"...in addition to creating MALDEF and La Raza, [the Ford Foundation] funded numerous other Hispanic advocacy groups, such as the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project and the Latino Institute."

The Birth of a Nation

At the Ford Foundation ethnicity is always job 1

By Craig L. Hymowitz

Watching the sea of Mexican flags fill the plaza this past October and listening to the staccato burst of Spanish slogans shouted out by flushed, excited faces, a casual observer might have thought he was in one of those revolutionary provinces near Chiapas commanded by modern Zapatistas. Indeed, many of the slogans were anti-Yankee, and every now and then the sea of Mexican flags would part to reveal someone setting a U.S. flag on fire. Yet the scene was taking place not in Mexico but in downtown Los Angeles. The issue was Proposition 187, and a nation-within-the-nation was not just protesting, but declaring its independence. "I think this is just the opening salvo," California State University Chicano Studies Professor Randolfo Acuna said of the protests. "It is our Fort Sumter."

Mario Obledo - co-founder of
MALDEF - June, 1998

"California is going to
become a Hispanic state........"

"Eventually we will take over all the political institutions of California...."
[Tom Leykis Radio Show]

Proposition 187 has now begun its slow legal journey to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the scars resulting from the outbursts against it remain fresh in Californians' minds. It is clear that, while the majority of Latinos (the part of the Hispanic community that supported Proposition 187 overwhelmingly as late as mid-September, before being barraged with inflammatory appeals about "racism") continue to assimilate at a healthy rate, they do so against the best efforts of the professional Hispanic leaders and "immigrant rights" groups. And while it seems that these organizations are merely opportunistic, recruiting from among the masses of illegals pouring into California, their current efforts to create a Hispanic "nation" in the midst of the United States are actually the result of a longer-range process, a process begun nearly 30 years ago by their chief patron and brain trust, the Ford Foundation.

The demonstrations of "ethnic pride" that marked Proposition 187 may have been a surprise to some, but for the Ford Foundation it represented the culmination of a quarter century of "Hispanic community-building." It was the fruition, however unintended, of Ford's manipulation of education, immigration, and government policies to create a new identity in America:"that of the Hispanic."

During the past two decades, the Ford Foundation has concentrated on programs for the expansion of Hispanic political mobilization, litigation to "clarify the rights" of immigrants, and research on immigration and reform legislation.

As William Hawkins describes in Importing Revolution: Open Borders and the Radical Agenda, Ford's "bankrolling of 'open border' advocacy policy is sharply one-sided, and often extremist... playing the leading role in founding, and building, what are now the major Hispanic-based organizations. "Other observers agree that Ford's efforts have wedded questions of ethnic identity with immigration policy. While Hispanic separatism may seem "just a pipe-dream of...a few pot-bellied radicals," according to Professor David Hayes-Bautista, director of the UCLA Study of Latino Health, it is the reality in many pockets across the Southwest. Often concentrated on college and high

This video goes into the Ford Foundation and explains their involvement in organizations such as the NCLR and MALDEF.

 Immigration - Threatening the Bonds Of Our Union - Part II
A video documentary (107 minutes)

school campuses in chapters of MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan) and chicano studies, it is driven by affirmative-action and minority set-aside programs usually coordinated by the self- defined "Hispanic" organizations. While some in the Latino community opposed 187 because they were genuinely concerned about its provisions, the radicals--along with the program officers at Ford who have been pumping money into their cause for a generation --could not help but look on the anti-187 marches like proud parents watching a youthful movement flex its muscles.

The problems of immigration and border control between the United States and Mexico date back to the Mexican-American War and have worsened as the economic gap has grown to become the largest of any two neighboring countries. The modern era of U.S.-Mexican border relations began during World War II. The Bracero Guest Worker Program sought to take advantage of the economic disparity between the United States and Mexico by attracting Mexican workers to overcome a shortage of agricultural and manual laborers. Congress and the Mexican government authorized a program that allowed Mexican workers into the United States for a period of up to six months. While agricultural growers came to depend on the near limitless supply of seasonal workers, for strike breaking as well as picking, the program also introduced more than four million Mexicans to the United States, which became, through tales carried back home, the promised land.

Although the Bracero Program was officially ended in 1964, Congress could do nothing to diminish agribusiness' demand for cheap labor or the Mexicans' reliance on the dollar. The Immigration Reform Act of 1965 replaced the national-origin quota system, in place since 1920, with a system based on family reunification and "more equitable" division of entry visas between the Eastern and Western hemispheres. (Also included was the "Texas proviso," which allowed employers to hire illegal aliens without penalty.)

Caught in the backdraft of the civil rights movement, immigration reform, which has traditionally been seen as an issue of national sovereignty, was transformed into an issue of ethnicity and minority rights. Mexican immigration, however, remained for the most part economically driven until the Ford Foundation entered the field.

Henry Santiestevan, former head of the Southwest Council of La Raza, has written:"It can be said that without the Ford Foundation's commitment to a strategy of national and local institution-building, the Chicano movement would have withered away in many areas." Ford deliberately set out to politically empower Hispanics through a series of concentrated grants, with much of the emphasis in rural areas of the Southwest--places like New Mexico, where Reies Tijerina attempted to build a radical chicano movement akin to the Black Panthers in the mid-60's. Ford also looked to the urban areas of Southern California, where illegal immigration was increasing but was, as yet, still a sleeping issue. It would be in this venue that Ford's investment in community organizing among Latinos would have its most dramatic effect, cementing the relationship between immigration and identity.

It is an irony, given the increasing tension between black and Hispanic groups in Southern California, that Ford originally approached the question of Hispanic rights with the intention of strengthening its ongoing efforts on behalf of blacks. According to the writings of Siobhan Oppenheimer-Nicolau, a former Ford program officer, officials at Ford determined in 1966 "that the problems of Blacks and other disadvantaged groups would not receive sustained attention unless the political base for the disadvantaged was broadened." Two years later Ford would create the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the most influential Hispanic group in the country--and Ford's largest Hispanic policy recipient.

Who contributes to
the likes of MALDEF?

Modeled after the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, MALDEF, with an initial $2.2-million grant, was formed with the mandate "to assist Hispanics (legal or otherwise) in using legal means to secure their rights." A second grant was made to establish the National Council of La Raza "to coordinate efforts to achieve civil rights and equal opportunity" through support of Community Development Corporations. Under the guidance of newly installed McGeorge Bundy, the Ford Foundation, in addition to creating MALDEF and La Raza, funded numerous other Hispanic advocacy groups, such as the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project and the Latino Institute. In 1974, Ford would establish the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund to mimic MALDEF's efforts among Puerto Ricans.

Over the next three decades Ford and other liberal institutions, such as the Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundations, would seek to expand the rights of Hispanics in a variety of ways. One report by the Latino Institute found that in 1977-78, "the Ford Foundation, provided over half (54 percent) of the support for Hispanic needs and concerns. The Ford grants were nine times greater in value than the foundation providing the next highest amount." The survey also revealed that MALDEF alone received almost one-third of all funds given to Hispanic-controlled organizations. To date, Ford has given more than $18.9 million to MALDEF, and $12.9 million to the National Council of La Raza.

Coming along at a time when revisionist historians were finding a malicious recipe to the melting pot, MALDEF was guided from the onset by the principle that its job was to strengthen the "ethnic identity" of newly arrived immigrants, legal and illegal, rather than aid their assimilation into their American mainstream. Building on the first federal bilingual education program in 1968, MALDEF won its first major victory on behalf of Hispanics in Serna v. Portales (1972), a case that won Spanish-speaking children in New Mexico the right to bilingual education.

MALDEF's efforts on behalf of bilingualism continued with its support for the 1974 Supreme Court case, Lau v. Nichols, which forced school districts to remove language barriers that prohibited linguistic minorities from fully participating in public education. Working with the Court's definition of "linguistic minorities," MALDEF and other Hispanic groups took the final steps to institutionalize an "Hispanic" identity (as opposed to an assimilated Mexican-American one) and to gain recognition for Hispanics as a federally recognized minority by amending the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

At the time of the Voting Rights Act's renewal in 1975, three Hispanics had already been elected to the House of Representatives, one to the U.S. Senate, two were then serving as governors, and, according to one study of Texas, 700 of them had held local office since 1971. MALDEF maintained, however, that Mexican- Americans had been systematically excluded from political involvement. The organization managed to convince Congress that English-language ballots were the same as literacy tests, which had been used to exclude qualified blacks from voting in the South. MALDEF-sponsored amendments to the Voting Rights Act authorized multilingual ballots on demand whenever "language minorities" made up 5 percent of a given jurisdiction's residents (legal or otherwise) where there had been less than 50 percent voter turnout in the last presidential election. Thus 375 new jurisdictions were added, mainly in the Southwest, and a new class of bilingual ballots were created for "language minorities," including Spanish-speaking persons, Asians, American Indians, and Alaskan Natives.

The most important effect of the 1975 VRA amendments did not occur until 1980, when the term "Hispanic" was officially added to the national census as an ethnicity. Facing criticism from demographers and assimilationists in 1978, MALDEF's Vilma Martinez, chairman of a Special Census Advisory Committee on the Spanish Population, defended the addition:"We are trying to get our just share of political influence and federal funds. There's nothing sinister about it."

The 1980 census would count "Hispanics" (undocumented along with legal residents) for the first time. For the 1990 census, MALDEF conducted a nationwide "Make Yourself Count!" outreach program, because "everything from allocation of Federal funds to political representation is determined by census number," said Antonia Hernandez, MALDEF's current president and general counsel. Having been given a new identity and having had their numbers counted, Hispanic activists were now in a position to take the next step--demand federal affirmative-action programs, political redistricting, and preferential academic admissions based on "proportionality."

As a result of Ford Foundation money and direction, Hispanic activists had achieved the miraculous: status as a federal minority that previously hadn't existed. MALDEF leader Vilma Martinez defended the development, telling the New York Times that "Spanish people most shared the 'common realities' of poverty, poor education, unemployment, and political weakness." Today, however, Hispanic leaders are more honest in their assessment. As Charles Kamasaki, Vice President of National Council of La Raza, says, "Yes, at some level the term 'Hispanic' is a false term, [but] so is 'Asian-American'... and 'African-American.''' Linda Chavez is more forthright, "Nobody really identifies themselves as either 'Hispanic' or 'Latino,'" she says bluntly.

In fact, "Hispanic" is still something of a fantasy. The 1992 Latino National Political Survey revealed that the majority of Hispanics actually identify themselves by national origin, i.e. Mexican, Cuban, etc. This survey also revealed that among non-citizen Latinos, only 35 percent believed there was discrimination against them in the United States. Ironically, the survey was funded in part by the Ford Foundation.

Given the obvious link established between the population count of Hispanics and their political power, the actions taken by many of Ford's grantees on immigration reform were not unexpected. "It was clear that political power and government support was the preferred agenda for Ford's disciples," writes William Hawkins in "Importing Revolution." Originally dedicated to three principle areas on concern-- education, employment, and voting--the MALDEF Board adopted immigration as a fourth major program area in April 1977. As Vilma Martinez said, "Our definition of Mexican-American had expanded to encompass not only the citizen, but also the permanent resident alien, and the undocumented alien." In effect, MALDEF and NCLR, according to Chavez, sought to "erase the distinction between aliens and citizens, legal and illegal, and to pretend the border doesn't exist."

MALDEF had actually begun its efforts on behalf of illegal aliens two years earlier, in 1975, as part of a joint suit with the American Civil Liberties Union, charging the Immigration and Naturalization Service with "indiscriminate and unconstitutional arrests and deportations of persons of Latin or La Raza appearance." MALDEF justified its actions on the belief that Hispanics appear the same whether in the U.S. legally or illegally. Therefore any efforts aimed at illegals would affect all Hispanics.

Heading up the litigation team on this case was Ramona Ripston, head of the Southern California ACLU and a member of the National Lawyers Guild. This extreme left-wing group resolved in 1978 to "support the movement for full democratic rights for all non-citizens and an end to all deportations and manipulations of the borders carried out in the interests of capitalism." The Lawyer's Guild in 1972 had established a National Immigration Project to "protect, defend, and extend the rights of documented and undocumented immigrants in the United States." From this the NLG would play a significant role in the Sanctuary movement of the late `70s and `80s aimed at undermining U.S. foreign policy in Central America by aiding and even smuggling illegal aliens into the country.

Beginning in 1985, the Lawyer's Guild began to receive the first of its $416,000 in Ford Foundation grants for "refugee and migrant rights." Members of the organization would play a prominent role in MALDEF's first litigation specifically on behalf of illegal aliens, Plyler v. Doe (1982). Argued by the Guild's Peter Schey before the U.S. Supreme Court, the case resulted in a 5-4 decision that states could not deny illegal immigrant children access in public education. (It would be this decision that would lead opponents of Proposition 187 to contend that it was unconstitutional.) Continuing its efforts to expand education rights for illegal aliens, MALDEF won the right in Leticia A. v. Board of Regents (1985) for illegal alien children to establish California residency so they might pay the lower in-state tuition in the state's university system. According to their 1993 annual report, MALDEF is currently working to "retain [these] hard-won educational opportunities for Latino students."

MALDEF's efforts on behalf of illegal aliens were not limited to education. In other litigation, they prevented Los Angeles County from forcing illegals to apply for Medi-Cal to receive non-emergency health services, because, for this to happen, they would have to be referred to the INS. As Peter Tijerina, MALDEF's founder, told Vista magazine,"Hell, the remedies weren't in the streets, they were in the courts." And the money to pay for it all was in the Ford Foundation's bank account. According to funding requests, MALDEF sought $600,000 from Ford in 1985 and 1986 for support of their Immigrants' Civil Rights Program and Political Access Program. For these two years, MALDEF requested $2.8 million; they received 92 percent of that amount. According to Ira Mehlman, media director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform,"The root of all of this is the Ford Foundation..."

To compliment efforts by MALDEF and the ACLU, the Ford Foundation launched a new program in 1982 on behalf of refugees and immigrants aimed at strengthening public and private agencies that assist them, clarifying their rights and responsibilities under domestic and international law. Between 1982-88, Ford would commit more than $25 million to these efforts. Following passage of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, MALDEF, La Raza, and other Hispanic groups split a $200,000 Ford grant to promote amnesty applications among illegals.

"I think Franklin Thomas [president of the Ford Foundation from 1979] was interested in the expansion of rights: immigrant rights, women's rights..." says William Diaz, former Ford programming officer in charge of Hispanic groups. "His concern for Hispanics was also a major part of his administration." By the early 1990's this concern had resulted in federal recognition of Hispanics as a distinct ethnic minority deserving of affirmative-action, government set-asides, multilingual ballots, and bilingual education. The broader and socially more divisive achievement, however, was to call into question the immigrant's traditional attitude about its' relationship to America. As Linda Chavez notes in Out of the Barrio, "Until quite recently, there was no question but that each group desired admittance to the mainstream. No more. Now ethnic leaders demand that their groups remain separate, that their native culture and language be preserved intact, and that whatever accommodation takes place be on the part of the receiving society."

This tale is not yet complete. An interesting footnote occurred last month in a preliminary hearing on Proposition 187 that took place in Los Angeles. At issue was implementation of the initiative's provisions to prohibit alien school enrollment, to eliminate free access to non-emergency medical services and in-state tuition rates for college-bound illegal aliens, and to facilitate the reporting of illegal aliens to the INS. All of these developments were the result of MALDEF's expansion of Hispanic rights over the last 20 years. Arguing the case to suspend the voters' will and defend Ford's and MALDEF's legacy was Peter Schey of the National Lawyer's Guild.

Craig L. Hymowitz is a staff writer with the Investigative Journalism Project of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture.

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