For decades, New York's Herman Badillo has been one of America's most important Latino political leaders. Now he's written "One Nation, One Standard," a superb combination of personal memoir and political manifesto.
His story is inspiring: from his arrival in America as an 11-year-old orphan who spoke little English, to his election to the U.S. Congress and his leadership in one of world's great cities. Badillo's exciting political career spans his start as a young John F. Kennedy organizer to his alliance with Rudolph Giuliani. Ed Koch, Mario Cuomo, John Lindsay, Shirley Chisholm, David Dinkins and Charlie Rangel all pass through these pages.
During the 1970s, Rep. Herman Badillo was a mainstay of New York City's progressive politics, leading the fight to establish bilingual education programs and ballots. But, he now writes, "these programs" have "backfired drastically."
Bilingual education was originally designed to help Latino kids learn English while taking other courses in Spanish. But the plan failed, as bilingual education in effect became monolingual education in Spanish.
The public schools also practiced "social promotion." Students advanced from grade to grade without regard to their mastery of the curriculum. As a result, many graduated high school barely able to read or write in any language. Thus, bilingual education often meant bi-illiteracy. At CUNY, open admissions gutted standards at what was once "the Harvard of the Poor."
Concerned that these policies prevented Latino kids from entering the American mainstream, Badillo courageously battled the political and educational establishment. After 30 years of fighting, he saw a measure of success when the city scaled back social promotion and CUNY began to restore standards.
Badillo emphasizes the overwhelming importance of education. He insists that Latino parents get involved in their children's schooling (meeting teachers, ensuring homework is completed, etc.). He chides the Hispanic community in general for not promoting educational accomplishment.
Most significantly for national policy, Badillo sounds the alarm that Latino immigrants "are not assimilating and succeeding as previous arrivals have done." He tells us that, "Hispanics have the highest rates of poverty and dropping out of high school."
Badillo argues that Latinos must rely on themselves, not government, to succeed. But more deeply, Badillo rephrases the wisdom of America's leaders from George Washington to Theodore Roosevelt by insisting that successful immigration requires patriotic assimilation. He forthrightly rejects multiculturalism and endorses SUNY Provost Peter Salins' concept of assimilation as "three unities":
- Cultural unity means "English language dominance."
- Civic unity means pride in and allegiance to America.
- Unity of values means adherence to a self-reliant work ethic.
None of this, Badillo points out, means that Latinos, like other immigrant groups before them, should not be proud of their heritage and maintain ethnic traditions that are consistent with American ideals.
Badillo presents a powerful and convincing agenda: end special preferences, bilingual mandates and multiculturalism; support standards, assimilation and patriotism. His "One America" project should be incorporated into the 2008 presidential contest.
Will a candidate please step forward?