Will English Only Laws Make Us More American?

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Some would have you believe there is a growing faction attempting to eradicate the use of the English language in the United States. These groups want to pass laws stating that English is our official language which would ban the government from offering help in any language other than English. This includes emergency services such as police, fire and health. Does this sound like America to you? Callous, cold and exclusionary - refusing to help people because they don't understand English well enough to communicate their pain?

Currently Nashville is looking to make their city "English Only." Essentially this means that no immigrants, legal or undocumented, unless they have the good fortune of coming from a country wealthy enough to have taught them English as children, will be able to communicate with the local government or those providing emergency services. This will also affect any tourists that happen to be in the area with the misfortune of becoming ill in a town that does not welcome foreigners. Given the euphonious beauty Nashville is famous for this is not only disheartening, but also quite disgusting.

Nashville English First hopes to force a countywide vote this fall on a controversial proposal to limit all Metro government business, publications and meetings to English, with no exceptions for health or safety. It does include language indicating it should not be interpreted to conflict with state or federal law. (English-first initiative gets out-of-state help)

I'll soon get to witness my cousin being wed. She and her soon-to-be husband went to high school together in Houston and both, as fate would have it, ended up in New York City. I couldn't be happier, they're both quality people.

Yesterday, I was waiting for my fiancé to model a few of her dress choices for me so I sat in the couch near the dressing rooms. Next to me was another 'white' guy clicking at his phone as he wait for his wife. A few minutes later she presented her choice and they began communicating in a language I didn't understand. It sounded Eastern European, but I didn't know the dialect.

--They should be forced to speak English--

I should have stood up right there and said - "This is America - English only!" In that moment I could have made Lou Barletta, Joey Vento, Tom Tancredo, Lou Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck proud, amongst others. I would have been the American hero, the all American guy.

But this is silly. I live in New York and on any given day you hear many different languages spoken by people different people. They communicate to share their joy, their pain and even sometimes their anger. What country of compassion demands that everyone fall in line - that everyone speaks the same? What terrible mind believes people refuse to learn English anyway? The same people mentioned above who speak in many languages also understand that English is a necessary tool you must equip yourself with in the United States. Sadly, many nativists would have you believe something has changed after 232 years that makes it necessary to create an 'English Only' law.

The conceit that migrants are refusing to learn English is one built by those that champion confusion and propaganda. These people are building off the ever existing fear of the other and the unknown. They want American citizens to believe that we have to pass laws stating what it means to be an American and how we should speak. How can you pass such laws? If this had been done in the past would we still be wearing knickers and white wigs? Would we still be speaking proper Old English and writing s's that look like f's?

When you define American by carving it into stone you have essentially killed it. It can never grow, it can never learn and it can never be anything other than what the chisel has told it too. The idea of what it means to be an American changes just as the English language does. They're both organic and growing - just like any healthy thing. When you allow the stagnation of this growth by defining what it means to be American in absolute terms, as these anti-immigrant groups certainly will if you let them, then you too may fall outside their vision.

Today there is a faction that believe no other human being in the world has the right, aptitude or ability to live in the United States or be called 'American.' They are attempting to shut down immigration, alienate recent immigrants, and create an 'us against them' atmosphere within these borders.

Read the article mentioned above and you'll see that a group called ProEnglish, started by John Tanton, the 'father' of the anti-immigration movement, has helped this town along. So far they've given them $24,000 dollars to push their initiative forward.

ProEnglish, which has an annual budget of about $1 million, would contribute more money to Nashville English First. Both he and Crafton expressed confidence that the measure would be approved by a large margin, and Crafton said any further spending probably would be minimal.

I wonder how much money John Tanton has donated to help immigrants learn English.  Given his concern that others speak English why not donate some of his million dollar budget to help them?  I think we know why and it's very similar to the fact that no supposedly anti-"illegal" immigration / pro-"legal" immigration groups actually have anything to do with helping "legal" immigrants or residence in their journey to be citizens.

Are you American? Are you American enough to deserve help from others? Given intolerance is becoming more and more 'American' everyday soon our disdain for one another will keep us from any compassion whatsoever.

Apparently John Tanton gets to decide what makes an American because he's got the money to do it. Will you let John Tanton decide if you're American enough?

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Michael said:

Hi Symsess,
Nice Job on exposing another lie and barrier against Legal and Undocumented Immigrants from Nativists, Protectionists and Ignorants of the True.
Official English and English-only policies are founded upon the myth that the primacy of the English language is somehow under threat. In fact, more than 94 percent of our country’s population speaks English, according to the last Census. This confirms that the problem English-only laws are designed to address simply does not exist. Moreover, English-only laws are built upon, and help to perpetuate, a baseless stereotype that immigrants, particularly those from Latin America, do not want to learn English.

In reality, Latinos, both native-born and newly-arrived immigrants, embrace English and place tremendous importance and value upon attaining English-language fluency. By wide margins, Latinos believe that learning English is essential for participation and success in American society. A recent survey by the Pew Hispanic Center found that an overwhelming majority of Latinos – 92 percent – believe that teaching English to the children of immigrants is very important, a percentage far higher than other respondents.
Indeed, Latino immigrants are learning English, and doing so as quickly as or more quickly than previous generations of immigrants. As is typical of immigrant populations in the United States, by the third generation most Latinos tend to speak only English. Latino immigrants, then, do not need official English or English-only legislation to coerce them into learning English; that desire and determination already runs deep in the Latino community.
The immigrant community embraces English because it recognizes that learning English is essential for participation and success in American society. Providing real opportunities to learn English, not allowing for discrimination, is the most effective means of fostering English proficiency.

janna said:

Excellent post, symsess. Here in my neck of the woods, the few ESL classes are always full. Those who work 12 hour days 6 days a week envy those with more forgiving schedules that allow them to do things like attend ESL classes and play soccer. Of the inmigrantes I know who work in restaurants, those who work among americanos in diners and pizzerias learn English much faster than those working alongside other hispanos in Mexican restaurants. Those who speak good English, usually accomplished after 2-5 years living here, are the objects of their peers' admiration. I have not met a single latino immigrant who does not see the value in learning, and who does not want to learn, English.
I agree with Michael, the real need lies not in convincing immigrants to learn English, but in providing ample opportunities for them to do so, with their often demanding work schedules in mind.

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This page contains a single entry by symsess published on August 17, 2008 11:38 AM.

The Extravagant Life: Pro-Migrant SanctuarySphere was the previous entry in this blog.

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