English-only initiative unconstitutional
“English only” is a bad idea whose time has come and gone, but which just keeps sticking it ugly head in our faces. Here’s why:
1) “English only” is racist. Shortly before I was born, my white, English-speaking parents moved to the Texas-Mexico border and I got to see this firsthand. The local white, English-speaking Texans (“Anglos”) heaped their supposed cultural superiority upon the Mexican-Americans, calling them “Mexicans” in spite of the fact that MOST spoke both English and Spanish and even though many of the latter had lived in the United States for generations. And there was never any doubt in my mind that the policy of suspending students who spoke Spanish at school was done out of fear, not to help these students learn. The same is true today;
2) As an educator of health science and natural science students at the community college level, I have worked primarily with Mexican-American, Native Amer-ican and Mexican students. Many of these students have some problems with English. But so do many of the students from English-speaking households. The real problem is that most kids watch too much TV and no one reads enough books. But we don’t want to deal with the real problem, do we?
The English language is difficult to master and I work on it with ALL MY STUDENTS. But suppressing one’s native language does nothing to help build a new language. In the Southwest as well as in the world at large, being able to speak two languages is an asset, not a liability. I know. I have learned to speak Spanish fluently and I know how to converse in three other languages as well.
3) I’m always amazed that so-called “conservatives” who push “English only” initiative, many of whom also call themselves promoters of “family values”, are promoting Stalinist-style social engineering with the deliberate intent of destroying the families of non-English speakers so that we can have a homogenized American culture instead of the diversity we now enjoy...just as Stalin tried to do in the former Soviet Union. Don’t get me wrong; being able to work well in a national language is important. But for many younger people, a parent or grandparent who doesn’t speak English is a fact of life. Kids and grandkids need to be able to communicate with their elders;
4) Finally, I consider “English only” to be unconstitutional. The U.S. Constitution does not make one’s rights as an American citizen depend upon one’s language. A Navajo who was born in this country has all the rights of an English-speaker, whether he or she speaks English or not. This is a “free” country where one is free to choose one’s language(s), just as one can choose to abandon one’s culture, or one can choose to mix one’s culture with new cultures, or one can choose to retain one’s culture.
In conclusion, there is no good argument for “English only.” A good command of English is essential for most Americans; that’s not the question. However, I urge all my students to learn at least two languages. They can do it in spite of what the “English only” naysayers say.
La Mesilla, New Mexico