Clinton speaks in town forum

Ms. Vanessa Cordero: I want to thank you for inviting me here. It's an honor. And the first thing I want to say and I want to touch on is this is not a black and white America - I mean, from my own opinion. I know it's a strong opinion, but we are a cultural-mixed United States. And it's hurt me all these years that I've been in the United States, since 1957, that all I hear is black issues and white issues. And we as Hispanics - I am a Puerto Rican born and I was raised in Brooklyn, New York. And yes, that is true what the young lady said - if you speak English, they want to know why you don't sound like Rosie Perez. I've even been told I look like her, so I am expected to speak like her.

I am fully bilingual, and I advocate for my victims, which are women who are battered. I go to court because I am a paralegal and I advocate for juveniles. And I see the discrimination on children. When you go to court the children are not treated the same as the whites. The blacks and the Hispanics are always told, especially the Hispanics, if you do not speak English, get yourself an interpreter. And if they go with the mother, which is usually the person I go with to assist, they are told that they need an interpreter.

That is the purpose I take there. And I interpret for them. I also advocate. And I've been told by my clients - a lot of times they go to court on the initial case; they go to court and they're treated totally different. And then when they come to our agency, which is El Centro, the social services in Lorain, OH, they come to us for help. And I go with them, and I assist them. And they always tell me that they get treated totally different when they're advocated for.

The President: Wait, wait, wait. You mean, if they have an advocate, they do better?

Ms. Cordero: Yes, they do.

The President: But are they treated differently in what the judges do to them by race, or are they just treated differently in terms of how they're treated in the court setting?

Ms. Cordero: The setting. And at first when they first come in and let's say you have a juvenile that's only had a parking - has been caught driving without a license. In Lorain, you get a $50 fine and possibly your parents have to pay for it. When you come in and you're Hispanic, I have seen children that are white and have gotten off easier than a Hispanic. They're harder on them. I don't know if it's - I know it's the system because, I mean, I love my profession, but the thing is that the system -

The President: But you do think that Hispanic kids have a harder time in the court system?

Ms. Cordero: Yes, I do because I've been there and I know. My son was discriminated against because he was Hispanic. I've been discriminated against because I've been Hispanic. And this was when I was on public assistance. I'm no longer there, but I worked my way up from welfare to being a professional. But it took a long time. I took advantage and I went to college and I got my degree. But I know a lot of people it's hard for because the system kind of keeps pushing you down. You want to get off, but it keeps pushing you down. And unless you know someone or you're starting knowing people in the community, you don't get help. And that's why we're proud of our agency because we help these people that are low income move up.

The President: Before we run out of time, is there any Asian American who wants to be heard? Go ahead.

Mr. Flores: My name is David Flores. I come from Lorain, Ohio, from the Old Vine neighborhood. And one of the things I've got to say it, all the horror stories and the success stories go back to one thing - education, education with the family, education in the schools, teaching them the answers for why. Number one, we have to have schools that have money. You want educational programs, and maybe these people don't want to hear it, but we've got too much emphasis being placed on tax dollars to pay for it. Where will the tax dollars come from? The people. The people are tired of paying. We need some of the money - and I'm not saying money overseas; what I'm saying is bring some of it back to the infrastructure, to the schools. We have crumbling schools. We have equipment in some schools but not schools. So the primary thing I'm saying is education, but with the family involved.

We've got to teach moral values back. We've got to bring the family back together. We've got to make sure racism goes away forever. (Applause)

Q: Mr. President, having attended predominantly black elementary, middle school and high school, and then attending a university where I was the only black person in a psychology class of 1,500, I can certainly appreciate the feeling of being alone in a situation like that - and also, in that same university setting, having a roommate that broke out in hives when she discovered that I was going to be her roommate and I was black.

With that in mind, I agree that it certainly needs to start in the home. The Cosby Show was not enough. It needs to start in the home in terms of what we're talking about - the people who are exhibiting racism now are the people in their 40s and 30s and older, so we need to reach even some of those people. We need to start with more forums such as this. We need to start with community and civic organizations. We need to start in the workplace in educating those individuals in the 30s, 40s and 50s in terms of character and what it means to be different and the importance so that they can start teaching the young people before they enter university settings and exhibit some of the behavior that my roommate did.

Fortunately, it turned out to be a positive situation because she was brave enough to ask the questions that she feared. And so I think that ended up positive, because I was able to teach someone.

The President: Let me say, I'm very sympathetic with what all of you have said about your home environment. I had a big impact on me. So - I had a grandfather with a sixth grade education who was a poor white Southerner who believed in integration. I don't know why. But he did, and he had a big impact on me. So I agree with that.

The President: Our country has never really dealt with the race issue before except in an atmosphere of crisis and conflict and riots in the cities. So a lot of people, I will say again, think I am nuts to be doing this. You know, what's the end, what's the point? The point is, making a more perfect union. The point is, proving we can have one America. The point is, it will be a lot more interesting, a lot more fun and far more noble if we do it right.

Thank you very much. (Applause)

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Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 126, Number 11, December 5, 1997

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