San Francisco Chronicle

Wednesday, January 21, 1998

Protest Against Anti-Bilingual Ballot Measure
By BENJAMIN PIMENTEL, Chronicle Staff Writer

About 100 protesters, mostly immigrants and their supporters, marched yesterday outside the Palo Alto office of Ron Unz, loudly opposing the Silicon Valley executive's support for the ballot campaign against bilingual education.

Demonstrators, organized by the Northern California Coalition for Immigrant Rights, chanted slogans and held signs in front of Wall Street Analytics, Unz's software company. The signs opposed the ballot measure that would end California's current bilingual education programs.

``We're here at Ron Unz's workplace to send a very strong message that the immigrant community does not support his initiative,'' said Renee Saucedo, the coalition's executive director.

``We are here as a united community of Latinos, Asians and other supporters to say very strongly that we will defeat this initiative because our children's future depends on it. We feel that it's sad and disgusting that (Unz) is doing this at the expense of our children's education.''

About one-third of the state's 1.3 million limited-English speaking children take classes in their native language. The measure would outlaw this practice, replacing it with a new program in which children under age 10 would spend up to a year in intensive English classes.

Sheri Annis, spokeswoman for English for the Children, the group leading the campaign, said bilingual education has made it harder for new immigrants to learn English and adapt to American society.

The initiative qualified for the June ballot in December after a signature campaign. Unz, who lost in his bid to become California governor in 1994, spent more than $300,000 to get the measure on the ballot.

``The best way to continue to maintain the California underclass is to continue the current system of bilingual education,'' Annis said.

``We have the silent majority of parents calling us, thrilled that someone is trying to change the system. The parents think their children will have a better chance to succeed once the initiative passes. It's a very small portion who disagree with us.''

Among those who disagree are Monica Villanueva, a 28-year-old Mexican immigrant, who came to the march with her 10-year-old daughter, Anna, and 2-year-old son, Roberto.

``We need to learn English, and it's easier to learn with bilingual education,'' she said at the rally.

Lam Luong, 55, vice president of the San Jose-based Vietnamese American Community of Northern California, said that bilingual education helps immigrants understand English better and faster.

``The immigrant children need this,'' she said. ``It (the initiative) is unfair to the children.''