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English-Only Measure Sends Shock Waves Through Latin Community

November 15, 1988

MIAMI (AP) _ South Florida’s Latin community is reporting a sharp increase in anti- Hispanic incidents since the overwhelming passage last week of the official English amendment.

Amendment 11, which makes English the official language of Florida but leaves implementation to the Legislature, received an 84 percent ″yes″ vote in the Nov. 8 statewide election .

Since the election, a supermarket employee was suspended for speaking Spanish to another employee, the mayor of Coral Gables was quoted as making derogatory remarks about his Hispanic opponent and children in a West Palm Beach high school complained they were forbidden to speak Spanish in school.

″What has happened is that people have taken the law into their own hands and are enforcing it as they see fit,″ Osvaldo Soto, president of the Spanish American League Against Discrimination, said Monday. ″I knew Amendment 11 would bring chaos to Miami.″

Soto said his organization has received calls from dozens of people saying some stores refused to help Spanish-speaking customers.

Supporters of the initiative say it does only what it is supposed to do. They believe the Legislature will implement the law despite complaints from Hispanics and the opposition of most state politicians, including Gov. Bob Martinez.

Miami’s Cuban community has interpreted the official English vote as a direct slap in the face. One Spanish radio station mockingly insisted everyone on a popular talk show speak English the day after the election, hanging up on Spanish-speakers who called in to complain about the new law.

Jose Uzal, who led the anti-Amendment 11 drive in Palm Beach County, said many supporters there were open about their reasons for favoring the measure.

In a Monday talk show on an English-language station, Uzal said, ″callers were telling me this was certainly an anti-Hispanic amendment, and that’s why they voted for it.″

Two days after the election, in the most highly publicized incident blamed on the ballot measure, a supermarket manager in Coral Gables suspended a cashier for speaking Spanish to another employee. Store administrators later apologized for the incident; the manager is being transferred.

Over the weekend, Coral Gables Mayor George Corrigan was quoted as saying he was more qualified than his opponent, city Commissioner Raul Valdes Fauli, because his rival is a Latin who likes to sleep late and misses commission meetings.

On Monday, parents met in West Palm Beach met with officials at Forest Hills High School when their children said an assistant principal banned them from speaking Spanish in the hallways.

Uzal said the assistant principal, May Gamble, told him she prohibited the language because students had been using profanity.

School principal Joe Picklesmier, however, told Uzal and the parents that the school has no such policy.

Mark LaPorta, coordinator of the Florida English campaign, called such incidents meaningless, and blamed them on the media.

″That’s a mistake and an over-reaction,″ said LaPorta. ″There is great hypersensitivity now, and I think that will go down.″

LaPorta is acutely aware of the hypersensitivity. During a conciliatory post-election news conference aimed at calming fears about the amendment, his own supporters interrupted him, grabbed his microphone and called him a traitor when he said Dade County’s anti-bilingual ordinance could be scrapped under the new law.

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