Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s views about civilian border patrols, immigration reform and undocumented immigrants were put to the test Wednesday when he was grilled by Latino journalists gathered for an annual convention.
Schwarzenegger’s appearance in the historic California Theatre at the start of the National Assn. of Hispanic Journalists’ 25th anniversary convention aimed to improve his image among Latinos, an important segment of the California electorate.
Whether his big grin and conciliatory responses won over critics remains to be seen.
The governor drew gasps from some of the 700 people in the audience by suggesting that undocumented immigrants “have got to turn off the Spanish-language television” programs in order to learn English.
“I know it sounds odd, and I may be getting myself in trouble for saying this,” Schwarzenegger said before launching into a retelling of his own struggle to master English. “I got rid of the television set and learned.”
He added: “Even in the state capital, so many Latinos speak Spanish all the time.”
Sara Shakir, managing news producer of Radio Bilingue Inc., a national Latino public radio network based in Fresno, was among those who couldn’t believe he would say that, given the audience.
“Here he was, sitting in front of hundreds of journalists whose job it is to create information for people in the language they understand, and reflects their diversity and cultural heritage,” she said, “and saying, ‘Let’s obliterate all that.’ ”
Cecilia Alvear, a former TV news producer, was only half kidding when she said, “What? And give up my telenovelas?” referring to Spanish-language soap operas. “His message seems to be, ‘Let’s be monolingual,’ ” Alvear said.
Some Latino leaders have faulted Schwarzenegger in the past for his endorsement of Minutemen on the United States side of the Mexican border and his vetoes of laws allowing illegal immigrants to have driver’s licenses.
Additionally, an audio recording surfaced late last year in which the governor, referring to a Latina lawmaker, casually suggested that “black blood” mixed with “Latino blood” equals a “hot” personality.
On Wednesday, he blamed some of the problem on “misunderstandings.”
For example, he clarified having once endorsed sealing the border, when he actually meant to support proposals for securing the border.
Nativo Vigil Lopez, president of the Mexican American Political Assn., suggested Schwarzenegger’s acceptance of the group’s invitation underscores his “knack for strategic political positioning” at a time when Congress is wrestling with the first comprehensive immigration reform package in decades.
He also suggested that Schwarzenegger may have plans to run for the U.S. Senate.
“In California, if you’re sideways with Latinos and you’re running for a U.S. Senate seat, you’ve got a rough row to hoe,” Lopez said in an earlier interview. “So he’s got to make peace with the Latino electorate, which is the only electorate in the state that continues to grow.”
On Wednesday, however, Schwarzenegger said he has no plans to seek another office. Instead, he said he hoped to contribute to philanthropic work and programs such as the Special Olympics.