Power of words

Christian Coalition leader's comments about Hispanics and English-as-a-second-language programs in public schools have enraged parents in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district north of Dallas.

Doug Hellman, co-chairman of the conservative Dallas County Christian Coalition and a member of the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school board, made the statements during a taped interview with the Dallas Observer. His comments were part of a March 21 story titled "White like me: A Christian comes to terms with Dallas' Christian Coalition."

Two to three weeks after the story ran, Hispanic parents began distributing copies of two paragraphs from the story in which Hellman was quoted. The paragraphs were circulated by hand and by fax, and according to Paula Flores, a Carrollton parent, "people started coming out of the woodwork" to express their indignation after reading Hellman's words.

The statements were made while Hellman, who helped out with Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign earlier this year, was telling the Observer about his own views on immigration, and how they aligned with Buchanan's. He reflected on his experiences as a school-board member for the Carrollton-Farmers Branch district, and said, "...English as a second language--all of these various programs that we've had to establish--they basically cater to, pretty much, the Hispanic community. I suppose a lot of those are probably illegal aliens. We're concerned about that--about what it's doing to our economy, and what it's doing to our welfare system."

Hellman also added, "This is the United States. What is wrong with speaking English? We need people who want to assimilate into our own society, not want their own little subculture. Why? Because if we don't, they will never know what it is to be true Americans. They won't have the values, the patriotic feeling that we have..."

On April 11, Hispanic parents crowded into the meeting room of the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school board and demanded Hellman's resignation. Hellman apologized for his comments in the Observer, but refused to resign.

Then last Thursday night, more than 300 Hispanic parents and students showed up at a regular school-board meeting to denounce Hellman's comments once again, and reiterate their demand for his resignation. They filled every seat in the board chambers, with some people spilling out into the hallways, causing school-board president Linda Taylor to comment, "I guess our school-board meetings are getting more exciting."

During an early part of the meeting in which audience members are allowed to address the board, Hellman stood before the parents and apologized for "my insensitive comments."

"I do ask for your forgiveness," he said. "I'm concerned for and love all the children of the district, regardless of the color of their skin, because I know underneath that skin there is a special individual," he said. "I support the programs that your children are involved in."

Once again, he made no mention of resigning, but offered to meet with parents individually to discuss any concerns about his published comments.

"We need to join together now for a time of healing," Hellman told the parents. "I want us to move forward together to solve some problems. You see, I want your children, and all the children of the district, to get a good education."

Hellman's words were greeted with silence. But the Hispanic parents loudly applauded each of the dozen or so speakers who followed, united in demanding Hellman's resignation. The audience members spoke to the board for more than 90 minutes.

Paula Flores, who spoke immediately after Hellman, said to the school-board member, "Do you apologize for what I feel, or do you apologize for what you said?

"Last time [at the April 11 school-board meeting], we were very angry and we were very hurt," she added. "This time, we have come together and discussed the issues, and we have united. We're still angry...because you didn't hurt our feelings. Feelings have very little to do with this. You misrepresented your position."

Other Hispanics addressed certain points Hellman had made in his comments to the Observer, such as when he implied that people who don't speak English won't understand what it means to be a "true American."

Aldo Trevino showed the audience a blue cord he'd earned for completing a grueling, 23-mile road march as a U.S. Army infantryman. "At the end of it all, no one looked my way and questioned my patriotism," the Mexican-born Trevino said. "You say we don't have values...one thing we do value is the education of our children. Otherwise we wouldn't be here today."

One 8-year-old schoolgirl, Hennessey Jaramillo, read to Hellman a poem called "Multi-Colored Love," and then presented him with a matted copy. The girl's mother, Mary Jaramillo, who is also a school-district employee, followed with a far more blunt statement. "Your attempt at an apology...was pathetic at best," she said to Hellman. "It was received as being insincere, and coming from a sense of necessity."

At the end of the meeting, more than 100 parents met with a Hispanic Christian Coalition member from Garland who tried to distance his organization from Hellman's statements. But Gerald Jimenez's comments were perceived as an attempt merely to protect the conservative Christian Coalition--as well as keep Hellman firmly situated within his position on the school board.

Jimenez, for his part, says Hellman's remarks didn't reflect those of the Christian Coalition. "As a member of the Hispanic community, I was obviously offended by [Hellman's] remarks," he says. "He contacted me at my house and apologized for his statements, and I really believe he has made efforts to open himself up to dialogue."

But Hispanic parents, who've formed a group called the Hispanic Organization of Carrollton-Farmers Branch in the wake of the Hellman debacle, have vowed to continue showing up at school-board meetings to renew their call for Hellman's resignation.

The Christian Coalition strongly encourages its members to run for all levels of public office. Working mostly within the Republican Party, Coalition members in Texas have gained election to numerous positions in state and local governments and public boards. While the nonpartisan Coalition is best known for its anti-abortion views, its leaders and members support a wide array of conservative causes, such as welfare reform and curbs on immigration into the United States.


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