English is the official language

Remember back in 1998 when it was put to a vote to make English the official language of Florida? It was approved. Over 23 other states, including California, have done the same. There is no USA official language.

Some people feel this is discriminatory. Why then, have so many states supported it? Kathleen Parker of Tribune Media Services wrote a great article this week. “Para espanol, oprima el dos.” It’s almost impossible to call any major corporation for customer service and not get a message in Spanish. Over the last year Bank of America has added a Spanish sign for every English sign in their branches. I have to admit I felt a little annoyed with a Spanish message every 6 feet in the store. When the Spanish became the top message and English underneath on one poster, my small annoyance grew.

Banks and other entities are charging to earn the Hispanic market business. But by becoming 100% bi-lingual in all communications, are they creating problem by enabling Spanish speaking residents to skip learning English? When traveling to Europe, it’s a pleasure to find businesses that have English translations. Are we any different here? I think yes. Because it’s not just businesses, it’s the entire system of private and public entities providing multi language. Worse, our system REQUIRES this. Did you know you could take a drivers test in Spanish? In fact, the federal courts have blocked states who have tried to make passing a drivers test in English a requirement, saying it is unconstitutional and discriminates based on national origin. Shouldn’t we be testing to make sure people can read signs in English? I have not seen any Spanish ‘caution’ signs yet, have you?

Where are we going with all this? Immigration laws being floated include a requirement to speak English as a requirement for citizenship. There was no English proficiency component of the American citizenship exam until 1906, when its implementation became the first major language restriction established at the federal level.

Unity. Can we be a united society if we are speaking different languages? Can immigrants who don’t learn English feel ‘American’? Or does it leave them feeling like a guest in someone else’s country? Are we hurting the education system by not being more aggressive in teaching ESOL students?
By not creating an English Official Language, are we not discouraging immigrants from learning English?

Would public entities no longer provide services in Spanish? Wouldn’t that create enormous health and safety risks? Are we disregarding our heritage as a country of immigrants?

There are no easy answers. I grew up mostly in Rochester NY. Large areas were predominantly Italian, Greek, German, Irish and then we also had Cubans and plenty of others. There were actually many cultures in our city, and by choice for many years they segregated themselves. They had grocers in their neighborhoods with signs in their native language, and they sold ‘food and products from home’.

Most, if not all, of the Italian kids I knew spoke Italian. In some families the grandparents barely knew any English. But the kids were all fluent in English- Italian was their 2nd language. They were expected to know Italian so they could translate for those too old to want to learn English. Schools offered Spanish, Italian, and German as optional language courses. Kids were expected to know their culture and their heritage to understand where they came from and to pass on to future generations. They were also expected to be American. That meant to learn English from day one. The elders set high expectations for them in school and in life.

I think the Italians always suffered from some discrimination. People would say they were great craftsmen. And they were. For example, the wealthy only hired Italian guys for marble work. But there was another side. I don’t recall where it came from- probably one of the big wars. My generation was a beginning to break away from the prejudices. That was a huge reason the elders put such great demands on the kids, because they wanted them to be part of a different future. The advent of the suburbs helped bring about change with increased integration of cultures.

Are the Italians, Greeks, and Cubans from my old neighborhood, the Hispanics of today? To a point, yes. But on a broad basis, I really don’t think so. What I see today is some of the same, but a much larger population is not assimilating into American culture. The corner store (or 4 corners) is more like an entire city. There are too many people who just don’t care to learn English or much more about anything beyond their immediate neighborhood. How then can we have unity?

I have a Cuban friend who came over on a boat years ago. Her father was much like mine. Get an education and you can succeed. He planted many seeds in her mind. She has managed over 250 people and built multiple successful companies. I have another friend who came from Brazil. She too had a strong family that encouraged learning. She came to America as an adult to work in international marketing. While she knew some English (it was a requirement in school) it was not perfect. She set a goal to learn English and never spoke her native language, except when on international calls. Within 12 months she could write and speak it beautifully and she was promoted to VP of Marketing at her company. Another acquaintance arrived from Brazil with the same background. She didn’t want to learn English. She could shop at the local Brazilian market, go to a Brazilian church, and generally do anything she wanted without having to go to the trouble. I heard she is working illegally in a restaurant as a waitress. She has already collected welfare or some other government help.

I think if you want to join our country, you need to learn English; otherwise you are just a transplant. There are immigrants from many, many countries here. Without English as the binding language we would be lost. We need a common language to share ideas, to exchange information and to learn from each other. Hold on to your culture, share it, but be sure to learn about ours.

When I visit another country, I study the language and culture before I get there. Shouldn’t we expect people to learn a bit more of ours to be citizens?

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