Luz Villarreal Daily News Staff Writer. Daily News [Los Angeles, Calif] 12 Sep 1996: N.3.

Do you know how to say "Hello" in Armenian?

"Thank you" in Spanish?

How about "Please" in Cantonese, "Goodbye" in Korean or "What is your name?" in Tagalog, the main language of the Philippines?

The city's Human Relations Commission believes residents should learn simple phrases in five different languages - not including English - to help foster communication among different ethnic groups.

Seem superficial?

Then how about creating elected neighborhood councils throughout the city to encourage participation and empower native-born residents as well as immigrants?

These are two of seven recommendations to be released today in a landmark, two-year study, Human Relations in an International City: Understanding Anti-Immigrant Sentiment in Los Angeles and What We Can Do About It.

"This report comes at a crucial time for immigrants in this nation and this city," said City Councilman Richard Alatorre, who persuaded the City Council to call for the report in November 1993.

Back then, sentiment against illegal immigrants was running high with the campaign for Proposition 187, the 1994 initiative that would deny public services to illegal immigrants. Images of Mexican-flag toting residents were prevalent in the media, and illegal immigrants were accused of running up taxpayer costs for health care and education, and stealing jobs from legal residents.

"Today, legal immigrants are also the target of anti-immigrant legislation when instead we should be welcoming them as new citizens," Alatorre said. "As a city which prides itself in its multiculturalism and its diversity, it is our responsibility to respond to this onslaught of anti-immigrant sentiment."

The report is the first of its kind by the city and looks at the history of immigration laws, the origins of anti-immigrant sentiment, past immigration studies, the media's role and the current immigrant population of Los Angeles.

Seven public hearings were held to collect public testimony for the report, which cost the city about $9,000 in consultant fees and printing costs.

The study concludes that much of the inflamed rhetoric is a result of society looking for a scapegoat to blame for its economic problems. The political circuit in recent years also brought immigration to the forefront as a "hot-button" issue. Proposition 187 is an example of how "immigration can be distorted out of all proportion in the political process," the report says.

The report is also skeptical of economic studies that attempt to examine the impact of immigration on the region, saying that for every report that says immigrants are costing taxpayers billions of dollars, others say that immigrants are contributing in tax dollars.

The report's main recommendations call for fostering respect and consideration for all residents, establishing forums or round tables to help immigrant communities find common ground in Los Angeles, and establishing leadership training programs for immigrant communities to hasten their participation in civic life.

Whether or not the city's report will bring changes is debatable, observers said.

Joe Hicks, executive director of the Los Angeles Multicultural Collaborative, said the report does not uncover anything new but could help in eroding some of the anti-immigrant sentiment today.

"Though the report doesn't break new ground, there are important things that hopefully elected officials will embrace, endorse and push to begin eating away at the hostility that exists here . . . directed at immigrants," he said.

To work, the report must be taken seriously, he said.

"Reports from commissions have historically died on the desks of bureaucrats," he said. "Rather than have a splashy press conference and announce it, I would hope responsible government entities react to it and engage in the recommendations of this report."

Ira Mehlman, the California media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform or FAIR, called the report superficial because it was based on the premise that there is a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment. The group is a national organization that supports reducing the overall level of immigration, including legal immigration.

"I don't believe there is large-scale anti-immigrant sentiment in California or the rest of the country," Mehlman said. "People recognize the difference between people and policy issues. You can be in favor of changing immigration policies without thinking badly of immigrants."

Mehlman said he thought the report's recommendation for neighborhood councils is the only interesting item. The idea of neighborhood councils has already been recommended by City Councilman Joel Wachs, and a City Council committee will meet next month to begin developing details for such a program.

"The rest sounds like a waste of taxpayer money," Mehlman said. "Everybody should be treated with consideration and respect. It's common sense."

As for learning simple phrases in different languages, Renford Reese, director of the Colorful Flags program at the University of Southern California's Center for Multiethnic and Transnational Studies, says it's no joke.

He conducted a study using 40,000 students in seven school districts and found it stimulated cultural curiosity, reduced ethnic mistrust and empowered ethnically diverse people. His program is now being implemented in the Los Angeles Police Department and at one local hospital.

"We're not saying (don't) learn English," Reese said. "We are using these human relations phrases as an intimate vehicle to break down communication barriers. It's the effort, the attempt. It's pro-active."

Leslie J. Frank, president of the city's Human Relations Commission, said the report does break new ground.

"Whenever society is ripe for stereotyping and scape-goating, and when society tends to separates the "We's" from the "They's", a very dangerous climate is created," he said. "In my opinion, the primary recommendation of the report is to create an atmosphere of inclusion rather than exclusion, a way of opening our government process and city process to all of the residents of L.A. and to encourage people to participate in our city."

The report will officially be released at 11 a.m. at City Hall.


In its landmark report, Human Relations in an International City:Understanding Anti-Immigrant Sentiment in Los Angeles and What We Can Do About It, the city Human Relations Commission makes seven recommendations:

Foster basic human understanding, recognizing that every person deserves respect.

Establish forums to help immigrant communities find common ground in Los Angeles, including an understanding of government structure and laws and American customs.

Design leadership training programs for immigrant communities that will lead to full participation in civic life.

Consider setting up neighborhood councils to empower native-born residents and immigrant newcomers.

Challenge the media to present the subject of immigrants in a factual, nonstereotypical and noninflammatory manner.

Complete implementation of Christopher Commission reforms, with a major emphasis on community-based policing, and boost minority hiring within the Los Angeles Police Department.

Adopt a program to help bridge language gaps by teaching people basic statements in five different languages: "Hello. How are you doing?"; "What is your name"; "Thank you - you are welcome"; "Please - excuse me"; and "Goodbye - Have a nice day."


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Copyright Daily News Sep 12, 1996