Thursday, August 11, 2005

Denver city librarian asked to resign over fotonovelas, or using a book challenge to promote racism (Part Two)

Yesterday, I was writing about the issue of the fotonovelas and providing some clarification about the claims that they are pornographic materials, which they are not. I then went on to comment that this book challenge issue is being used as a smokescreen for a larger issue: a racist anti-immigrant campaign.

CAIR is not the only group promoting the flames of hate and ignorance. The Colorado Minutemen, another one of the volunteer border watching groups, had their representative, Robert Copley, quoted in the Rocky Mountain News as saying, about the immigrants that come to the city, "our city's sanctuary policy acts as nothing but a magnet, pulling people from across the border. You hear they come to work hard. They also come to kill, destroy our work opportunities, and demean our quality of life." The notion of immigrants as criminals can be refuted in various ways. We are not saying that there are not immigrants who are criminals; there are some just like there may be some anti-immigration people who may be criminals. The point is that being an immigrant does not automatically mean criminality. However, a way to refute this is to point out the part about the hard work because these immigrants do come to the United States to work hard. They usually do the hard labor that many of the "locals" refuse or are unwilling to do. In the process, not only do they do the work, but they also spend money in this country, which helps the economy. Helping the economy with their contribution, along with the contributions of other workers is a far cry from demeaning the quality of life. What can be labeled as demeaning the quality of life is the way these workers are often exploited by their employers in the work they do, diverse jobs from construction to the food services (including much of the food people like Mr. Copley likely puts on his table), and the gardens so well kept in the areas that enjoy a better quality of life. The exploitation is what exemplifies the "demeaning in the quality of life" mentioned by Mr. Copley. It is a form of degradation and dehumanization that oppressive racists like Copley, the Colorado Minutemen, and CAIR will conveniently neglect to mention in their attacks. And how do I know this? Just a little research. How do we make others aware? A little education (a little extra in some cases). Research skills and educational dispositions seem to be lacking in such groups. And, just so my readers can't say I am taking a cheap shot at people like the members of CAIR, I will provide an illustration.

On the CAIR website, there is a list of questions and allegations that the organization makes against the city library and its director, Rich Ashton. One of the things they cite is Mr. Ashton's statement that DPL staff travel to the Guadalajara International Book Fair for materials selection. First, a little thing, readers should notice that the people in CAIR did not even bother to check the spelling of Guadalajara, spelling it "Guadalahara" instead. Their statement about Mr. Ashton is that "it is hard to imagine a "book fair" being able to afford such expenses. " Let's look at this statement because it does not require imagination, but it can show what a little reading and looking over a website can do. And, since CAIR does link to the book fair site, I decided to go ahead and look at the Guadalajara International Book Fair site too. Now, CAIR links to the English version, so they should be able to at least look at it before making that statement. So, what did I learn?

On the website to the book fair, if readers go under the link for , there is a section on support programs. On that section, there is a link to ALA's Free Pass program which is available to library staff. The package includes a hotel stay for 3 nights (6 nights if you share the room with a colleague), 3 breakfasts, and the registration fee. These are paid by the book fair itself. ALA kicks in $100.00 towards airfare. While it is not all-inclusive, it certainly provides a good package for library staff to be able to travel to the fair. In addition, on that section of the web page, there is information for support for other attendees like translators and other professionals. So, can CAIR imagine that? I suppose not given it is a reality. Now, they may ask, "but where does the fair get the money?" That is where sponsorships and the fees charged to exhibitors come in, not hard to imagine. Does it mean all the staff can travel for free? Probably not, but it certainly allows them to travel at a good rate and minimal expense to the taxpayer, assuming the city even pays them to go. In some cities, the library staff would have to pay the difference out of their pocket. Overall, it seems CAIR did not bother to read the web site they linked to, preferring to make an inflammatory statement to get attention.

If readers look at the CAIR website, and they probably should to get a sense of what the other side is alleging, they will see that many of the allegations are phrased to be irritating and confrontational. The allegations against REFORMA, made in the context of Mr. Ashton being a member, are mostly a form of innuendo, trying to make it sound as if there is some vast Spanish speaking conspiracy. While it may be valid for a group of taxpayers to question how their funds are being used, the tactics are despicable to say the least, which takes away from any credibility they may have had. I am sure that once readers look over their site, and then give it some thought, maybe do a little research, they will see the allegations for what they are: part of a plan to promote a racist anti-immigrant agenda.

As I wrap this post, I have to share one more quote. During the protests, both sides were quite intense in their arguing. There was an exchange between Wanda Weatherford, a long time resident, and Gabriela Casillas, whose parents are Mexican and moved to the United States when she was a little girl. The exchange went like this (quoting from the linked article):

"'You need to speak English,' Weatherford told Casillas.

'I am speaking English, but I can speak Spanish too,' Casillas replied.

'You need to speak (English) all the time,' Weatherford said."

One always has to wonder when people see bilingualism as a liability. Notice that Ms. Casillas points out that she does speak English, but that she can also speak Spanish. Just a little trivia: according to the U.S. Census in a recent press release, " 30 million is the number of U.S. residents age 5 and older who speak Spanish at home. Spanish speakers constitute a ratio of more than 1-in-10 U.S. household residents. Among all those who speak Spanish at home, more than one-half say they speak English 'very well.'" What needs to be noted here, besides the large number of U.S. residents who speak Spanish, is the fact that more than half say they speak English very well. So, it is not that immigrants refuse to learn English or don't know it. The numbers show that they are interested in learning it when they get here, and that they learn it along with their native language. Every time I hear someone put down someone else because they are bilingual I remember the old joke:

What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual
What do you call someone who speaks more than two languages? Polyglot
What do you call someone who speaks only one language? An American

I know, that one was a cheap shot. But given the need in the United States to have a better understanding of the world, refusing to learn other languages is not the answer. This does not only apply to Spanish. Right now, the U.S. military and intelligence communities have a serious problem because they lack translators who can speak Arabic or other Middle Eastern languages. One of the children of some Middle Eastern immigrant, for instance, could have grown up to become one of those sorely needed translators, but it is attitudes like Ms. Weatherford's that make it difficult. In the long run, it is a sad commentary on the nation that a nation built by immigrants who brought their cultures and languages to this nation now wants to turn away from the diversity that made it strong. Contrary to what racists and other detractors would say, no one is proposing the replacement of one language over another. What is being proposed is a co-existence between two or more languages, and in the case of learning centers, such co-existence serves to facilitate the learning of English in order to be a better citizen. Better citizens contributing to the strength of the nation is supposed to be a good thing. But readers may get the impression that is not the case from the negative rhetoric.

Finally, since I know that newspaper links often expire after a short period of time, here are the citations to articles:

Quintero, Fernando. "Protesters Cite Porn on Shelves--'Fotonovelas' Drive Crowd to Demand that Librarian Resign." Rocky Mountain News (CO). 9 August 2005: 6A

Quintero, Fernando. "Library Sparks Debate--Bilingual Branches Would Cater to Needs of Hispanic Patrons." Rocky Mountain News (CO). 9 August 2005: 6A

Crummy, Karen E. "Library Protest Becomes Rift Over Immigration." Denver (CO) Post. 9 August 2005.

Update note (8/22/05): The Mayor of Denver provides a written response to Congressman Tancredo's inflammatory inquiries in writing. Well worth a look as they show clearly there is no conspiracy to turn DPL into some Spanish-only sanctuary as the "detractors" claim.

Update note (8/25/05): DPL cancels subscription to four titles of fotonovelas after review. Do note however the incident apparently still left a chilling effect since the article notes that the library decided " they won't order similar publications in other languages unless someone files a complaint." The article is from the Washington Post for August 24th, 2005 with the headline "Denver Library Nixes 4 Spanish Books."

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