Jean Raspail. Taking the form of a futuristic allegory in which starving refugees from the Ganges invade Europe, the book is a white racist's call to arms. Nothing less than Western civilization is at stake, the author warns in his preface: "We need only glance at the awesome population figures predicted for the year 2000 ... seven billion people, only nine hundred million of whom will be white." The alternatives are stark: race solidarity now or race suicide later. Raspail is contemptuous of muddleheaded humanitarians who refuse to address the alien threat in the novel they resist shooting dark-skinned intruders on sight until it is too late to save white society. Fashionable "antiracists" are portrayed as quislings who open the gates to foul-smelling hordes that proceed to slaughter Frenchmen and rape their women. All in all, a parable to inspire today's Jeremiahs on the immigration question. 

As it happened, Linda Chávez had reviewed the book when it was first translated in 1975 and found it chilling. "Raspail preaches racial mistrust and hatred as a natural condition of man," she wrote. "One need go no farther than his characters' own words to argue that he preaches genocide as well." When a journalist informed Chávez about May's role in promoting The Camp of the Saints, other connections clicked. She recalled seeing a U.S. English staff member carrying around a copy of the book. The organization's attorney, Barnaby Zall, had recently praised it as "a prophetic work." And Garrett Hardin, one of Tanton's WITAN associates, had cited it approvingly: "Will America, like invaded France in Raspail's novel, continue to be immobilized by ambivalence in the face of a silent invasion? If we cannot muster the will to protect ourselves, we will find that we have shared not wealth, but poverty with our invaders." This was a cult book, Chávez realized, and she was a leader of the cult. Not what she had bargained for. 

Had she needed further reason to flee the building, it was provided by the Pioneer Fund, another distressing link with the white supremacist fringe. Dedicated to "race betterment" through eugenics, this secretive foundation has been FAIR's third largest benefactor, contributing $680,000 to its operations between 1982 and 1989. Again Otis Graham's advice was ignored. Rather than keep a discreet distance from racial nativists, Tanton accepted their checks. 

The Pioneer Fund was founded in 1937 by Harry H. Laughlin, former "expert eugenics agent" to the House Immigration Committee, who had convinced Congress of the genetic "inadequacy" of eastern and southern Europeans. Immigration restrictions were essential, he insisted, because newcomers contributed to "the germ plasm of the future American population."<4> Writing to the Pioneer Fund's millionaire patron in 1936, Laughlin described its objectives as follows: "practical population control ... by influencing those forces which govern immigration and the sterilization of degenerates, and which influence mate selection and number of children differentially in favor of American racial strains and sound family-stocks." His first project was to distribute films popularizing what he termed "Applied Genetics in Present-Day Germany" that is, the Nazi program of forced sterilization for persons judged to be of inferior heredity. Enamored of Heinrich Himmler's Lebensborn, or Aryan breeding farms for S.S. members, Laughlin sought "to encourage high fertility by junior flying officers of especially superior heredity." The Pioneer Fund established a scholarship program for the third child of Army Air Corps pilots. 

Responding to its critics in 1989, the Pioneer Fund vigorously denied any racist, fascist, or anti-Semitic leanings. It stressed its continuing support for genetic research at reputable institutions, for example, a University of Minnesota study of hereditary traits in identical twins reared apart. And it noted that Laughlin, who died in 1941, "was in the mainstream of U.S. thought during the early 1930s, as witnessed by our restrictive immigration laws and by the sterilization laws in over half our states."

Certainly, Laughlin reflected not to mention reinforced the prejudices of his time and class. Another founding member of the Pioneer Fund was John Marshall Harlan, future Supreme Court justice. Other intimates included Senator James Eastland of Mississippi and Representative Francis E. Walter, chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Yet, long after Hitler's atrocities had clarified the implications of eugenics and other ventures in "scientific" racism, the Pioneer Fund continued quietly to support what it terms "the study of human variation," including efforts by Arthur Jensen and William Shockley to prove the intellectual inferiority of blacks. In the 1970s it financed antibusing seminars in Boston and Louisville by Ralph Scott, an activist in the National Association for Neighborhood Schools. In the 1980s it subsidized a "comparison of the nonverbal intelligence of Hong Kong and California schoolchildren" by the so-called Institute for the Study of Educational Differences. And the Pioneer Fund aided the Institute for Western Values the same group Cordelia May paid to distribute The Camp of the Saints in publishing the autobiography of Thomas Dixon, the preacher and novelist who helped to revive the modern Ku Klux Klan. 

Asked about these unsavory connections in September 1988, John Tanton professed to know nothing about the foundation beyond its support of the "Minnesota twins" study. During his years as chairman of FAIR, a period when the organization received half a million dollars from the Pioneer Fund, it seems his curiosity was never aroused. Why was this funder of genetic research so interested in immigration? "I guess they just see it as an important population question for the country," Tanton replied.<5>

Linda Chávez divined a more sinister meaning in all this. Putting together Tanton's memo and funding sources, she saw a clear pattern and knew others would see it too: "This nexus of issues population control, immigration control, and language policy certainly gives the impression that [U.S. English] is biased against Hispanics." That was not something she wanted on her résumé. Chávez moved quickly to sever all ties with U.S. English, Tanton, and his contributors. After a bit of persuading, the chairman himself called it quits later the same day. The resignations were front-page news in Florida, Colorado, and especially Arizona, where Official English plummeted in the polls. (Though it subsequently passed in all three states, the margin of victory in Arizona was barely one percent.) Several press accounts played up the anti-immigrant and forced-sterilization angles, which tended to merge in the public mind. Soon came an incendiary T.V. spot, sponsored by opponents of the Arizona initiative, that pictured concentration camp victims staring out from behind barbed wire. 

John Tanton struck back, accusing his critics of "character assassination" and "the Big Lie." He admitted having "said some things badly and awkwardly" in his WITAN memo, but insisted it was unfair "to silence any discussion of demographic change by labeling anybody raising the issue as a racist." As for his funding sources, it was "guilt by association" to suggest that he shared their views. Tanton protested that he was only three years old when the Pioneer Fund was founded. How was he to know about Harry Laughlin's activities? And what did the Laurel Foundation's support for The Camp of the Saints have to do with FAIR and U.S. English?<6> It was foolish "to believe that a nonprofit organization is responsible for every action ever taken by any contributor who gives it money." To insinuate that big donors and recipients might have some ideological affinity preposterous! 

It is true that some conspiracy theorists have been hasty in alleging a "Nazi connection" where the evidence supports nothing more than opportunism and greed. But it was not the first time Tanton had exhibited a willful innocence in his choice of allies. In 1985, U.S. English released a list of forty-two ethnic organizations that had endorsed the English Language Amendment. Among these were five émigré groups the Bulgarian National Front, the Byelorussian-American Veterans Association, the German American National Congress (better known by its evocative German acronym, DANK), the National Confederation of American Ethnic Groups, and the Romanian American National Congress that later figured in a minor scandal for the Bush presidential campaign of 1988. All were associated with members of the Republican Heritage Groups Council who left the campaign following allegations about their ties to Nazis and Nazi collaborators. To take just one example, DANK leader Austin App was author of The Six Million Swindle, a book that claims the Holocaust never happened. Gerda Bikales denies that she or "anyone else at U.S. English" knew about the background of these organizations, whose endorsements were solicited by a U.S. English volunteer. Certainly, it is hard to believe that Bikales, herself a Holocaust survivor, would have approved of such bedfellows. On the other hand, fanaticism about one issue can induce blindness about others. Bikales once argued in Washington Jewish Week that "language disunity" was a significant cause of World War II. 

Since his departure Dr. Tanton has produced a voluminous literature in his own defense, including a fifty-two page exegesis of his memo, which ran but seven pages in the original, and a letter of explanation mailed to scores of supporters. His writings are seasoned with homilies from the Great Books ("There is nothing, says Plato, so delightful as the hearing or the speaking of truth") that convey a self-conscious rectitude in the face of adversity. Tanton presents himself as a kind of civic physician attempting "early diagnosis" of society's ills. At the same time he complains about being driven from U.S. English by unprincipled opponents: "It is a sad day for America when someone who has devoted his life to public involvement has to step down because of McCarthyite tactics." Being called a racist, he says,

    is a nearly fatal accusation, like being accused of being a communist in the 1950s. I will have to live with the taint of this charge for the rest of my life. But let me make my necessary denial, no matter how inadequate: No, I am not a racist. I want to bring all members of the American family to share in our Thanksgiving feast but I also want us to be able to speak to each other when we're gathered around the table. Make no mistake, my desire for national unity is my real sin.

Who is John Tanton misunderstood prophet or high priest of ethnic purity? After working with Tanton for fourteen months, Linda Chávez still isn't sure. "It's hard to describe him," she says. "He's so foreign to my way of thinking. Clearly, he feels himself embattled. I have a sense of this man who lives on the edge of Lake Michigan in a very WASPy community, feeling himself surrounded by people coming into the country who may encroach upon his territory. He's obsessed with the population issue. There's a sense that his way of life is passing." A self-described conservative "ideologue," Chávez says she was always puzzled by Tanton's coterie, whose beliefs seemed to her to lack internal consistency. While their leader maintained a "dispassionate quality," some followers betrayed "a clear animus toward Mexican immigrants," while espousing an orthodox liberalism on other matters. At the one WITAN retreat she attended, Chávez recalls being baited mercilessly for her Reaganite views on the Strategic Defense Initiative. "I just don't know what to make of these people," she concludes. 

Katherine Holmes, who served as U.S. English research director in 1988-89, is more blunt in her appraisal of Tanton. "My opinion is that the guy is a racist," she says. "Not in the K.K.K. definition, but as someone who sees the world in terms of groups of people of different colors." Fired by U.S. English after making known her disgust for the WITAN memo, Holmes is no disinterested observer. (Nor is Linda Chávez, who terms her involvement with the group a professional "disaster.") But Tanton's preoccupation with race is well-documented, for example, in 1988 rumination about projections that the United States could become a "majority minority" society by the year 2020. Sometime soon, he writes, "the formation of a White political caucus, along with all the others, will be reasonable and justified." 

U.S. English leaders have long been aware that their movement's appeal is based, at least in part, on white racism. Chávez says that, soon after taking the U.S. English job, she received several abusive letters from members who resigned to protest the appointment of a Hispanic president. Subsequently she commissioned an internal attitude survey to gauge the prevalence of such views, which the organization's pollster called "the redneck factor." It turned out that, among regular contributors to U.S. English, a sizable minority harbored anti-Latino biases. When asked what had prompted them to support the organization, 42 percent endorsed the statement: "I wanted America to stand strong and not cave in to Hispanics who shouldn't be here."<7> It would be hard to elicit a more candid admission of ethnic intolerance. But "redneck" seems a misnomer when one considers the overall "membership profile" of U.S. English. According to the survey, only 10 percent of contributors came from blue-collar backgrounds. In addition, they were disproportionately male (67 percent), elderly (75 percent were sixty or older), affluent (33 percent had incomes above $50,000), college educated (60 percent), conservative (67 percent), Republican (71 percent), and northern European in origin (68 percent). Among the 385 respondents who identified their ethnic heritage, there were no Mexican Americans, no Cubans, two "other Hispanics," two Asians, and three blacks.

In 1985-86, the organization sponsored a write-in campaign to support Secretary of Education William Bennett in his attacks on the Bilingual Education Act. Numerous U.S. English members responded with complaints about communities being "overrun with all sorts of aliens," wetbacks on welfare, and out-of-control Hispanic birthrates. A typical correspondent reasoned: "At the rate the Latinos (and nonwhites) reproduce, [we] face a demographic imbalance if we do not change several of our dangerously outdated laws. Make English the official language everywhere in the U.S.A." When a reporter asked Gerda Bikales, executive director of U.S. English, about these letters, she replied:

    I do not believe at all that we are responsible for any of this. This is a mass movement. Anybody can and does join U.S. English.<8> We do our very best to put out responsible ideas, responsible policies. We're not hate-mongers. [But] you've got this wide-open situation with hundreds of thousands of people in a state of utter frustration, just watching English erode under their very feet, with the government not giving a damn. There's no doubt that as long as our political leadership is going to continue to bury its head in the sand, we are going to have this kind of situation that's ... somewhat out of control.
Had U.S. English taken any steps to repudiate this type of support? "Well, I'm talking to you," she replied. "I'm making it perfectly clear." 

Tanton and his associates often seemed to believe that their credentials as Save-the-Whales-type activists would deflect the charge of exploiting racism. Rather than target conservatives as potential contributors, to the dismay of Linda Chávez U.S. English preferred to use the Greenpeace mailing list. Several of Tanton's lieutenants were veterans of the Michigan environmental movement. "The issues we're touching on here must be broached by liberals," he insisted in the WITAN memo. So it was a setback when Norman Lear's People For the American Way, one of the few liberal lobbies still thriving in Washington, became an active opponent. Tanton's memo, the group charged, had "laid bare the ugly core of the English Only movement ... racism, plain and simple." It called on Saul Bellow, Alistair Cooke, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and other celebrity endorsers to join Walter Cronkite in quitting the U.S. English advisory board.<9> Kathryn Bricker, a Tanton aide who replaced Linda Chávez at the helm of U.S. English, met with leaders of People For to ask them to reconsider. We're very well-meaning, she pleaded, we're liberals like you, and seemed surprised when no minds were changed. 

Tom Olson, former P.R. director for U.S. English and another casualty of Bricker's housecleaning, believes the Tanton network does reflect "a bizarre kind of liberalism." He explains, "They feel they are an elite, an intelligentsia capable of providing leadership, using the powers of government to mold the future. But when you get into what motivates them, they are concerned about shaping demographic trends. They see people cultural, racial, and immigrant groups as a negative factor on the environment." For these would-be social engineers, it's a short step from the idea that people cause pollution to the idea that people constitute pollution (some more than others). If these are liberals, then they have misplaced their civil-rights sensors somewhere along the way.

Of course, American nativism has never been a monopoly of the political right. Jefferson's warnings about immigration were popularized by nineteenth century Know-Nothings who sought to exclude Catholics and others believed to exert "a blighting and withering effect upon republican institutions." This century's Americanization campaign, notwithstanding its worries about revolutionary syndicalism, was largely a Progressive affair. Promoting Anglo-conformity implied that immigrants could be remolded, an alternative to the Anglo-Saxonist view that certain types were unassimilable. Tanton & Co. seem ambivalent on this point where Hispanics are concerned. But what truly distinguishes their brand of nativism is the object of its paranoia: culture, not politics. While Latinos are regarded as a demographic menace, there is no hint of a Red Scare only anxieties about decline in the status and lifestyle of white Americans. 

WITAN IS WHERE THE IDEOLOGICAL THREADS get woven together. "This is a group that John Tanton has selected personally," Olson says, "to sit around talking about action plans to solve the world's problems." WITAN's 1989 roster included Bricker and Bikales; Otis Graham and his brother Hugh, board members of FAIR and U.S. English, respectively; Roger Conner, Dan Stein, David Simcox, and Cordia Strom, staff members of FAIR and its spinoffs; Matt Gallagher, direct-mail fundraiser for FAIR and U.S. English; Gregory Curtis, president of the Laurel Foundation; former governor Richard Lamm of Colorado, now head of the doomsaying 21st Century Fund (another Tanton venture); and ecologist Garrett Hardin, professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara. 

Of these, Hardin has been most influential, less for his expertise on environmental matters than for the conceptual framework he calls "lifeboat ethics." This is essentially a rationale for portraying narrow self-interest as far-sighted altruism. Simply put: if rich nations try to rescue too many Third World refugees, the lifeboat will sink and everyone will drown. Better to preserve high living standards for some humans than risk losing them for all. In "The Tragedy of the Commons" and other essays, Hardin highlights the contradiction between individual and community interests in a world of finite resources, or "carrying capacity." Immigration benefits starving individuals, he argues, but not the host society that must be taxed to feed them, nor the human race as a whole. 

To illustrate his Malthusian paradox, Hardin gives the example of a deer herd that has overpopulated its territory and is beginning to starve. Although animal lovers are tempted to intervene to keep the deer alive, it is kinder to the species to let nature take its course, culling the unfit and producing a smaller but healthier herd. "In game management," he explains, "the concept of `sanctity of life' is intolerable." So far, this is a familiar line of ecological reasoning. But the object of Hardin's parable is the problem of human population. "Man is a part of nature," after all. If he exceeds the carrying capacity of his environment, the species is threatened. Artificial measures, such as famine relief to Ethiopia or Bangladesh, are thus "counterproductive" because they tolerate Third World inaction on birth control. Ditto for the "escape valve" of emigration to the United States. Americans should not let a sentimental attachment to the sanctity of life blind them to these realities, he says, citing Comte: "the Intellect should be the servant, not the slave, of the Heart." In Hardin's case, one gets the feeling that this is not much of a dilemma. For example, as a practical way to combat illegal immigration, he has proposed erecting a 2,000-mile electronic fence along the Mexican border to zap los mojados into submission. 

Reactions to Hardin's ideas have been appropriately intense. "Isn't it great that you can be moral and also defend your advantages as an affluent Westerner," observes Charles Keely, a population specialist at Georgetown University. "I find it repugnant that anybody could have such utter contempt for other human beings." For nutritionist Jean Mayer and anthropologist Margaret Mead, the same word came to mind in describing lifeboat ethics: "obscene." 

More germane to the language question is the concept of cultural carrying capacity, which Hardin has expanded beyond the exigencies of biological survival to include intangibles like "values" and "quality of life." As such, it is a more versatile instrument for justifying ethnic homogeneity. "Cultural carrying capacity," he postulates, "is inversely related to the richness of the culture." In plain language, the more refined our standard of living, the less room we have for riff-raff, unless we are prepared to lower our standards. Gerda Bikales takes the idea further in a polemic against bilingual education, arguing that growing numbers of non-English speakers "have stressed the cultural carrying capacity of our schools to the breaking point. We are caught in a vise by an inescapable arithmetic even more new immigrant students are piling up every day on top of others still to be absorbed in the regular classroom. ... If we do not wish to permanently turn our educational system into an engine for churning out members of a new multinational state who share neither language nor values, we must markedly slow down immigration" (emphasis added). Too many newcomers, too many strange tongues, too many undesirable cultures for the country to assimilate. 

English Only advocates reserve their harshest judgments for one culture in particular: that amalgam of imperial and indigenous traditions, incorporating Castilian, Galician, Moorish, Aztec, Mayan, Taino, and West African elements, known loosely as "Hispanic." Not that nativists indulge in such fine distinctions. What concerns WITAN is a monolithic set of bad habits that it deems inimical to the American experiment: a "Latin" psychology that breeds underdevelopment, antisocial behavior, authoritarianism, educational failure, overpopulation, and of course, bilingualism. This is an updated version of the Black Legend. The villains are no longer ruthless conquistadores, but "ethnic bosses" who keep their people in bondage. 

Former governor Lamm, whose views often parallel those of John Tanton, expresses alarm that 40 percent of U.S. immigration today comes from Latin America. "There's not a [single] successful nation south of our borders," he says. "We're bringing in immigrants who don't have the same culture, who don't have the same patterns of success." Spanish speakers insist on forming "ethnic enclaves so large that [they] can live in the U.S. and never learn to speak English or to assimilate into our culture." All this bodes grave consequences for the future, Lamm warns. "Demography is destiny. A nation succeeds only if a vast majority of its citizens succeed." Large numbers of Hispanics don't seem to be making it, he insinuates. Will they drag the rest of us down as well? 

Amid the heated exchanges over racism are English Only backers engaging in it? exploiting it? motivated by it? one wonders how the question can ever be answered with finality. Tanton is correct on one thing. In U.S. political discourse today, there is no greater stigma than to be judged a white racist. No public figure will cop to this charge, not even former Klansman David Duke of Louisiana. (As it happens, he, too, has a penchant for English Only rhetoric.) Yet this is also an age of shameless Willie Hortonism, in which mainstream politicians like George Bush can exploit racism for partisan gain. They evade punishment by the voters because there is no consensus on the meaning of the term. To some, racism denotes a set of hereditarian judgments about "educability" or criminality. To others, it implies virtually any kind of animus or stereotype based on ethnic origin. This is a classic problem of semantics: words get in the way of settling differences. No matter that we're all speaking English.

Still, in the context of the language debate, a final verdict on the charge of racism is unnecessary for one to reject the restrictionist position. Undoubtedly, there is a spectrum of views among the leaders and followers of U.S. English. But is there any crucial distinction to be drawn between those who regard Latinos as genetically inferior and those who class them as culturally undesirable? Or between the eugenicists' "biology is destiny" and WITAN's "demography is destiny"? Does it really matter whether these zealots believe that Spanish speakers are incapable of acquiring English or that they refuse to do so out of laziness, backwardness, or disloyalty? The hidden agenda of English Only is to highlight the cultural costs of immigration so as to build support for restrictions against certain groups. Whatever the thought process, the end result is bigotry. 


1. "Race suicide," a curious reversal of Social Darwinism, was the idea that genetic inferiors might outbreed Americans of Anglo-Saxon stock and thereby undermine the social basis of democracy. It was elaborated in the 1890s by Francis A. Walker, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Democracy, who pronounced eastern and southern European immigrants "beaten men from beaten races; representing the worst failures in the struggle for existence. ... They have none of the ideas and aptitudes which ... belong to those who are descended from the tribes that met under the oak trees of old Germany to make laws and choose chieftains."

2. In 1988, there was a nasty exchange of letters in the Washington Post when a Georgetown University professor, Charles Keely, pointed out the associations between U.S. English, FAIR, and the Center for Immigration Studies, a FAIR spinoff. Writing to correct Keely's "serious errors," C.I.S. director David E. Simcox insisted that his group had "no connection with U.S. English." In fact, Tanton's U.S. Inc., the umbrella under which U.S. English then operated, had funneled more than $100,000 to FAIR and C.I.S. over the past three years. A few months previously, when U.S. English filed for independent corporate status, Simcox himself had signed on as one of its "incorporators."

3. This figure is derived from I.R.S. Forms 990 or 990-PF for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, U.S. Inc., U.S. English Foundation, the Environmental Fund (now Population-Environment Balance), and the Laurel Foundation for tax years 1983 through 1989. No doubt the total is incomplete, because it does not reflect filings by Cordelia Scaife May's own charitable trust, which unlike those of tax-exempt organizations are not in the public domain.

4. Laughlin worked closely with John B. Trevor, the New York lawyer who devised the national-origins quota system enacted in 1924 and a prominent Nazi sympathizer in the 1930s. His son, John B. Trevor, Jr., continues to serve as treasurer of the Pioneer Fund. In 1965, on behalf of the far-right American Coalition of Patriotic Societies, the younger Trevor testified against eliminating racial criteria in U.S. immigration law. To do so, he warned, would foster "biologic fusion ... a conglomeration of racial and ethnic elements [that] renders a serious culture decline inevitable." This was a polite way of restating Laughlin's argument that uncontrolled immigration would pollute the American gene pool.

5. A year later, Tanton came to the defense of another Pioneer Fund grantee, Linda Gottfredson of the University of Delaware. One of Gottfredson's colleagues, linguistics professor William Frawley, had protested a $174,000 Pioneer grant to support her research on educational "ability differences" among racial and ethnic groups. Frawley asked, "Does the University of Delaware wish to lend its name wittingly or unwittingly to an organization that unabashedly promotes intolerance?" In a letter supporting Gottfredson, Tanton responded: "If the new standard being promulgated is that funds can be received only from sources that pass some social litmus test, then this is a stringent requirement indeed. No organization could receive funds from the Ford Foundation unless it approved of Henry Ford's anti-Semitism, or of Ford's use of Harry Bennett and his goons to break union heads at the Battle of the Overpass, [or of] Mr. Ford's continuing to run his factories in Nazi Germany up until the time that the U.S. declared war on the country." Unconvinced, University of Delaware president E. A. Trabant decided to accept no additional grants from the Pioneer Fund as long as it "remains committed to ... a pattern of activities incompatible with the university's mission." 

6. Gregory Curtis, who runs the foundation for Cordelia Scaife May, had a good answer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "The Raspail novel makes the point in a hard-hitting way that Tanton has been trying to make. It is the worst case scenario: How does an ethical man living in an affluent country respond to the demands of an overwhelming number of poor people? It raises issues pertaining to American immigration policy." 

7. For 25 percent this was a "major reason," for 17 percent a "minor reason," for 53 percent "not a reason," and 5 percent had no opinion. No inquiry was made about attitudes toward Asians or other linguistic minorities. The telephone survey, conducted by the Gary C. Lawrence Co. of Santa Ana, Calif., was based on a random sample of 400 U.S. English members conducted in April 1988, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent. 

8. It could hardly be called a mass organization. Anyone who had given at least $10 in the past two years was considered a member, according to government relations director Steve Workings. In April 1988, U.S. English spent more than $100,000 to convene a two-day "national membership meeting" in Los Angeles, but only 79 actual members showed up, not counting staff, board members, and guests. 

9. None has done so, although in 1986 Saul Bellow said through his literary agent that he had never agreed to serve. U.S. English continues to use his name in fundraising, along with an alleged quotation from his endorsement letter: "Melting Pot, yes. Tower of Babel, no!" Bellow has declined to comment further. 


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