The Spanish American League Against Discrimination was founded in Miami in 1974 by a group of Hispanic and Cuban-American residents of South Florida as a response to the under representation at the time of Hispanics in the school system, local government and the judicial system.
In its early years SALAD became recognized as a prominent civic entity, devoted to combating issues based on any type of discrimination, and for advocating in support of initiatives and legislation to promote diversity, inclusion and understanding among all ethnic groups in South Florida.
Minority Representation in Law Enforcement
In the late 70’s and early 80’s the Hispanic population in the City of Miami reached over 50%, and nearly 40% in Miami-Dade County. Despite holding a significant percentage of the population, under representation of and discrimination towards persons of Hispanic origin was an issue that threatened to dismantle the fabric of the community. The police departments in the City and the County each had only one Hispanic occupying upper echelon positions considered to be a grade of Sergeant or higher. SALAD worked with the Hispanic and Cuban-American Police Officers Association and then Miami-Dade PD Director Bobby Jones to reach an agreement with respect to integration of the department. An agreement was reached with the City of Miami PD after the resignation of the then Chief of Police. SALAD also worked closely with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons (NAACP) with respect to African-American participation in the departments.
Repeal of the English-Only Ordinance
In 1973 the Hispanic population of Miami-Dade County was approximately 25%. Government officials found it difficult at the time to communicate with roughly 100,000 residents who spoke very little or no English at all. In that same year the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners, along with Mayor Jack Orr declared Dade County to be bilingual and bicultural, paving the way for the provision of information on government services in Spanish and English.
Seven years later, in 1980, in what was believed to be a reaction to the arrival of 125,000 Cubans to South Florida in the Mariel boat lift, the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners adopted what was labeled as the “English-Only Ordinance”. The ordinance prohibited the County from utilizing any language other than English, or promoting any culture other than that of the United States.
As the Hispanic population grew and the demand for government services increased, newly arrived immigrants found it difficult to access the court system and to obtain information on essential services such as water and sewer, licenses, and other government services. In addition, this ordinance had the unintended consequence of creating discrimination in the work place. A substantial number of employers, believing that the law applied to the private sector, prohibited employees from speaking their native language at work, in violation of state and federal laws.
SALAD was successful in leading the effort to repeal the County ordinance. In May, 1993, the Board of County Commissioners repealed the English-Only Ordinance. Several community organizations, such as the Black Lawyer’s Association, LULAC, the ACLU, and then County Mayor Steve Clark, among others, joined SALAD in favor of repealing the 13-year old law.
In 1985 Secretary of Education William Bennett delivered a speech questioning the effectiveness of bilingual education over other methods, including the “sink or swim” approach and called for eliminating requirements that schools use native language instruction to qualify for most grants under the Bilingual Education Act.
In response, the SALAD Board of Directors wrote a letter to secretary Bennett proposing the idea of “English-Plus”. The letter stated in part, “We fear that Secretary Bennett has lost sight of the fact that English is a key to equal educational opportunity, necessary but not sufficient. English by itself is not enough. Not English-Only, English-Plus!”. SALAD further argued that while English is essential in the United States, in order to succeed in a global economy students should learn more than one language.
SALAD is credited with pioneering the English Plus movement in the United States. English Plus has attracted the attention of language educators, community leaders, elected officials of varying views, business executives, and grass-roots activists.
English-Plus is based on the believe that all U.S. residents should have the opportunity to become proficient in English plus one more language.
Activism in Local Government
In the mid 80″s the population of Miami Beach was approximately 40% Hispanic. In spite of the statistical reality, there was only one employee of Hispanic background in the entire work force of the City. SALAD brought this disparity to the attention of city officials with little results. In order to obtain the attention of city officials, SALAD Chaiman Osvaldo Soto and Vice Chairman Oscar Baisman decided to use other creative methods. With their own funds they rented a banner plane to fly over the beach on a Sunday afternoon that read, “Miami Beach Equal Hispanic Discrimination”. A few days later then Mayor Seymour Gelber agreed that the situation was unacceptable and committed himself to having a work force representative of the community. A short time later, Mayor Gelber informed SALAD that Jose Garcia Pedrosa, a respected and prominent Hispanic attorney, had been appointed manager of the City of Miami Beach. Today Miami Beach city government is representative of the community it serves.
“El Votaton” Voter Registration
Another of SALAD’s important contributions was the creation of the movement “Vota Para Que Te Respeten”, which translated means “Vote In Order to be Respected”. At the time it became difficult for Hispanics in South Florida and throughout the nation to register to vote because in some cases information was not being provided in Spanish, and there were few employees at elections departments who spoke Spanish. In response a group of Cuban-American and other Hispanic organizations decided to correct this situation. These organizations (among them Facts About Cuban Exiles (FACE), Cuban American Bar Association (CABA), Latin Chamber of Commerce USA (CAMACOL), Latin Builders’ Association (LBA), and Hispanic American Women’s Association) appointed SALAD to lead and coordinate the efforts.
On September 17, 1983 at the Jai Alai Fronton all the organizations joined their efforts in a 12-hour “El Votaton”, to what would be the beginning of mostly Cuban and Hispanic voter registration drives throughout South Florida.
As a result, SALAD was invited by Hispanic organizations, among them LULAC and National Council of La Raza to Stanford University and the University of Texas to explain how “El Votaton” was accomplished as well as how the “English Plus” campaign was conducted.
SALAD’s successes could not have been accomplished without the commitment of its members and supporters. Some of the original members have retired under the pressure of years, but maintain the love for what has been a great struggle, and an enormous part of their lives.
Today, under its new and committed leadership and members, SALAD is increasing its advocacy role at the federal, state and local level, and provides direct-service programs to improve the quality of life in the South Florida community.
In an effort to address the needs of our diverse community, SALAD’s Board of Directors now is comprised of men and women from several countries in our hemispehere. Each contributes his or her knowledge, experience and expertise to the overall goals of the organization.
Today SALAD reaffirms its commitment to our vibrant and diverse South Florida Community.