Something amiss when Mexicans teach Mexicans


Remember the “Hymie Kaplan” short stories in which Leo Rosten during the 1950s comically chronicled the ever-eager efforts of a generation of immigrants to learn English and assimilate into American life?

If Mexico has its way, there will be no such effort from the largest current wave of immigrants to America.

For more than two dozen public school districts around California that run adult education programs are allowing, even encouraging, the Mexican government to provide education for Mexican immigrants - legal and illegal.

Does anybody see something amiss here?

The so-called Plaza Communitaria project is part of Mexico’s announced policy of trying to prevent its expatriates in the United States from losing ties to their homeland. Other tactics Mexico has tried: a failed attempt at getting most Mexican immigrants to vote in that country’s last presidential election and issuing of consular identification cards to illegal immigrants.

The Mexican moves are a concerted effort to prevent their expatriates from achieving the kind of assimilation that allowed previous waves of immigrants to become part of the American mainstream.

When Mexican teachers paid by their government are instructing Mexican expatriates both in live classes held in Spanish and via Spanish-language teaching sessions offered on the Internet, they are not required to teach American values of democracy, tolerance and equal rights. Nor are they promoting loyalty to America in this country’s newest large immigrant group.

The immediate aim is not, as some anti-immigrant groups maintain, to stage some kind of reconquista, Spanish for legitimate owners retaking land from conquerors, but rather a hope that many current immigrants to America will return to their home country and not stay here.

For many current immigrants, legal or not, came to America because they were unable for a variety of reasons to finish high school in Mexico and thus could not get work in their home country. They are paid many times more here for the same kinds of menial work that is about all they can hope to find at home without a high school education.

Meanwhile, school districts in California and other parts of America say they hope that when schoolchildren see their parents take studying seriously, they will too.

Most of the instruction is done in local public schools where the highly successful 1998 Proposition 227 ban on bilingual education in public schools, except where a majority of parents sign waivers to bring it back, does not apply to adult classes.

Because they also try to teach immigrants some English, Mexican consular officials who supervise the classes bill them as a way to help the migrants get along better in America.

But the subtext is clearly spelled out in several online statements about Plaza Communitaria: Educate immigrants so they can return to Mexico with the knowledge and skills to find good jobs.

Nothing there about helping them assimilate and build better lives in America.

Which means that while teaching literacy in both Spanish and English undoubtedly makes a positive contribution to the lives of Mexicans living here, in the long run it may also harm them.

For no matter what Mexico tries, few Mexicans who are here legally have any intention of returning permanently to their previous homes. Similarly, most illegal immigrants make constant efforts to stay in America rather than returning to Mexico.

Anything that causes these immigrants to renew links to their old homes and discourages them from participating fully in American political life does them a disservice, whether they know it or not.

American history plainly shows that the more active an ethnic group becomes in American politics and the quicker its members learn English, the sooner members of that group begin to advance in society. At the same time, the more active any ethnic group becomes in politics, the more government services will come its way.

Which means that while Plaza Communitaria may provide a temporary boost to some of its students, on the whole it will likely have a negative impact on Mexican immigrants who want to stay in America.

Yes, it’s convenient and cheap for public school districts to embrace this Mexican government program. But in the long run, this is something that can do more harm than good to the very persons it is intended to help - while at the same time deepening the resentment many American citizens feel toward Mexican immigrants.

Which means that the fewer school districts allow this program and the more that replace it soon with classes in English-as-a-second-language and other skills instruction, the better.

Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His e-mail address is