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‘Learn English’ is the wrong policy [Video]

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And the Democrats fire back.

From Fox News Latino:

“Democratic leaders of both houses of Congress on Wednesday presented the nine principles that should guide comprehensive immigration reform they say will contribute to the economic recovery.

During a press conference in the Capitol, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus insisted that immigration reform is cannot [sic] be postponed any longer, adding that during the 113th Congress is the perfect time to bring undocumented foreign residents out of the shadows. …

The nine principles put forward Wednesday include the registration of the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants; protection of immigrant families to prevent their separation; legalization of undocumented students and visas for agricultural guestworkers.

To register, undocumented people would have to provide their fingerprints, pay taxes and learn English, although those who have criminal records will be subject to deportation.”

The caucus members were asked why they didn’t simply present their own immigration bill in response to the Republican-backed Achieve Act introduced by Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona — both of whom are leaving Congress in January — to which Senator Menendez likened the set of principles to beginning a debate by offering “an extended hand.”

There’s nothing surprising or otherwise out of the ordinary in the Democratic principles put forth on Wednesday. Anyone who’s paid any attention to the immigration debate, which has intensified in the past several years, knew beforehand exactly where the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Democratic Party as a whole stood on immigration reform.

The “learn English” clause is also nothing new and has been supported by Democrats and Republicans alike for at least a decade and a half. For conservatives, it’s important that new Americans assimilate into the mainstream culture. Most Republicans, and probably many Democrats as well, believe America really is a melting pot, but it’s the immigrants and minorities who must melt into what’s perceived to be America’s core traditions — that means learning to speak the dominant language, the language the settlers spoke, the language the Founding Fathers spoke and every president has spoken since: English.

And therein lies the danger. By insisting that newcomers learn English — one of about 380 languages spoken in the United States — we risk narrowing the definition of what it means to be an American instead of broadening it.

There are those, like the members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who believe that telling immigrants that they must learn English if they want a legal right to live in this country is at most a harmless concession to conservative demands. It’s only natural, they reason, that citizens and residents should learn the language of the land. In France they speak French, in Germany they speak German, and in America everyone should speak American.

You might’ve laughed just know when I suggested immigrants in America should learn to speak American, because of course, there is no American language. Ah! Now you get my point.

English is the dominant language in America not by right, but by might. The people who first settled this land — or invaded it and stole it away from the natives living here — were English speakers. The people who set up its government were English speakers too. (Interestingly enough, while they gave enough thought to construct the most revolutionary experiment in representative government in the history of humankind, they didn’t think adding a measly language requirement was necessary.)

The people who subsequently came here from all over the world took it upon themselves to learn English, because English is the language of our schools and our economy. When Mexicans living in the newly-conquered Southwest were granted U.S. citizenship in the mid-1800s, no language requirement was demanded of them. Same for the Puerto Ricans conquered half a century later. It was just assumed that these people would learn English, and for the most part, they did.

But now that America has entered into a period of Latinization, now that Spanish is the second-most dominant language in the United States and growing, it’s suddenly imperative that immigrants learn English.

It’s a culture war. The same Americans who want to keep the country predominantly English-speaking are the very same who want to keep it predominantly white and Christian. They believe that’s what America was founded as, that’s how it’s always been, and that’s how it should remain.

Nonetheless, many Americans understand the country to be no more English-speaking than it is white or Protestant. America was founded on a set of principles, nothing more and nothing less. Those principles are liberty, equality and self-government, and you don’t have to speak a specific language or belong to a specific ethnic group or church to understand them and believe in them.

I hope that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus scraps the English requirement, because it’s not in keeping with the virtues that make America great and that are the reason our forefathers came to this country from Latin America however long ago.

About Hector Luis Alamo, Jr.

Hector Luis Alamo, Jr., is the associate editor at Being Latino and a native son of Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood. He received a B.A. in history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where his concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States. While at UIC, he worked first as a staff writer for the Chicago Flame and later became the newspaper's Opinions editor. He contributes to various Chicago-area publications, most notably, the RedEye and Gozamos. He's also a cultural critic for 'LLERO magazine. He has maintained a personal blog since 2007, YoungObservers.blogspot.com, where he discusses topics ranging from political history and philosophy to culture and music.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

Comments

  1. leslie leoni says:

    So if they don’t learn to speak English – the melting pot divides even more and we have NOTHING to hold us together as “Americans”. If I move to another country – I have to learn the language and customs, my children have to learn the language or I have to pay money for them to go to an English speaking school. I should not be made to feel like I’m in another country when I go to my child’s Public School because no parents feel the need to converse in English. It’s rude! I certainly wouldn’t expect Mexico to teach my children their entire K-12 schooling in English – nor would I expect the Mexican government to print everything in English for me or demand that employees at government offices conducting business with me in English. And I sure as hell wouldn’t expect them to give me a Driving Test in English when everything there is in Spanish! This hypenated American crap needs to stop! You are an American or you are some other Nationality. I certainly don’t go around calling myself an Italian – Polish American and demanding that the U.S.A. provide me with whatever I want in Italian or Polish because it’s my “right”. It’s horsehockey and you know it!

  2. Yes, but all means let’s stay illiterate in the major language of world commerce. That’s a road to success.

  3. Alex Mikhalevich says:

    I do not agree with your argument. English is not just a dominant language, but an official language regardless of the historic context. My first language is Russian, but I learned how to speak English fluently. Most of the other immigrants from other parts of the world also learned how to speak English too. However, according to your argument the Spanish speaking immigrants are an exception to the rule, and they do not need to learn English. They chose to come to this country like other immigrants regardless of circumstances, they have to have certain degree of respect for the rules and traditions of this country, and learning to speak English is an important step towards respect for this country. Furthermore, to become a naturalized US Citizen, one is required to demonstrate proficiency in English.

  4. I do not think it is unreasonable to expect someone that wishes to call a country “home” to learn the language of that nation. As you stated, there are 380 languages spoken in the USA. For the sake of order it is important that there be ONE language in which all legal documents and proceedings be transacted in. If someone is going to live here, they should make an effort to understand the language of where they want to be, as opposed to where they want to be adapting, learning and using the languages of 380 different groups.

  5. “Same for the Puerto Ricans conquered half a century later. It was just assumed that these people would learn English, and for the most part, they did.”

    When were the Puerto Rican’s conquered? Please do not rewrite history. Spain lost a war and ceded territory, Puerto Rico being one of them. The USA never attacked or conquered Puerto Rico. PR was never an independent nation and if it were given independence my family would either have to move to the mainland or in a best case scenario they would slowly starve to death as PR descended into the depths of despair unlike anything else we have seen in modern history.

  6. Daniel Ruiz says:

    Fearing the non-English speaking immigrant is nothing new. Look up old newspaper articles/op-eds on the fear of German and Italian immigrants and you swear it was about Latin American immigrants. That being said, common sense dictates that if you are moving to a country where the majority of the people speak a different language than you then you should learn the basics of that language ASAP. Even if you hate common sense(which some do), how about safety? Do you really expect there to be a translator available 24/7 in every part of the country? That’s insane.

  7. Alex Mikhalevich says:

    Personal empowerment comes from learning, and I am not just talking about getting educated. I believe that every person who comes to America should learn to speak and understand English because being able to know English in America allows one to fully participate in the American society, and it also makes one a well-informed individual who would not allow himself or herself to be exploited by unscrupulous organizations or individuals who are looking to take advantage of the immigrants who do not speak English and do not fully understand the daily idiosyncrasies of new country because of the language barriers. Finally, I agree with other comments that learning English will open many doors of opportunity and advancement.

  8. truth!

  9. What’s wrong with learning English? :D It’s the common language here, soo it’s only right..they don’t speak “Cuban” in Cuba, “Dominican” in DR, or “Puerto Rican” in PR..we speak Spanish, but it’s still our “common”l language just like here in the US English is the “common” one. It’s a matter of getting used to these things and it’s good that they’re enforcing it because immigrants will find so many more opportunities this way.

  10. To be forced to learn English is un American but to not learn English is limiting your opportunities in this nation. Learning English will only help you. We should always encourage new comers to learn the dominate language of the land.

  11. carmen says:

    I agree with the requirement that new immigrants must know how to speak English. Do you know how much it costs to translate everything into Spanish? Enough already. People need to take responsibilty for themselves are learn how to communicate with the rest of the country, just as previous waves of immigrants have done. I would be embarrassed if I had to have everything translated for me like a little baby.

    Peopel all over the world are paying money to learn English, but a very vocal Hispanic minority keep pushing to keep everything in Spanish. That just holds people back. The language of freedom is English. The language of oppression is Spanish. You can’t move up in Latin America, like you can in the United States.

  12. Most Latinos living in the US already know English… in fact, most are multilingual (the way everyone should strive to be). This whole “speak our language or get out” mantra is a prime example of moral panic guided by inherent racism towards those who are identified as “others.” It saddens me more than anything when I see fellow Latinos succumb to this “learn English or else” mantra… those who do remind me of those slaves who fell in love with their shackles. Great article Hector Luis Alamo Jr.

  13. It would be wise to try to learn English but as an adult I know I would find it difficult to learn a new language. English after all isn’t an “American” language it was brought over from a different country by…immigrants.

  14. Learning English should be the attitude Latinos have but we should defend the right to learn Spanish, especially our youth. In about a few decades Mexico and the Latin American region will be on with pace China in making goods for the U.S. Bilingualism should be something we hammer to our youth, we might need it to do business with rising economic powers. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/9f789abe-023a-11e2-b41f-00144feabdc0.html

  15. While I agree that making it “mandatory” is borderline absurd, I do not agree with choice of words the author has used to explain his position. Using trigger words. Like ” they”, “us”, or “them” causes most readers to believe that the author is either anti-government or anti-white. It’s bad enough that there is a perception that our country is divided. But this is just another case of using racism as an argument. And it’s about time we put an end to this nonsense….great topic…bad choice of words written throughout the article in my opinion…

  16. I agree, the only way for our people to broaden the opportunities they can recieve here is to learn the common language and personally I believe it SHOULD be made a requirement….if not, regardless of where the person comes from this country will just end up like another tower of Babel….everyone speaking and no one understanding….if we are to move forward we and least need to be able to understand eachother and that means adapting and embracing the common language of this land…

  17. I think you should be able to speak your native language freely wherever and whenever you want, but to not learn the language of the majority of a country is just hindering yourself. At least know enough to be able to ask for help, or to be able to communicate with others if needed.

  18. The reason it’s become mandatory is that many agencies, offices, etc. have not or will not employ a bilingual person because they feel that it takes too long to explain things to that person who doesn’t speak English.

  19. Its ok to speak your native language but English should be learned if you decide to live here.It doesn’t have to be perfect but at least enough to communicate with others.Living in this country not knowing the primary language which is English is only limiting yourself.So I disagree,English should be a requirement.The US is lenient in the language department in comparison to other countries where its a must to know the language if you decide to imigrate there.

  20. In sorry do not agree, if u choose to live in any country long term, it should be your responsibility to learn the language to better be understood and not add additional burdens to anyone around you

  21. Estoy aprendiendo lakota,y navajo son lenguas oficiales .
    English too as a fouth lenguage….

  22. The U.S. has never had an “official” language. Why is it an issue now? Hmm.

  23. completely disagree. My mom came here during the Central American civil war of the 1980s and she came here scared of English but learned to embrace and the fact it was ALL AROUND her. Now she is fluent, but still gets a laugh when she gets asked if she needs an interpretor at the Doctor’s and she hits them with the most flawless American accent. In all seriousness though, being here in the States; it forces you to learn it. English is among the top, if not THE most important, language in the world (an not to sound cocky) but it is. From entertainment to business, it is an important language to learn and why not learn it here. It shouldn’t become a law to learn English obviously, but it if you learn it shows how really hungry you are to become a part of the American dream.

  24. I must respectfully disagree with my liberal friends here. Language is key to uniting us as a country. Plus knowing two languages is a win-win for everyone.

  25. Sorry but this article is so one sided and not open-minded. I went as far as asking my wife, an immigrant to this country, and she agrees that one should learn the basics to get by, which is what the govt. would impose.

    Think of the better example, for the children of immigrants, one would set by learning the language? Did you ever think about what it takes to communicate properly with their respective children’s teachers and friends parents? How about the gas attendant, the local govt. office official when questioning any of a multitude of things, the librarian, the auto repairman etc.? Or are you suggesting that immigrants keep asking their children to translate their inquiries at the store and on and on?

    No one, not even the govt., wants anyone to lose cultural customs so stop what you’re doing and don’t hide the piñata or what not. Enjoy and be fruitful amongst your compatriots, heck with the rest of the country, but set a powerful example and winning attitude for generations to come! Watch and see the learning curve get so much smaller with this small step.

  26. That’s what the U.S. is all about. You can’t be forced to do it if you don’t want to, but there’s a price to pay. It’s a hard ass life if you can’t communicate or understand the majority language, but making it a requirement, I don’t agree with that. That’s what seperates the U.S. from the rest of the world. Do or do not, it’s your choice.

  27. I don’t understand why some think that if you come to the US you should not be required to speak English. You do yourself a disservice if you don’t. My friend is currently living in Paris and she is required to take French lessons. She is now fluent (Paris, btw, is probably just as multicultural as a modern US city). Other countries do it. It helps, not harms.

  28. English is the main language. absolutely, learn it. you will do better in your life and have a better job. If i live in Mexico, i will need to know the language. Assimilation is good.

  29. Not learning the dominant language of any country we may inhabit is plain rude and disrespectful. It would be like me living in Montreal and complaining about having to learn french. More opportunity and advancement is open to those who can effectively communicate with the general populace.

  30. I think it’s almost necessary to learn English. You need to be able to read what’s around you and be able to effectively communicate with others around you. I agree with some of the people above, it is our dominant language, everything is written in it. You don’t try to live in Paris and not learn French. Although.. we are pretty crass as Americans, I’m sure people do it.

  31. Mexican-Americans and Mexico Have A Future Together http://latinosreadytovote.com/?p=7487

  32. Gotta agree with Des here. I would not want to require it, but it is to your benefit to learn English. Makes the American experience much more pleasant.

  33. Wrong. This is the U.S., correct ? We need to make English the official language, my Grandfather had to recite the Preamble to the Constitution, answer questions…in order to become a Citizen, he seen it as a Privlege to be a U.S citizen, my cousins husband just got his citizenship. I think we should all be on the same page, know the Laws,rules , a society has to have rules to operate smoothly, in order to Fly a plane(International law) you must speak English. When I travel I learn to speak whatever Language in which Country I’m traveling. It’s the right thing to do !

  34. Margaret Nahmias says:

    I agree with the idea of Spanish panic, but not they should not English I know a native Mexican who beside her native Spanish, knows English and sign language and a little Itailan. Some people do struggle with learning another language, but that doesn´t mean it cannot be done. The level of fluency required will always vary. And usually social fluency is the easiest to obtain.I always say learn as much you can at home so you will feel more confiendent in country with at least a base knowledge . Languages do open doors, but it commonly assumed that only Americans and English speakers in general ar monolingual snobs. Nope, not when Unvision is promoting bilingualism on in their education campaign.So please save the language politics on both sides Me hace enferma. I am gringa and I am proudly learning Spanish and many other are too.

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