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March planned to support affirmative action: Latino law students and professors confront threat of limited access

Albequerque, N.M.

A gathering here last month of organizations
representing Latino law students agreed to form a national organization
to support a pro-affirmative action march, scheduled for January in San
Francisco, being organized by legal educators.

The conference, attended by representatives of nearly twenty law
schools — from Catholic University in Washington, D.C., to the
University of Texas (UT) and the University of California (UC) — was
held in a near crisis atmosphere.

Margaret Montoya, a professor at the University of New Mexico (UNM)
said that the movement against affirmative action is an effort to keep
universities White and to maintain the status quo in the legal

“Affirmative action is an effort to remedy a wrong — an effort to dismantle White supremacy,” she said.

However, citing the Nixon White House as the first administration
to actually implement it on a large scale, Montoya added, “Affirmative
action was never intended to bring about real change…. The power
centers have not been meaningfully integrated.”

Montoya is a member of the Society of American Legal Teachers
(SALT). She said the organization has decided to counter the
anti-affirmative action movement through various methods.

The CARE march in San Francisco, scheduled for January 8, is one of
those methods. CARE stands for “Communities Affirming Real Equality.”
The march, in which participants will be asked to wear academic gowns,
is intended to be a demonstration of disgust with perceived distortions
being perpetrated by opponents of affirmative action.

Marching under a banner which will read, “We won’t go back,” Montoya said, “We as law professors will lead the march.”

One of the biggest obstacles to remedying segregation, in Montoya’s
opinion, is standardized tests, which came into wide use in the 1970s.
The tests, she said, simply function as a means of “allocating social
goods” — whether in employment, educational opportunities, housing, or
public contracts.

“The tests create a false sense of social justice,” she said. “They
create the impression that the social goods have gone to those who
deserve it.”

Although the group has many reservations about standardized tests, Montoya emphasized, “We’re not against merit.”

According to Montoya, the objective of SALT and its allies is to
create diverse institutions and to redefine merit so that the a new
definition includes skills that will benefit society — such as the
ability to speak different languages, the ability to form affiliate
bands, and the ability to get along.

At the conference, students voiced concerns that what has happened
at the University of Texas and University of California systems, where
affirmative action has been eliminated, is but a harbinger of things to

An example of their concern is a new lawsuit by White students at
the University of Michigan alleging that they were passed over in favor
of minorities. In addressing the audience, New Mexico Court of Appeals
judge Michael D. Bustamante warned that the mood of the country and the
recent actions of the courts nationwide did not hold out much hope for
the future of affirmative action.

As for the perceived distortions, Montoya said, “Whites tell
altered histories. They often act as though they don’t know the history
of slavery against African Americans; of genocide against American
Indians; of invasion, land theft, and conquest against Mexican
Americans; and a history of exclusion against Asian Americans.”

Montoya said that legal histories are formulated — or
misformulated — through the process of exclusion. A casualty of this
exclusion is the lack of knowledge of legal battles against segregation
by Latinos since the turn of the century. One of the most prominent of
these cases was the 1946 Mendez v. Westminister case, which effectively
ended segregated Mexican schools in California.

Citing the case of Felix Longoria — a World War II hero who was
refused burial in his hometown of South Texas and eventually was buried
in Arlington, Virginia — Montoya noted that sometimes people who are
unaware of the history of segregation against Mexican Americans act as
though the victims should not be entitled to restitution or legal

“Yet, Latinos do have a legal and moral claim,” said Montoya. “We
need to recapture that history. There has been a collective wrong
[against Mexican Americans]. And it continues.”

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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