Frank Talk About Free Speech

Attorney Victor Diaz chats up the ACLU's Howard Simon

Yes, this is uniquely an issue that affects our community as it relates to the controversial use of county facilities for Cuban artists and performances. But also I think we really owe it to the community to tell them that there's a bigger issue here, that this is a broader constitutional issue.

MULLIN: It would be nice if we had leaders in the community who could successfully and selflessly reach out to all segments and say, "This is the goal we want to achieve."

DIAZ: We're beginning to accomplish that.

MULLIN: We are? Is there leadership out there I don't know about?

DIAZ: No. It's evolving.

SIMON: I thought that was a wonderful statement by Carlos Saladrigas. It's got to come from the grassroots like that because these commissioners are frozen in time.

DIAZ: Politicians always react to their constituencies. Political leaders sometimes lead but they mostly follow. I mean, let's look at the president of the United States.

Jim, I think there is an evolution going on. I can tell you within the Cuban-American community there is a very healthy debate going on internally, and I think initially it needs to occur internally, not externally. And there are quietly emerging new voices and new points of view. You may not 100 percent agree with what we're saying, but you must at least agree that we're articulating it in a much more intelligent and possibly persuasive fashion.

But the media is doing us a great disservice. I guarantee that a newspaper article written about this conversation would never have noted the amount of agreement Howard and I have on these issues. Controversy sells newspapers. Ironically news also sells newspapers, and the news should be that there is an evolution occurring in the community, which is a healthy evolution.

I've been studying American history, trying to understand how the Irish Americans handled political empowerment in Boston, and how the Italian Americans handled political empowerment in New York, and how the German Americans handled political empowerment in Chicago, and on and on. The first wave of immigrant empowerment in politics always tends to be very highly susceptible to demagoguery. That's how you got Tammany Hall in New York, that's how you got the Daley machine in Chicago, that's how you got the borough politics in Boston. And that's how you got the kind of politics that characterize the City of Miami.

People are on the outs for so long that when they start to get to the political tipping point, when they have enough votes to elect their candidates to office, you get that mentality: He may be a crook but he's our crook; they had their crook in there for years and years and years, and now it's our shot. And not just in Miami, folks.

What we're going through here in Miami is not any different from what happened in Boston, in New York, in Chicago, where other sizable ethnic blocs were incorporated into the political establishment. Then the second generation of leadership generally comes from people who were brought up in the system.

One of the things I think these debates lack is giving people a way out. Some constructive solutions. For example, illiteracy is a huge problem in this town's Hispanic community. The inability of people to speak English is a very divisive thing in Miami-Dade County. Illiteracy in the Hispanic community is a problem for two reasons. It contributes to the disconnect. They're getting their media from Spanish-language television and Spanish-language radio, so they don't have the benefit of other points of view. It also contributes to the geographic segregation, the enclaves.

SIMON: Oh, that's a lot of it. I live in a Spanish enclave in which the stores I go to are mainly Spanish speaking. And I've noticed that people can grow up and live in this community not needing to speak English or deal with English language.

DIAZ: And we have a really schizophrenic attitude about that. We condemn it. It's easy to condemn it. And I believe it's a very serious problem. But you know, it's what's filling our hotels with all the Latin-American tourists who come here because they don't have to know English to come here and shop. So they come here instead of New York, where they're going to have much more difficulty. And it's the reason we have a lot of commerce and international trade in South Florida.

SIMON: I don't condemn that this is a multilingual community. I condemn the segregation of the community.

DIAZ: I also condemn that fact that we're not multilingual. We are monolingual in many ways.

SIMON: We have a language problem in this community -- it's monolingualism.

DIAZ: We need to make people bilingual, and that's not easy. You look at Canada and the way they address the same problem -- they have very serious problem with French and English -- they have a huge commitment on the part of government to provide bilingual education to every child in every context, and to every adult, so that a person who feels they don't have the skills in one language can acquire them. You know, we talk the talk but we don't walk the walk in this town when it comes to really committing to English literacy for everyone without having to forfeit your native tongue. Until we deal with that, we're not going to make a lot of progress.

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