Mulford points to Canada's experience as an officially bilingual nation and the Quebec separatist movement based on language. "Look at what's going on there with French and English. It's difficult for a society to operate like that. I think we need to be an English-speaking society. That's the native language of most of the people in this country, so that's the way our school board would lean. They would not support the San Antonio plan in any way, I think."
"[The San Antonio plan] flies in the face of Proposition 227, which prohibits any instruction in Spanish, at the elementary level, period," confirms Dr. Johanna Vetcher, assistant superintendent at South Bay Union School District, where 41 percent of the 10,000 students are officially dubbed "English-language learners." Vetcher knows this issue well. She has led an effort to "minimize" the effects of 227. One program already in place was a dual-language program at Nestor Elementary, supported by federal funding. "We started off teaching kindergarten and first grade four years ago, and each year since then we've rolled into second, into third, into fourth. Each class is a mix of 60 percent English speakers and 40 percent Spanish-speakers. They help each other. This is our fourth year. It is phenomenal. You go and visit, and you see kindergarten and first-grade students communicating. English speakers communicating in Spanish any which way they can. They think the teacher can't speak English. Early years are in Spanish. That gradually changes as the children grow up."
Vetcher says the federal funding dries up this year, and though the program is very popular, "In California there's not a widespread cry for English-speaking students to learn Spanish. Nobody's beating down the doors." Even she doesn't see a San Antonio-type scheme working here. The political-cultural climate's not right. "I can't overemphasize how much pressure we're already under in making sure that we are able to document academic improvement from one year to the next...in English. We're not looking to take on some initiative that becomes cumbersome to implement. There's not a cry out there."
Oceanside Unified School District's Laurie Alexander goes further. "I really want to see how our [English-only] program plays out. I think that students and parents recognize that they need to become proficient in English, that English is the language of our economic world."
This is the point San Antonio's González doesn't buy. "In business, the best language to speak is the language of your customers," she says, pointing to the level of business her state does with Mexico. Texas companies ship $21.9 billion worth of goods there annually, according to the San Antonio Express-News. San Antonio businesses, she says, must encourage that relationship.
"Every year, this chamber takes a delegation to Distrito Federal -- Mexico City -- the capital. We meet with the president at Los Pinos, the Mexican White House. And I will tell you that we sit at the table with the president of Mexico and his cabinet, and we carry the dialogue in English. Because our folk -- our delegation -- can't speak Spanish. The president and all his cabinet are [obliged to] speak in English."
Even Mexico's border towns, says González, are better prepared to bridge the cultural gaps than their better-funded U.S. counterparts. "They're way ahead of us on bilingual education. The department of education from the state of Nuevo León [visited us]. It turns out they have a resource -- bilingual teachers -- that we have a great need for here in our city. They are very interested in addressing that void. They have met with some local community colleges and with us, and we are going to pursue a relationship [whereby] we can utilize some of their teachers, hopefully, in some of our school districts."
In Miami, where dual-language programs have long been in place, González says they are now working on promoting a third language, Portuguese. "Because they are doing so much trade with Brazil."
But Miami shares a disturbing problem with San Antonio, and probably San Diego. "Our language is deteriorating, bit by bit, with each generation," says González. "My parents were a fluent Spanish-speaking generation. I am not as sharp. My children, although they speak Spanish, it's not as true a Spanish, or as sophisticated as mine. That's happened in Miami and it's happening here." Stopping this degeneration would be the other benefit of a truly dual-language education, she says.
Meanwhile, González's chamber of commerce has hit the airwaves to promote its idea. "We have these incredible commercials that are being aired pro bono by every station. Our local cable station is airing them on MTV, CNN, ESPN, and others. They're addressing the youth about the importance of having a second language. And they feature very casual-attitude kids who are challenging other kids to come in and be part of this great new idea. Some are in English, some in Spanish, some in both. It's cool."
González has one thing to thank California for: it was the push to make it "English-only" here that inspired the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "Four years ago, when California was having all its 'English-only' stuff, we signed a resolution called 'English Plus One.' So the concept is not new. It's just its approach that's new."