Original URL: http://www.arizonarepublic.com/opinions/articles/1102sat1-02.html

Removing the 'us' and 'them'
Town Hall recommendations can close key gaps for state Latinos
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 2, 2002


The Arizona Town Hall report on the state's Latinos contains many worthy, substantive and achievable recommendations.

But this 81st state Town Hall will render its most important contribution if  it succeeds in convincing Arizonans generally that Latino problems, failures and successes are Arizona's problems, failures and successes.

There is no "us" and no "them." There is only a common future, cultures irrevocably linked and, if altruism fails, naked self-interest in closing the educational and economic gaps that separate the state's Latinos from other Arizonans.

This underlies all in this latest Arizona Town Hall report. The report is the work of 131 participants from all walks of life who achieved consensus through an extensive and often arduous process at a retreat here Sunday through Wednesday of this week. We applaud their efforts.

Arizona Town Hall tackled one of the most serious issues facing the state today: whether we can take today's opportunities, as represented by Arizona's Latinos, and make them tomorrow's successes.

The Town Hall report's answer: "Sí, se puede" (Yes, we can).

The task appears daunting, however.

The report says simply that the state's schools are failing Latino students. We can see this in the unacceptably high Latino dropout rate.

The report makes the case for specific attention to the needs of all Latino students, who will soon comprise a major portion of the state's work force.

It notes that language can be a major obstacle for immigrant students, but succeeds admirably in making the case that we should be nurturing bilingualism as much as we stress learning English. In one of its boldest statements, the report calls for the state to repeal Proposition 203, the ballot initiative that two years ago limited bilingual education in Arizona.

The report documented the need for increased political participation by Latinos, called for a guest-worker program and more humane immigration laws generally, addressed other issues such as health care and public safety, and called for the appointment of a Latino to the state Supreme Court.

Missing, thank goodness, was any of the vitriol that has often accompanied the debate about Latino achievement in Arizona.

This is a tribute to the Town Hall and its participants.

The next step is to follow through, assuring that the report's recommendations translate into positive action.

Why? The draft report, which will be disseminated soon throughout the state in its final version, said it best:

"When all Arizonans recognize that our needs, goals and basic values are aligned and inextricably intertwined . . . we will all pull together for a better Arizona."


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