San Francisco Chronicle
Saturday, January 31, 1998
Diverse Voices Heard on Race at Stanford Forum
By JOHN WILDERMUTH, Chronicle Staff Writer
The recent racial battles that have seared California politic are neither gone nor forgotten.
A daylong Stanford summit yesterday on race in America picked over the wounds of the ballot fights about services for illegal immigrants and affirmative action -- and previewed another nasty melee over the June initiative that would ban bilingual education in the state.
The academic setting did not necessarily promote a reasoned discussion of the issues.
Ron Unz, the Palo Alto businessman who put the June initiative on the ballot, called the study of bilingual education ``an academic field that's utter and complete garbage.''
And Martin Carnoy, a Stanford education professor, sniped that Unz was trying to make public policy ``based on what (he) did in kindergarten.''
When President Bill Clinton called for a national dialogue on race last year, it convinced Al Camarillo, head of Stanford's new Center for Comparative Studies on Race and Ethnicity, to put together an event that would bring together backers and opponents of some of California's most controversial initiative campaigns.
``We wanted to provide a forum to air a diversity of opinions and let our audience hear all sides,'' he said.
Camarillo put together six- person panels on immigration, bilingual education and affirmative action and gave them three hours each to wrangle.
What became clear very quickly is that the fights over hot- button racial issues don't end with the election results. Proposition 187, which cut state services to illegal immigrants, won an overwhelming victory in 1994, but the debate yesterday was as hot as it was four years ago.
To Ezola Foster, it is black and Chicano leaders who have fanned the flames of racism by support for multiculturalism.
``Multiculturalism has divided the country,'' said Foster, a retired African American teacher from Los Angeles, who founded Americans for Family Values. ``Why should we celebrate any culture but American culture?''
To Tom Saenz, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, initiatives like Proposition 187 seem to have less impact on the law than they do on race relations in the state.
People who claim Mexico is intent on reannexing California or who equate Latino gang members with illegal immigrants have been placed in the forefront of the state's continuing racial debate in the aftermath of Proposition 187 -- with even wilder positions moving toward mainstream discussion, Saenz said.
According to San Diego law professor Gail Heriot, the 1996 landslide victory of Proposition 209, which eliminated government preferences based on race or sex, showed how California residents feel about racial issues.
``The post-Prop 209 caravan is rolling'' toward such longtime conservative political goals as school vouchers, tough anti- crime measures and enterprise zones in minority communities, said Heriot, who backed the initiative.
But to UC Berkeley professor Ron Takaki, a historian specializing in ethnic studies, Proposition 209 was just a temporary setback that can be quickly overturned by a new initiative he's circulating. It would allow the state to consider race, economic background, diversity issues and other factors in deciding which students to accept at colleges and universities.