BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Linda Chavez, in your book "Out of the Barrio," you quote Miami's Mayor Maurice Ferre boasting in a newspaper interview in 1982, in the Tampa Tribune, "Within 10 years, there will not be a word of English spoken in Miami. One day, residents will have to learn Spanish or leave." Why did you use that quote?
LINDA CHAVEZ: Well, first of all, I think what the reason I used it is that it's a much-quoted phrase from Maurice Ferre, and I think what it does is epitomize the fears of a lot of Americans in the United States that Hispanics are becoming such a dominant force in certain parts of the country that we are going to have a shift in terms of the culture of the United States. And certainly, one can see evidence of that shift in a place like Miami. Of course, it's 10 years later and there's still lots of English being spoken there, but that statement, I think, in many ways, sparked a backlash against some of the most radical elements of the Hispanic community and led to the drive to make English the official language.
LAMB: Where does the name Chavez come from?
CHAVEZ: It comes from my father. It's an old Spanish name. My father's family came to New Mexico in the early 1600s and settled there, as with many New Mexicans who are of Spanish descent. They trace their roots back to the 17th and 18th century.
LAMB: So you consider yourself to be Spanish.
CHAVEZ: Well, New Mexico has a sort of unique niche in terms of the Hispanic population of the United States. It's the only state that had a very large indigenous population when it was acquired by the United States after the war with Mexico. There were about somewhere between 60,000 and some estimates go as high as 100,000 Mexicans living there. They were Mexicans for 25 years. Mexico, in fact, after the break with Spain, did, in fact -- it was the Mexican government that had control over New Mexico. But most of the residents there don't identify very much with what we think of as Mexican culture because they were so far separated and so isolated from the central government in Mexico City that they developed their own indigenous culture.
LAMB: You call your book "Out of the Barrio." What's a barrio?
CHAVEZ: A barrio is a inner city. It's a city; it's an enclave. It is similar to the term "ghetto" when it was used originally to refer to Eastern Europeans in places like Warsaw -- Jews, predominantly. Of course, ghetto got appropriated and was used to describe black inner cities in the United States. Barrio refers to those enclaves of Hispanics here in the US.
LAMB: Where are the bigger ones in the United States?
CHAVEZ: Probably the biggest is in Los Angeles. The one we think of most often is east Los Angeles, which is a huge -- east Los Angeles is one of the biggest nonincorporated -- in fact, the biggest nonincorporated jurisdiction in the country, and there are literally millions of persons of Mexican origin in that area.
LAMB: Did you grow up in New Mexico?
CHAVEZ: I grew up in Albuquerque until I was 9, and then we moved north to Colorado and I spent the rest of my growing-up period in Denver.
LAMB: Why this book?
CHAVEZ: I was motivated to write this book, in part, because I thought the book needed to be written, and no one else would write it. I found myself -- I do a lot of public speaking, particularly on campuses. And I found a very strange thing when I would go out around the country, particularly speaking to audiences where there were young Mexican-American and other Hispanic students, that I was constantly hearing from the leadership in the community this notion that there'd been no progress; there'd been no change in 20 years; that if you look at the statistics about earnings or education or the other social and economic indicators and you compare today's figures to the figures 20, 30, 40 years ago, they don't look very different.
And yet, it was very clear to me, having grown up in that period, that, in fact, a great deal has changed, an enormous amount of progress was taking place. And it became almost an obsession with me. How is it I can figure out why it is the numbers don't reflect the reality of progress and change? And in was really that that prompted it.
LAMB: You picked Basic Books? Or did they pick you?
CHAVEZ: Well, I offered my proposal to lots and lots of companies, and lots of them turned me down. And Basic didn't. Basic accepted it.
LAMB: As books go -- it's a $23 book, but fairly small. Did you do that on purpose?
CHAVEZ: Well, actually, the first draft was longer and I cut it. I guess most of the writing that I've done in my career has been journalistic writing. I've written a syndicated column and I've written lots of op-eds. And I'm writing for a general audience, so I attempted to keep it free of as much jargon as I could. Initially, I had a -- an appendix at the back with multiple regression tables, explaining some of the statistics that I used. That got cut at the end. And my attempt was really to write something that was accessible to people who know nothing whatsoever about Hispanics as well as accessible to people who consider themselves expert. It's for a very general audience.
LAMB: Where does the term "Hispanic" come from?
CHAVEZ: It's a term of convenience, used mostly by the federal government. It is not what most Hispanics use themselves. Most of us think of ourselves in terms of what our origins are. People from Mexico often call themselves Hispanos. In Los Angeles, you're going to find people who call themselves Mexican, Mexican-American, Mexicano, Chicano, which is a more political term. Hispanic was really a term adopted by the federal government to try and put everybody together in one large grouping for administrative convenience. It makes it easier when you're reporting statistics to talk about one large group that is made up of about 22 million people than it is each of the component parts of that group.
LAMB: What's a Latino?
CHAVEZ: Same thing as an Hispanic. It is becoming the term of choice. It's becoming the more politically correct term. Most of the more politically active Hispanics in the US prefer the term Latino. The Los Angeles Times, for example, as part of their style, doesn't use the term Hispanic at all; they prefer the term Latino.
LAMB: I'm going to ask you a question. I'm not even sure I want to ask it, but I'm sure that people who use this don't even know what they're saying. What does the word "spic" mean?
CHAVEZ: I don't know where that term comes from. It's a derogatory term.
LAMB: How derogatory is it? I guess that's what I want to know.
CHAVEZ: It's as derogatory as any term used to describe a group by their ethnicity. I mean, I don't think it's like the terms used to describe Jews or the, you know, terms used to describe Italians or the Irish.
LAMB: But it cuts deep.
CHAVEZ: Yeah. It's certainly not a friendly term, and when one uses it, I think it's meant to be derogatory.
LAMB: One more of these terms. What's a gringo?
CHAVEZ: Another derogatory term used by Hispanics -- persons predominantly, I think, of Mexican descent, to describe the non-Mexican, the North American Anglo population. Anglo's another such term, but it doesn't have quite the same kind of negative connotation.
LAMB: What kind of family did you grow up in?
CHAVEZ: I grew up in a working-class family. My dad was a housepainter. He had lots of different jobs, but for most of my growing-up period, that's what he did. My mother worked. She worked even when I was very young, in restaurants. When I got older, she started working in clothing stores in Denver and worked her way up to be an assistant buyer.
LAMB: And in your book -- you dedicated it to your father. Is he alive?
CHAVEZ: No. My father died in 1978.
LAMB: And why did you pick your dad to...
CHAVEZ: I guess my father had the most profound influence on my life of anyone. I guess my husband, maybe, comes a close second, but my father really had an enormous impact on my life. He was a very smart man. He was very well-read. He introduced me to the world of books as a very little girl. I went to the library in Albuquerque when I was with him, you know, when I was four or five years old. Books were always a very important part of my life. He did not have the advantage of an education. He had to drop out of school when he was still in high school, after ninth grade, to help support his brothers and sisters. And I think I always felt very badly that he was not able to continue that education, because he was a very smart man.
LAMB: When did you leave Colorado?
CHAVEZ: I didn't leave Colorado until 1970, when I graduated from college. By that time, I was married and had a child.
LAMB: Which school, by the way?
CHAVEZ: The University of Colorado at Boulder. I graduated from college with a degree in English literature. And we went off to California. My husband was majoring in psychology and he was accepted at a graduate school out there and I was accepted at UCLA with a fellowship, and so that's where we went.
LAMB: What is your married name?
CHAVEZ: My married name is Gersten. My husband's name is Chris Gersten.
LAMB: How many kids?
CHAVEZ: Three kids. We got married in '67. We had our first son, David, in '68. And then we had another one in -- Pablo -- in '76 and the final child, Rudy, in '78.
LAMB: Which one was it -- either David or Pablo -- who entered the DC schools? You wrote about it.
LAMB: And what kind of restrictions did he have on him?
CHAVEZ: Well, when Pablo entered school in the District of Columbia, I got sent home a note. The first week you get a lot of forms you have to fill out. And the note informed me that he would be being enrolled in the bilingual program -- had been identified as a child to be put into the bilingual program, which came as quite a shock to me, because Pablo didn't speak Spanish, and I wasn't quite sure what they had in mind. But obviously, the name was enough to make them think that this was a child that was going to need bilingual training. I mean, it would have been, had he actually gone through with it -- I immediately wrote the principal a note and said thanks but no thanks -- he would have been at a loss, because he would have been being put into a classroom where he did not, in fact, understand the language of instruction.
LAMB: What's a bilingual program?
CHAVEZ: Well, it can mean a lot of things. What it means in many places in the country today is a program that uses the child's native language as the primary means of instruction. In the United States today, if you come from a Spanish-speaking home, which is determined by a form that's sent home and parents are asked to check what language is used in the house. And if it's determined your child comes from a Spanish-speaking home, that child is overwhelmingly likely to be put into a classroom in which he or she will be taught to read and write in Spanish, not in English, without regard to whether or not the child is already bilingual, already understands English, or may even be English-dominant. The fact is, if the parent speaks Spanish and if Spanish is the language that is most often used in the home, Hispanic youngsters are now being put into Spanish-language classrooms.
LAMB: Do they do that with Germans?
CHAVEZ: No. They don't do it with any other group.
LAMB: Why do they do it with Hispanics?
CHAVEZ: Well, that's a very good question, and it's part of what motivated me to write this book. I think they do it because there is now a very large constituency for a program that receives federal funding and also state funding, which is motivated to try and keep ethnic allegiance and heritage alive, that attempts to treat Hispanics as a group apart from the majority and, I think, has some rather devastating consequences.
LAMB: All right. Who's out there watching us right now and is the maddest at you for doing this book?
CHAVEZ: Oh, probably the National Association of Bilingual Educators would be right up there, because I've been very critical of bilingual education. I think it's not benefited the children that are -- it's supposed to be helping. Hispanic leaders, political leaders, probably another group. The heads of most of the major Hispanic organizations, some of whom have written reviews of this book and compared me to Freddy Krueger, the knife-wielding murderer in the "Friday the 13th" movies. I've been compared to -- virtually every horror movie character in recent memory has been invoked to describe me and what I'm about in this book.
LAMB: Why do they get so hot about it?
CHAVEZ: I think I'm challenging their livelihood. I think I'm challenging what they stand for and what I consider to be -- bill of goods they've been selling policy-makers for the last 20 years.
LAMB: You were president of something called US English. What's that?
CHAVEZ: US English is an organization made up of people who basically contribute through the mail after direct mail solicitation. It promotes the idea of English as the official language of the United States. The organization has supported a constitutional amendment to make English the official language of the US. And it's an organization that has spurred a lot of controversy in the Hispanic community.
LAMB: How big is it?
CHAVEZ: Well, when I was there, there were about a quarter of a million people who contributed annually to the organization. And their annual dues were something like $20, $25. And some smaller -- a much smaller number who contributed significantly more than that.
LAMB: And how do they lobby? I mean, how does this Congress over here know that you want an amendment for an official language?
CHAVEZ: Well, US English has supported initiatives. They have, I think, right now a constitutional amendment in the hopper that's been signed by more than 150 members of Congress. They have tried for years to try and get that amendment through the Judiciary Committee in the House, which is basically where it would start; have been very unsuccessful in that. They've had some limited hearings. I, in fact, testified when I was president of US English at one hearing, and I think they may have had a couple of hearings since then. But it is not moving along very rapidly. The Congress hears from people around the country by way of postcards and letters and other urging it. It's a normal sort of lobbying, Washington-based organization.
LAMB: You didn't last long there, though, did you?
CHAVEZ: No. I left.
LAMB: How come?
CHAVEZ: Well, a couple of reasons. I had already begun to make up my mind that this was a single-issue organization, and one with, while I supported the goal of fighting bilingualism as an official policy, was not one that would sort of preoccupy me. I've had a fairly broad career, and it was not something that I wanted to do the rest of my life.
But the real impetus to my leaving was that the founder of the organization, a ophthalmologist from Michigan, John Tanton, had -- before I had gotten there a couple of years earlier, had written a memo that I found to be offensive. It could certainly have been interpreted to be anti-Hispanic and even anti-Catholic. He suggested that many of the new immigrants were coming with a very different ethic --might not have the proper appreciation for separation of church and state. Dr. Tanton had been very heavily involved in the population control movement -- the Zero Population Growth, Planned Parenthood, etc., and he was concerned at the higher birth rates among Latin immigrants. And he made some comment to the effect that it might be the first time in history when those of us, as he put it, with our pants up would be caught by those with their pants down.
I thought that was language that really should not have been used, and certainly not by the head of an organization such as US English, and it was an embarrassment to me. And I felt, frankly, that I was constantly being attacked as an Hispanic, head of this organization, for supporting something which Hispanics claimed was xenophobic and racist. And I thought, "Well, this memo is sort of the smoking gun that makes my job impossible," and I resigned as a result.
LAMB: What year was that?
CHAVEZ: That was in 1988.
LAMB: Did you find a lot of people who, behind the front of US English, the members were bigots?
CHAVEZ: There were certainly some people who were motivated to join the organization that were motivated out of prejudice, but I think they were a very small minority of the people who belonged to the organization. I think most of the people who belonged, interestingly, sort of cut across the political spectrum. There were liberal Democrats as well as conservative Republicans who contributed. And I think they were motivated, largely, because they were concerned in their own communities with seeing public funds go to support things like native-language instruction for Hispanic youngsters. They were concerned by seeing ballots printed in Spanish, Chinese and other languages. They were concerned at seeing public services and private services encouraged in languages other than English.
In fact, one of the people who was -- one of the first so-called English-only activists was a woman who went into her local office of government and couldn't find anybody who spoke English there. And she felt that she was a US citizen, American-born, and that she was going in to get service from her own government and she was not finding people there who spoke what she thought to be the language -- the common language of this country. And so I think it was motivated by frustration and concern, and that's why it has had such broad appeal.
LAMB: Did you use the figure $750 million of federal money now being spent on this bilingualism?
CHAVEZ: Seven hundred fifty million dollars was a figure that was attained by looking at all of the various federal programs that have bilingual funds, whether it be bilingual vocational education, migrant funds, elementary and secondary education funds that go for bilingual education, and lumping all of that together. That's really only a drop in the bucket, though, because most of the money that's being used for these programs is state and local money. The state of California, for example, I am certain, exceeds that amount in the state budget alone for teaching Hispanic youngsters in their native language.
LAMB: How many Hispanics are there in the United States?
CHAVEZ: Twenty-two million at last count.
LAMB: What is that? About 9 percent?
CHAVEZ: It's approaching 10 percent, right at 9 percent.
LAMB: The African-American blacks in this country amount that -- what percent?
CHAVEZ: About 12 percent.
LAMB: You keep hearing the statistic that by a certain year, the Hispanic group will surpass ...
LAMB: ...the black.
CHAVEZ: It may be as early as the year 2000. It's almost certain to be by the year 2010.
LAMB: What's the population of California?
CHAVEZ: In terms of Hispanics, there are almost eight million Hispanics. It's a very, very sizable...
LAMB: Out of 29 million.
CHAVEZ: Out of -- that's right. Out of 29 million.
LAMB: What does that do to a state like that?
CHAVEZ: Well, it can have an enormous impact. It can change the whole character of the state. Anybody who's been to Los Angeles recently or San Diego knows that. I was in Los Angeles a couple of months ago and found, when I was there, that it was difficult in some parts of Los Angeles to find anyone who speaks English.
LAMB: Do you speak Spanish?
CHAVEZ: I didn't grow up speaking Spanish and I'm not fluent in Spanish, no. By the way, that is common. It's a misperception that most people have that somehow, if you're Hispanic, you must, in fact, speak Spanish. More than half of all people who are at least third-generation American, US-born, are, in fact, English monolingual.
LAMB: Did your parents speak Spanish?
CHAVEZ: No. My mother is not Hispanic and we did not speak it in the home. I heard it growing up, because my grandparents, although they usually spoke to each other in English, when they wanted not to be heard -- understood by the grandchildren, would launch into Spanish.
LAMB: Is your husband Hispanic?
CHAVEZ: No, he is not.
LAMB: What's his name?
CHAVEZ: Chris Gersten.
LAMB: How come you kept Chavez?
CHAVEZ: I've always used Chavez professionally. It's, in part, because of my, I think, attachment to my father. It's a name I like. I'm very proud of my heritage and always have been. And it's one of the things I think people misunderstand. I'm an assimilationist. I believe in assimilation. I think that assimilation is the only model that works in a society as diverse as ours, that if each and every group keeps its primary attachment to the ethnic group or the racial group or the re -- that it's divisive. Having said that, though, one of the unique characteristics about American assimilation is that we do feel that we have some connection to the past. I mean, we eat different foods; we have different kinds of traditions in our homes and celebrations. And I think that so long as the ethnic part is private, so long as public funds are not being used to promote it that there's nothing wrong with it and it, in fact, can make a richer nation and make a richer life. It's when the public gets involved and when we begin expending public money to promote attachment to ethnicity or race that I have a problem.
LAMB: David, Pablo and Rudy, your sons, use the name Gersten?
CHAVEZ: Yes. Actually, they have middle -- Chavez is the middle name.
LAMB: Do they speak Spanish?
CHAVEZ: They've all studied it in school; none of them are fluent. I studied it in school as well. But as with anything that -- any language that you study in school, it's difficult if you're not immersed in it. It's one of the reasons I think immersion works better. I think if I went off to Mexico to live for a while and lived with a Mexican family, I'd learn to speak Spanish very quickly. Trying to study it a few hours a day in school is not the best way to learn a language.
LAMB: You came to Washington what year?
LAMB: What'd you do here?
CHAVEZ: I've done an awfully lot of things here. I started off working for a consulting firm in Washington that lasted, I think, less than three months; worked for the Democratic National Committee, which will be a shock to some people out there who think of me as a Republican; worked for Congressman Don Edwards on Capitol Hill in the Judiciary Committee, working on civil and constitutional rights; lobbied, both very briefly for the National Education Association and then for a longer period for the American Federation of Teachers; was with the AFT for about seven, eight years; went into the Reagan administration, as a Democrat, in 1983, as director of the Civil Rights Commission; was in that job for a couple of years and then moved to the White House as director of public liaison under President Reagan; and then left in '86 to run for the US Senate. In '85, I switched parties and became a Republican. I'd been voting as a Republican a lot longer, but I had not officially switched parties until 1985.
LAMB: Did you ever consider yourself a liberal?
CHAVEZ: Well, I still consider myself a liberal in certain ways, if you mean -- when you use that term in its classical term -- in a very strong belief in civil liberties, I'm a very strong civil libertarian. If you mean it in terms of a belief in the sanctity, almost, of the individual, I still believe in that. And I certainly worked for a liberal congressman. My views on some issues have not changed over the years. They are the same views I had as a Democrat as a Republican. But the difference is, is the Democratic Party changed. I was always skeptical of the notion of giving preference on the basis of race or ethnicity, always critical of the notion of racial quotas. I managed to hold those positions and work for Don Edwards in 1972, because at that time, the Democratic Party had not decided that it was, at least publicly, in favor of quotas.
LAMB: Let me stop and ask you...
LAMB: ...Don Edwards is a congressman from California?
CHAVEZ: Right. Congressman from California.
LAMB: A Democrat?
CHAVEZ: One of the most liberal members of the US Congress.
LAMB: OK. I didn't mean to interrupt you. Did you have another point you want to make?
CHAVEZ: Well, the point is that the Democratic Party shifted, and a lot of people -- a lot of Reagan Democrats, a lot of people who became Republican during Ronald Reagan's presidency but were supporters of Ronald Reagan initially as Democrats, I think, switched their allegiance, as I did, for the same reasons: because the Democratic Party became identified as the party of quotas; it became identified as the isolationist party in foreign policy, the party that was soft on communism. And many of us who had views that, at one time, were very mainstream Democratic found ourselves increasingly on the right fringes of the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party having moved very substantially to the left.
LAMB: You ran for the Senate in '86 against?
CHAVEZ: Barbara Mikulski.
LAMB: How bad did you lose?
CHAVEZ: Not bad, considering the registration odds. I got 39 percent plus in my bid as a first-time bid running for office. It was a larger percentage of the vote than any Republican except Mac Matthias had gotten in -- since 1970. At the time that I ran, I think the registration audit was about 3-to-1 Democratic over Republican, so it was a good showing for a novice.
LAMB: Will you do it again?
CHAVEZ: Not in Maryland. I don't think so. Maryland is -- the registration has tipped a little bit. I think it's down to about two or two and a half to one now, but it's still a liberal Democratic state and not particularly fertile ground for a conservative Republican.
LAMB: Is there a difference between the way the populace treats and woman and a man in politics?
CHAVEZ: Oh, I think there is. Interestingly, some of the people who might be most likely to support me -- for example, homemakers -- I think, were skeptical. You know, "Who is this woman? She's got young children. Why is she out running for office? She ought to be taking care of hearth and home." And so I think there is a bit of a double standard there. Even though my politics probably more closely resembled theirs, they were not as willing, I think, to support a woman with young children as they might have had I had the same politics, but been a man.
LAMB: How old are those kids again?
CHAVEZ: Well, now they -- my youngest is 13, but this was six years ago, so my youngest at that time was -- What? -- seven.
LAMB: Do you have a political hero that you've followed all your life?
CHAVEZ: Oh, I've got a lot of political heroes. I mean, if I were to tick them off, Maggie Thatcher is one of my great heroes. I think she's been one of the great world leaders. Obviously, Ronald Reagan became a hero of mine. He stood for something, you know, that I believe very strongly in.
LAMB: Your favorite president in history?
CHAVEZ: Well, I'd have to say Ronald Reagan. I mean, he's the only one that I knew up close. But in terms of my own lifetime, he had an enormous impact. I mean, I think what we've seen happening in the world today would not have happened had it not been for Ronald Reagan. I don't think Eastern Europe would now be where it is; I don't think you would have seen the Soviet Union split apart had it not been for Ronald Reagan.
LAMB: Back to this book, "Out of the Barrio." Financial and intellectual
support of the Manhattan Institute. You acknowledge that in the beginning. What is the Manhattan Institute?
CHAVEZ: Manhattan Institute is a think tank in New York, a public policy research organization. They support people like me to write serious books, And they've supported some very prominent books over the years: Wally Olson, who wrote "Litigation Explosion"; Peter Huber, who wrote "Galileo's Revenge"; just last year -- Charles Murray is probably one of the most famous of those. He wrote "Losing Ground," which was an attack on the welfare system, back in 1985. So they've supported some very prominent authors.
LAMB: Is there a political bent to them?
CHAVEZ: They're free-market oriented -- very, I think, aggressively free-market oriented.
LAMB: Big foundation?
CHAVEZ: I don't think -- no. It's not big by Washington standards. And they are New York-based, although many of us do work for the Manhattan Institute in Washington. They operate differently than a lot of the foundations here in Washington. They don't have a big central bureaucracy where everybody has offices and you all go in and put in your eight hours. They give fellowships to people to write books. And I, for example, have an office in my home, and that's the way I've operated for the last three years.
LAMB: And what are you doing now?
CHAVEZ: I'm still with the Manhattan Institute. I'm still a senior fellow. I've begun work on a new project. We're trying to launch something we're going to call the Center for the New American Community, which will tackle this whole issue of multiculturalism and tackle it on sort of a national scale, because it's certainly not just the question of bilingual education. I mean, this whole -- what I see as an assault on the notion that we have a common culture and that we are one people is -- it's very far-advanced now in many school systems around the country. We simply -- if you read the texts, if you look at things like the Afrocentric baseline essays that are being used now by some school districts, they are, I believe, an attack on the notion of a common culture.
LAMB: Let me check a couple of other things here in the beginning. The John M. Olin Foundation. Who's that?
CHAVEZ: They are another foundation that is based in New York that supports work in this and lots of other arenas.
LAMB: The Angeles T. Aredando Foundation?
CHAVEZ: That is a very small foundation. It does a lot of work in the Hispanic community. Cesar Aredando, who is the head of that foundation, is somebody that I met a few years ago and who does work in supporting various programs for Hispanic youngsters, and he was very interested in having this kind of book written and was willing to support it.
LAMB: The Lynn and Harry Bradley Foundation?
CHAVEZ: Another foundation that supports work across the board-- I guess it would probably be identified as a conservative foundation.
LAMB: And one last one. The Strake Foundation.
CHAVEZ: The Strake Foundation, I think, is a very small foundation. Its founder is George Strake; used to be the chairman of the Republican Party in the state of Texas.
LAMB: And all those -- you had to go to each one of those and get a little stipend here and there to...
CHAVEZ: Well, some of them came to me, surprisingly, which was very gratifying, but the Manhattan Institute -- one of the things the Manhattan Institute does is, when you sign on as a senior fellow, they take care of that for you. I didn't have to go hat in hand to each of the foundations looking for the support; the Manhattan Institute took care of that. I was free to not think about fund-raising, but to begin research and writing, and that was one of the great advantages of being affiliated with them.
LAMB: One last question on this in the opening comments here. "Peter Skerry allowed me to raid his file cabinets and pick his brain." Who is Peter Skerry?
CHAVEZ: Peter Skerry is now associated with UCLA. In fact, he runs the UCLA Center here in Washington. They actually have a campus now in Washington, DC. But he, at that time, was with the American Enterprise Institute. He's an author. In fact, he's got a book coming out soon on Hispanics in the United States, and he spent about a decade researching and studying Hispanic issues and, we think, not identically, but along the same lines.
LAMB: Cubans and Puerto Ricans and a lot in between. Those are the bookends. And why are there -- you suggest there's a great difference in the way the Cubans and the Puerto Ricans have grown up in this country.
CHAVEZ: Well, Cubans are unique in the Hispanic community in that they came here, first of all, not as immigrants, but as political refugees. They also came here expecting to go back. I think most of the Cubans who came here in the early 1960s expected that their stay here would not be for very long, that Castro would be overthrown and that they would return back to their homeland. They also were predominantly middle-class. They were not struggling peasants who, you know, had lost their jobs in the sugar fields or something and came here looking for a better life. They tended to be small-business men, to be skilled workers, some of them professional, some of them wealthy. And so their experience here reflects that difference in their background.
Puerto Ricans, on the other hand -- many of them did migrate here because of changes in the economy of Puerto Rico. Many of them do come from very rural backgrounds with very little education when they came predominantly in the 1940s and early '50s. And so it's a very big difference between the two groups.
LAMB: Are people from Cuba and from Puerto Rico and El Salvador and Nicaragua and -- go through all those countries -- are they different? Are they different...
LAMB: ...groups and...
CHAVEZ: They're very different.
LAMB: Is there a way to describe how they're different?
CHAVEZ: Well, they're different because they come from different countries, they are different nationalities. I mean, the thing -- ironically, Hispanic leaders who seem to have no understanding of how important it is to have a common language in the United States that unites us rely very much on the fact that the one thing that unites Hispanics from all these different countries is that they have a common language, Spanish. And, I mean, it's amazing that they can understand it in one context and not in the other.
LAMB: How about -- you read from time to time, people talk about -- I'm not
sure how to categorize it -- the white Hispanics, the black Hispanics. And the categories are all -- when you see listing of the categories, the different colors of Hispanics. Explain that.
CHAVEZ: Hispanic -- right. Hispanic is not racial term, it is a cultural term. It does not define a race of people because, in fact, Hispanics can be any race. There are black Hispanics. There are Cubans, there are Puerto Ricans, there are Dominicans who are predominantly black. It's a small fraction of those communities, but nonetheless, there are some. There is a much larger group of Hispanics who are mixed racially. If they're Mexican, the mixed racial background tends to be
white -- European -- plus Indian. If they're Puerto Rican or Dominican or Cuban,
the mixed racial background tends to be white plus African, because those countries did, in fact, import large numbers of Africans as slaves in their early colonial period.
LAMB: Do Hispanics vote as a block?
CHAVEZ: Not nearly to the degree that blacks in the United States do. In the last several presidential elections, the number of Hispanics nationally voting for the Republican nominee has ranged from 30 to 40 percent.
LAMB: I was trying -- I lost track of the question. You talk in here a lot about entitlements and about government and welfare for certain groups of Hispanics. What, in your opinion, what impact has that had on them?
CHAVEZ: Well, it's had a very devastating impact on the Puerto Rican community. Puerto Ricans had the misfortune of migrating from the island of Puerto Rico to New York City at a time when two things were happening. There was a change in the industrial base. A lot of the jobs, particularly in manufacturing, declined in the 1960s, '70s, and so the jobs that they came to take, for which their low-education background was not an impediment -- they could into jobs, for example, in the garment industry even though they may have lacked a high school education. Those jobs disappeared.
At the same time, New York City is sort of the epitome of the welfare state in the United States. They have a very generous welfare program. It's not particularly difficult to get on welfare in New York City. And if you're a Puerto Rican, as opposed to, say, a Mexican immigrant, you are immediately eligible for welfare because you're a United States citizen by birth. So there are not any of the impediments that immigrants face because some states, in fact, do deny certain kinds of welfare benefits to people who are noncitizens.
So that combination, the change in the industrial base and the easy availability of welfare, I think trapped a lot of Puerto Ricans in New York who might -- had they come in under different circumstances and not had that to fall back on, might have been motivated to leave and move and seek jobs elsewhere when the jobs moved. In fact, a lot of Americans do that; they chase after the jobs. You see a decline in city populations in the Northeast. When the jobs left, many of the people moved to the Sun Belt or other places where the jobs, in fact, were more plentiful. Puerto Ricans in New York, particularly those most vulnerable, ended up not doing that because there was, in fact, the crutch of welfare to be able to lean on. It's had a devastating impact.
The Puerto Rican community is not doing as well as the other Hispanic communities. It's a very bipolar community. There is a fairly substantial number of Puerto Ricans who are educated, employed and doing very, very well, as well as any other Hispanic group in the country. But there is also a very sizeable group who have many of the same underclass characteristics as black inner-city residents do: very high out-of-wedlock births, almost half -- in fact, slightly over half of Puerto Rican children now are born out of wedlock, very low marriage rates, very high welfare rates. Welfare among Puerto Ricans in New York City is higher than it is for any other group. They're not only more likely to be on welfare, they are likely to stay on welfare longer and they're more likely to be second-generation welfare recipients than other
LAMB: I know you had some numbers in the book, but let me ask you the -- how many Puerto Ricans are there that live in Puerto Rico?
CHAVEZ: That live in Puerto Rico? It's around -- let's see -- there are about two million here and I think it's roughly four million, but you'd have to double-check that. I'm not certain.
LAMB: And how did it ever develop that they are American citizens, but can't vote in a presidential election?
CHAVEZ: Well, they can vote if they live here.
LAMB: But they can't vote if they're in Puerto Rico?
CHAVEZ: Well, it's by our laws.
LAMB: Yeah, but how did that develop? Why would you -- I mean, in other words, they can vote in the presidential ...
CHAVEZ: Well, they don't ...
LAMB: ... party primary -- the primaries?
CHAVEZ: Right. Well, because the parties set their own rules. The parties decide who can vote and who can't. The Virgin Islands also sends delegates to the conventions of both parties, but they don't vote for president. We also have, you know, the other trust territories in Samoa and other places where people have certain political rights and not others.
It's a problem. I happen to think Puerto Rico's status is a problem. They have what's called commonwealth status, and that, of course, has developed over the years. We acquired Puerto Rico as a result of our having won the war with Spain. I think it was about 1917 that we granted all persons born on the island of Puerto Rico US citizenship, but that did not confer all political rights. People who live there, like people who live in the District of Columbia, don't have senators, they don't have members of Congress; they have nonvoting delegates. And I think it sets up a sort of dual citizenship and it sets up a second-class status for people who live in Puerto Rico.
LAMB: What percentage of Hispanics vote?
CHAVEZ: Much smaller percentage than other groups, including blacks. I've got the figures in my book, I think for 1988, and...
LAMB: I think I remember 30-some percent.
CHAVEZ: It's -- yeah. It's low. It's about 30, 35, 34 percent, something like that. I don't recall it off the top of my head. By the way, it seems to decline every year -- every voting year. It's a little misleading. When we talk about percentage of people who vote, the way those figures are usually calculated is by the percentage of those who are of voting age, 18 years and older. The problem is the Hispanic community is now a community made up of one-half immigrants who are ineligible to vote. They haven't become naturalized citizens yet. So it distorts it a little bit. It isn't political apathy so much as it is a much higher proportion of that population that isn't eligible to vote because they're not citizens.
LAMB: What do you think of the American immigration policy?
CHAVEZ: I think American immigration policy, while it is the most generous of any country in the world, could be even more generous. I think immigrants are very good for the country. I think they're good for the economy. I think they bring a certain kind of entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to work very hard. They, I think, have been part of what has invigorated this country throughout its history, so I am in favor of a generous immigration policy in the US.
LAMB: Did we ever have an official language in this country?
CHAVEZ: No. We've always had English as the traditional quasi-official language but, no, we never did.
LAMB: Do many states have a bilingual law or a US English law, either one? I mean, a state English law?
CHAVEZ: There are several states now -- I think it's approaching 20 now -- that have officially adopted English as their official language. Some of them have done through referenda, popular initiatives where people have signed measures to put it on the ballot, and then it's been adopted by the voters at an election. That was done in '86 in California, it was done in '88 in Florida and Colorado and Arizona, it was done a couple years ago in Alabama. There are a couple of states that have quasi-bilingual provisions. The state of Hawaii recognizes Hawaiian and English as their language. The state of New Mexico, while it doesn't recognize Spanish as an equal language, doesn't allow for English to become the official language of the state without a -- I think it's three-quarters of a vote of both members of their state Legislature.
LAMB: Do you think there ought to be an amendment passed that will make English the official language?
CHAVEZ: I think it's very difficult right now, because it's politically incorrect in some members' minds. I think if you were to put it to an initiative -- if you could put it on the presidential election ballot this year, I think it'd pass overwhelmingly. All public opinion polls show somewhere between 70 and 85 percent of the American people are in favor of English as the official language.
LAMB: Are Hispanics, in your opinion, discriminated against in our country?
CHAVEZ: Certainly, there has been and continues to be some prejudice and discrimination against Hispanics. Is it the decisive factor in determining how well they'll do in this society? No. I don't believe so ...
LAMB: Do you ...
CHAVEZ: ... any more than it was for Chinese-Americans, any more than it has been for Jews and other groups that have faced discrimination.
LAMB: Have you ever felt it?
CHAVEZ: Sure. In a personal way? Absolutely. I mean, you don't grow up in the Southwest in the 1950s without having encountered prejudice and discrimination. I certainly did as a child.
LAMB: What do you remember?
CHAVEZ: Oh, I can remember lots of things. I can remember the little boy who, you know, played with me -- who lived across the alley from me in Denver who
played with me every day until one day, he told me his dad said he couldn't play with a Mexican. You know, I remember being kicked off of playgrounds. You know, I remember being snickered at and called names by girls, you know, at high school at the dances. I can remember being invited by a boy to a dance at the country club and being so shunned by the other people there that I felt very isolated and sort of withdrew into the ladies' room and spent most of the night there. I mean, those things happen.
LAMB: Well, what causes that?
CHAVEZ: Well, unfortunately, it seems almost a sort of fact of human nature. People tend to be wary of people who are different from them. And it's something that I think we have done a better job in the United States fighting against than most people have in other parts of the world, but it's still there. It's something in the hearts of man. It's something that sort of belongs in the spiritual and moral realm. I think that you have to get people to understand it in terms of their relationship to each other as human beings and their relationship to God. It's very difficult to legislate an end to prejudice. We can legislate and have, in this country, and end to discrimination. We can make it illegal to act on the basis of our prejudices, but eliminating those prejudices is a much harder thing to do.
LAMB: You write: "Year in and year out, Americans were being told by Hispanic leaders that Hispanics could not or would not follow in the footsteps of previous immigrants." What's the reason for that?
CHAVEZ: Well, because, I think many of the leaders of Hispanic organizations -- I mean, there have sort of two models in this country: the immigrant model and the civil rights model. The immigrant model acknowledges that people who come here from different places, speaking different languages, who may look different than the majority population are going to encounter a period where there's resistance to their acceptance. Every group has faced that in the United States. Germans faced it in the United States, Italians certainly faced it, Jews faced it, the Chinese probably had some of the most Draconian kinds of measures passed against them in the early part of the century. Nonetheless, each of those groups, over a period of time, did, in fact, assimilate both culturally and economically, and were accepted.
The civil rights model, which was adapted to deal with the problem of blacks, is a very different model and it is born out of a very different experience in the United States. While all of those other groups encountered discrimination to a degree -- one degree or another, it was never as pervasive as the discrimination in the United States against blacks. The Chinese may not have been allowed to own property, but they were never defined as nonhuman in the way in which blacks in the United States were defined during the period of slavery in the South, and that, I think, is a very big difference.
Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans and others who sort of came of political age in the 1960s looked to the black civil rights movement and said, "What we must do is pattern ourselves after successful black organizations and use the same path to progress as blacks did." It's not an appropriate model, because I think Hispanics are much more like ethnic immigrants in the United States than they are like blacks, both in terms of their own cultural background, but more importantly, in terms of the kind of discrimination they face. Yes, they faced discrimination. It was not of the depth and pervasiveness that blacks in the United States faced.
LAMB: Are there obvious heroes in this kind of community that are taught in schools, like Martin Luther King would be in the black community?
CHAVEZ: There's never really emerged any national Hispanic political leader in part, I think, because the communities are so different. Mayor Henry Cisneros, who was very well thought of when he was mayor of San Antonio, looked like he might be able to break into that kind of a prominence. Whether he would have been embraced and accepted by Cubans in Miami and Puerto Ricans in New York is questionable. I think Mexican-Americans found him to be a prominent Hispanic figure. Whether or not he would have had that kind of broad reach, I don't know.
LAMB: Linda Chavez -- Linda Sha -vez?
LAMB: Which is right and why?
CHAVEZ: Well, it's "Cha." There is no S-H -- shh -- sound in the Spanish language. It doesn't exist. Chavez is the correct pronunciation.
LAMB: In your run for the Senate, we heard "Shavez."
CHAVEZ: Yes, you did. My consultants decided that people who were not
Hispanic couldn't learn to say Chavez, that it sounded somehow strange to their ears and it wouldn't form on the tongue. And so they persuaded me that -- first of all, that the announcer couldn't say Chavez and that it should be pronounced "Shavez.'" So I went around for about a year and a half while I was running and for a few months after running saying `Shavez,' and finally woke up and said, `Wait a second. That's not the way I've ever pronounced my name and I'm going back to the original.'
LAMB: The consultants weren't Hispanic.
CHAVEZ: No, they weren't. And for some reason, they thought it was easier to say "Shavez" than "Chavez." Maybe they thought it sounded softer, but it's not the correct pronunciation.
LAMB: Were you ever criticized in the campaign by Hispanics for doing that?
CHAVEZ: Not during the campaign, because there aren't a whole lot of Hispanics in Maryland but, yeah, I have been criticized since then. You know, "Why is it you said your name that way?"
LAMB: All right. You're president of the United States.
CHAVEZ: Yes. Wonderful. Just happened, right?
LAMB: Right. And you can take this book and all the things you're talking about here and do whatever has to be done to correct what you see is wrong. What would you do?
CHAVEZ: Well, one of the things I'd start doing is talking about what we have in common as a nation, and the whole way in which the bully pulpit is used these days by a politician is to celebrate diversity. Everybody wants to talk about how wonderful it is that we're all these diverse peoples. In fact, I think it's more important to try and get all those diverse people to recognize that they're part of one larger whole, and I would like to see politicians do that and I would like to see President Bush or any other politician who's running talk more about our common heritage, our commonality.
George Washington is my hero. The fact that my father's family was off in New
Mexico and their allegiance was, at that time, to Spain, not to England and they didn't fight in the Revolutionary War, should not in any way diminish the fact that George Washington is my forefather. It certainly didn't impede the Russian immigrants that were coming here in the early part of the century who learned to accept these persons as part of their cultural heritage in their new nation, and I think we need to begin doing that again. I think we need to begin saying, `It isn't your loyalty to your race or ethnicity that's important, it's your loyalty to the idea of this nation and to that common cultural heritage.'
LAMB: What else would you do? What about entitlements? What about the Puerto Ricans who you say are down?
CHAVEZ: Well, I think, if -- and if I were president, if I were queen for a day, I would make very sweeping and major changes in welfare policy in the United States. I think welfare rewards people for having children out of wedlock and not forming families. I would make welfare less attractive than it is today.
LAMB: Take it away from people?
CHAVEZ: I would make the eligibility standards stiffer than they are now. That's the way to reduce the rolls, by the way. It's the only way we ever reduce them. When you make it easier to get on welfare, more people go on welfare. When you make it more difficult, people decide that it's probably worth taking a job, even if it's not a terribly desirable job, rather than being on welfare. So I wouldn't tighten eligibility.
LAMB: So what happens if you have a woman today, no husband, has five or six kids, is on welfare? Pull it from her? Can't get a job, on the streets.
CHAVEZ: Well, I'm not at all convinced of this notion that you can't get a job. You may not be able to get a job making $25,000 a year. And you've also stated one thing that I think is critical, and that is that she's not married. In the 1930s and 1940s, something like a third of all marriages were, quote, "shotgun marriages." The woman was pregnant when she married. When you used to get pregnant -- and it isn't that people didn't used to get pregnant before they were married; it's that when you got pregnant, the right thing to do was to get married. We have now taken away all social onus from illegitimacy. We don't even use the term. We call it out-of-wedlock births, we call it lots of things. We don't call it illegitimacy anymore. I think that when you do that, when you make those kinds of changes, you should not be surprised that the behavior follows those changes in public policy, so that now we have close to a quarter of all births in the United States out of wedlock. It's not just black and Puerto Rican women who are having children out of wedlock, it's white women as well. So I would change that. I would, again, try to make some stigma attached to the notion of having child after child out of wedlock. I don't think it's good for the future of this country.
LAMB: What percentage of Hispanics are Catholic?
CHAVEZ: A very large percentage. I don't know what it is precisely...
LAMB: In the 90s?
CHAVEZ: Probably 80s or 90s, yeah.
LAMB: Catholic church teaches a lot about premarital sex and very strong on that. Why then in the Hispanic community has that illegitimacy rate been so high?
CHAVEZ: It's not uniform across the community. In fact, half of all Puerto Rican babies are born out of wedlock, but something like 20, 25 percent of Mexican babies are born out of wedlock. And it's interesting. The likelihood of being born out of wedlock is greater if you are a US-born Mexican-American than it is if you are an immigrant, again, because I think people coming from traditional cultures are more likely to say, you know, if a girl gets pregnant, the right thing for the young man to do is marry her.
An interesting thing -- and I'm not saying this strictly of some moral sense -- it happens to be hard, cold, economic fact that being unmarried and having a child out of wedlock dooms you to poverty in the United States. If you look at the poverty rates for married couples, it's about 8 percent of Hispanics who live in two-parent households are below the poverty line. That's compared to 25 percent if you look at just the whole Hispanic population. Among blacks, it's about 6 percent of blacks that live in families where there's a mother and a father and a father working, live below the poverty line. So marriage is a critically important factor in reducing poverty in the United States.
LAMB: By the way, how long did it take you to write this book?
CHAVEZ: Took me almost two years from beginning to end, from the time I started doing the research and outlining the book till I was finished.
LAMB: Has it turned out to be what you thought it would?
CHAVEZ: It's turned out to generate a lot of controversy. It has not gotten as much attention -- critical attention in terms of book reviews from some of the mainstream press, which has surprised me. I think the mainstream press is still behind the curve in terms of understanding how important the Hispanic population is and what an enormous change is taking place in the population. The New York Times, for example, did not review the book. There are as many Hispanics in New York as there are blacks. A comparable book by someone of my background, stature and status about blacks would not have been ignored by The New York Times.
LAMB: Are you going to write another one?
CHAVEZ: I'm working on one on multiculturalism now.
LAMB: And what else in your life do you want to do?
CHAVEZ: Well, I would be content to continue writing and doing commentary, as I have for the last three years, for the indefinite future. I mean, I think I have some things to say and I like having an audience to say them to. And at least for the last few years, I've been able to find that audience.
LAMB: This is what the book looks like. It's called "Out of the Barrio," by Linda Chavez. Thank you for joining us.
CHAVEZ: Thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1992. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.