Help! Those People Are Talking Mexican About Me!

The Tucson Sentinel reports that a former Pima Community College student is suing the school for allegedly having kicked her out when she complained about her classmates using Spanish when speaking about each other in the classroom.

Pima officials, doubtless on the advice of attorneys, are circumspect regarding the specifics of the case. However, the gist of Pima’s side of the story is that she complained constantly about Spanish being spoken on campus, was argumentative and “displayed intimidating behavior toward students, staff, and faculty.” Given the criticism that Pima took after the press looked into Jared Loughner’s academic record, it seems understandable that officials there followed a strict policy regarding disruptive behavior on campus, and what exactly preceded her expulsion will certainly become clearer if this matter goes too much further.

The student’s sentiments are familiar to most of us in this bilingual town. We all know folks who are remarkably thin skinned about Spanish being spoken in their presence, and this is not the first lawsuit or official complaint from someone objecting to something other than English being used in the workplace, even in private conversations among co-workers. There are even those who regard Spanish billboards and Spanish conversations in the grocery store as a sign that General Santa Anna’s army is assembling to re-take the province. Unfortunately, we trust some of these people to make public policy.

In the press conference announcing the suit, the student brought a Spanish-surnamed relative, doubtless to show folks that she meant no malice against Mexican-Americans and that she is not a racist. Perhaps she is quite sincere about this, but this message is undermined by the other friends she has chosen to associate with.

Her attorney, unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial candidate John Munger, has made a name for himself as a voice for whiteguy grievance. Back in the 1990s, as a member of the Board of Regents, he started a stink about affirmative action on the University of Arizona campus which ultimately proved to be baseless and unproductive. More recently, he courageously stood up for the right of the Tucson Country Club to discriminate against women and threatened a Mexican-American Democratic Party official for correctly calling out one of his clients as a white supremacist. His passion for being on the wrong side of history is legendary.

While Munger is simply an attention-grabbing doofus who traffics in phony umbrage and creating dissent as a way to get his name in the papers from time to time, the other guy at the dais is a frightening true believer. Phil Kent is a blow-dried political hack who carpetbagged from Georgia to announce that financial and “moral” support for the suit was coming from an out-of-state outfit called ProEnglish, which is one of a network of organizations who advocate for ethnic purity in the United States. Kent himself has long been known for his culture war rhetoric, having spoken out against “multiculturalism,” accusing Mexicans and even Somali refugees of undermining “whiteness” and American values. A few weeks back, he was in the papers making inflammatory comments about gays in the wake of the United States v. Windsor decision.

I give the student in this case the benefit of the doubt, which is why I have not used her name. She may well be an earnest individual who is simply being used by crass and cynical people who are trying to promote an ugly agenda. Perhaps she will figure this out in time to make this stop before further poisoning a political environment that has made targets out of her Spanish-surnamed friends and family members. Meanwhile, there seems little chance that any good can come of this.

Note: Thank you to Vince Rabago for pointing out that I had missed mentioning Munger’s dilatory threats against Luis Heredia in defense of border vigilante Glenn Spencer. This has been added.

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