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Racism Prevalent, Author Contends Prejudice More Subtle Now, But People Live In ‘Two Worlds’

Tue., April 25, 1995

Idaho racism is more subtle these days, but it is still prevalent, says a new book about attitudes among whites and Hispanics in Canyon County.Estella Zamora recalls the stories her father told her of Caldwell in the 1950s, such as signs in restaurants that read “No Mexicans Allowed.”“I remember the hurt in his eyes when he told me those stories,” said Zamora, a court interpreter and community activist.

“Los Dos Mundos: Rural Mexican Americans, Another America,” is the first major piece of research on Idaho’s Mexican-American community.

Author Richard Baker, a Boise State University sociology professor, found whites, or “Anglos,” in Caldwell generally said they are not prejudiced. Yet, they blamed Caldwell’s Mexican-American population for the city’s crime and image problem.

In a typical statement from whites quoted in Baker’s book, a Caldwell bank manager indicted all Mexican-Americans.

“People will not acknowledge the (crime) problem originates in the Mexican-American community,” the bank manager said. “The Mexican-Americans have different values. They are not inferior, but their values are inferior.”

But Baker found that racism is not the monster it once was. Today, it is delivered neatly wrapped with a smiling face.

“The Anglos I interviewed were really nice people,” Baker said. “They’re not Archie Bunker racists. They’re your neighbors.”

Baker interviewed nearly 400 whites and Mexican-Americans in 1990-91 and attended social events for both groups.

His findings reveal two communities, Anglo and Hispanic, who live in “dos mundos” - or two worlds - in the same city. They are neighbors, but, fortressed with fear and stereotypes, neither knows about the other.

In one church, where all differences are supposed to melt before God, there are two services. One is for Mexican-Americans, the other for Anglos, because the Anglo congregation did not want a unified service, Baker claims.

Baker also found few MexicanAmericans with entry-level positions, subhuman conditions for fieldworkers and an education system that shuns its Hispanic students.

Baker’s solutions include steps as simple as local businesses offering more apprenticeships to MexicanAmericans and other economically disadvantaged residents.

But Baker also recommends more controversial measures such as a local affirmative action program to ensure progress in employment, education and social institutions.

“We know how to solve the problem, but we don’t want to institute the social changes necessary,” he said. “America has always been searching for an easy way to (racial equity). There is no easy answer.”

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