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A Right Blow to Civil Rights?

Michael O. Collazo

LATino News Network

April 25 (LATNN).- A U.S. Supreme Court ruling Tuesday now makes it harder to prosecute alleged government discrimination - and could raise hopes for English only laws throughout the country.

In the Alexander vs. Sandoval case, lawyers representing a Mexican immigrant named Martha Sandoval argued that the state of Alabama's English only law discriminated against Sandoval's ability to take a driver's license exam, which the state provides only in English. In a razor-thin 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that Alabama did not violate the Civil Rights Act on the notion that, in this case, not providing Spanish driver's license exams has a "disparate impact" on minorities. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor and Clarence Thomas comprised of the majority vote.

Enrique Gallardo, staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), said this ruling takes a key weapon away from lawyers that use Titile VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to argue discrimination cases.

"If you're going to challenge things such as government services, government programs or environmental policies, you're going to have to find intentional discrimination," said Gallardo. "Some state laws could can get you disparate impact, but the Civil Rights Act was the best way of fighting [discrimination]."

Gallardo did point out that Tuesday's ruling did not affect employment or housing discrimination law, which is covered under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Already, numerous cases questioning potentially discriminatory practices will be thrown out, because these cases were planning to use the "disparate impact" argument.

Even prior to Tuesday's ruling, organizations like MALDEF have expressed concern over prosecuting discrimination cases. In MALDEF"s Transition Paper given to President George W. Bush this week, the 33-year-old civil rights organization contends that the failure of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to investigate and prosecute discrimination cases stem from the lack of federal funding federal civil rights the agency receives. MALDEF reports that the EEOC about 30 lawyers and maintains a budget of about $100 million; conversely, the FBI and INS receive $3.4 billion and almost $5 billion in federal funding, according to MALDEF.

English Only On the Rebound?

Though this case did not rule whether or not Alabama was allowed to maintain an English-only law, the Court's ruling can be considered as a victory for proponents of English as this country's official language.

"We are delighted the Supreme Court has rejected the ACLU's attempt to kill official English in Alabama," said Joseph E. Schmitz, a board member of U.S. English, an organization pushing for establishing English as this country's official language. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) helped bring on this case-action suit. "Although the majority opinion is limited to a narrow issue of congressional intent, this is a tremendous symbolic victory for official English."

With over 20 states adopting an English only law, this ruling could deter challenges to such laws. Gallardo hopes this ruling is not an aid to English only legislation, but he does see how this ruling affects civil rights litigation.

"We hope not," said Gallardo, "but in a way the Court has made it easier to fight discriminatory practices, which could include English only laws."

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Black Students Targeted: Incidents at Penn State University


As some of you may already know, last week Friday, the Black Caucus President at Penn St. University received a death threat in the mail.This letter said that there is no place for "niggers" at this white school,in a white town. The letter also stated that if this person was still alive by the time graduation came around, there would be a bomb there.They also stated that there was a body of a dead black man in the woods.Saturday, during an intersquad football game, 26 members of the Black Caucus ran on the field. These people were arrested for trespassing,and were released later on that day. The members ran on the field to protest the continuation of prejudice that takes place at Penn St., and the silence of Penn St. President Graham Spanier. After the game, President Spanier announced that there would be a Unity March, Tuesday, April 24,on the Penn campus. Members of the Black Caucus were not informed that this march was being planned, and were upset by his actions. Black students have been receiving threatening letters and e-mails the past two years, and the administration has not been cooperating with the student body. The march yesterday turned into a protest that has not ended. President Spanier released a brief statement during the rally, and then left as the Black Caucus President begged him to stay, because her life is in danger.President Spanier proceeded to meet with the press in a closed Press conference, as 4,000 plus students, of every ethnic background,continued to protest in the cold wind. Members of the NAACP and the Nation of Islam attended and spoke at yesterday's rally. The Nation of Islam informed the student body that Pennsylvania has 32 hate groups within thestate,more than any other state in the country. Three hours after the rally began, President Spanier announced that he would meet with 15 members of the Black Caucus, in a private meeting.After four hours of negotiation, the meeting came to a close, when PresidentSpanier refused to meet the requests of the student body, which include:building a Black Cultural Resource Center, and to increase hiring in the African and African American Studies Department of Penn St. leave the HUB,a student building on campus. Around 300 students slept there last night,refusing to leave until an agreement is met. The wake-up for students this morning became extremely frightening when police announced that a dead black male was found 2 hours from campus. The identity of the body is not known,and there is no word right now if it was a Penn St. student.The student body of Penn St. would like the support of the nation to end racial discrimination at our school and across the nation. We areall God's people, and in this crucial time, we all need to come together in His name.Please forward this e-mail to everyone you know, so the people outside of Penn St. know the racial struggles that continue on the campus, and in the country everyday.

God Bless.

Justin L Sophomore- Penn St. University

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The Significance of "Cinco de Mayo"

The Mexican holiday known as "Cinco de Mayo" is widely misconstrued in this country, even by people of Mexican descent. Other people do not seem to care about the origin and cultural significance of Cinco de Mayo, they simply see it as an opportunity to go out and get drunk on Mexican beer at reduced prices. Despite its commercialization, this holiday is of importance to many people. This writing will attempt to clarify the meaning of this holiday and return Some significance to a day that has lost most of it to the advertisement industry of this country.

The biggest misconception about Cinco de Mayo is that it commemorates of Mexico's Independence Day. That holiday is, in fact, celebrated on September 16. On that date back in 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo issued a proclamation known as "El Grito de Dolores" that united the many different rebellions going on against Spain into one cohesive struggle. Mexico achieved its independence from Spanish rule in 1821. Cinco de Mayo is actually a commemoration of a victory by Mexican troops in La Batalla de Puebla more that fifty years later, on May 5, 1862.

From the time of Mexican Independence in 1821 to the time of this battle in 1862, Mexico suffered numerous setbacks in its attempts to form a stable republic, and endured several incursions into its sovereignty as an independent nation. Fifteen years into its independence, Texas seceded from Mexico. The Texas Revolt, was led by "American-Mexicans," Anglos who immigrated from the United States to Mexico, promising to obey Mexican laws and respect Mexican traditions.This revolt eventually led to the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), a war won by the U. S. As a result, Mexico was forced to surrender approximately half of its territory to the U. S. Mexico, which had never been financially stable, underwent a severe economic crisis during the 1850s.

President Benito Juarez inherited Mexico's troubled political and financial situation, which included a bankrupt Mexican treasury. As a result of these problems, President Juarez issued a moratorium in 1861 halting payments on Mexican foreign debt. Much of this debt was owed to France. Shortly thereafter, France sent troops to Mexico to secure payment of its debt.

At the time, the French Army of Napoleon III was considered the premier army in the world. It had enjoyed recent victories throughout Europe and Asia. The French expected to march form the port city of Veracruz to Mexico City without encountering much resistance. President Juarez sent troops, under the command of General Ignacio Zaragosa, to Puebla to confront the French. The Mexican troops consisted almost entirely of indigenous soldiers, much like today. General Zaragosa's troops, outnumbered 4,700 to 5,200, were severely under-equipped. La Batalla de Puebla raged on for two hours, after which time the French were forced to retreat to Orizaba. Despite tremendous odds, the humble Mexican Army defeated the most powerful fighting unit in the world!

One year after La Batalla de Puebla, the French brought in more troops and re-attacked. This time they were able to make their way to Mexico City, take the capital, and install Emperor Maximilian of Hapsburg as the reigning monarch of Mexico. Maximilian ruled Mexico for about four years, until his execution in 1867 by troops loyal to President Juarez, who regained power.

Although La Batalla de Puebla on Cinco de Mayo was rendered militarily insignificant by the French's subsequent victory, it did inject the Mexican people with pride and patriotism it had never before enjoyed. Since its independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico had suffered one tragedy after another. La Batalla de Puebla was the first time that the Mexican pueblo could rally around a common cause and proudly proclaim,

Cinco de Mayo is not celebrated in Mexico to the same extent that it is by Chicanos in the U. S., mainly because El 16 de septiembre is seen as the more important holiday. The reason that Chicanos celebrated the holiday is that we appreciate its cultural significance (victory in the face of great odds and the patriotism it generated) more that its historical relevance. Also, General Ignacio Zaragosa, the leader at La Batalla de Puebla, was born in Texas while it was still part of Mexico. For this reason, he is considered by many to be the first Chicano hero. Some scholars, including Jose Antonio Burciaga, believe that had the French defeated Mexico at Puebla, France would have aided the South in the American Civil War in order to free Southern ports of the Union Blockade. During this time, Confederate General Robert E. Lee was enjoying success, and French intervention could have had an impact on the Civil War. It seems that even people not of Mexican descent may also have an indirect reason to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Whatever the case may be, people should realize that this holiday does Have some historical and cultural significance to millions of people and that not everyone considers it an excuse to go out and party.

(c) 1996 Ignacio Gonzalez

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