Language is not only cultural. Many times it’s political.
Most Americans know this, especially Latino Americans, whose culture is currently being targeted by a party for subjugation. That’s what English-first and English-only statutes look to do: suppress Latino culture.
And now the same form of cultural assassination is occurring on the island of Puerto Rico.
Last month, Gov. Luis Fortuño expressed his wish to see the islanders fluent in both English and Spanish by 2022. To accomplish his goal, he’s pushing public schools to teach all courses in English.
At the moment, only 12 schools out of more than 1400 on the island teach their courses in English. Education Secretary Edwin Moreno is heading a $15 million initiative to institute an all-English curriculum in 31 more schools beginning in August.
Admittedly, the governor’s plan doesn’t seek to eliminate Spanish from Puerto Rico’s schools entirely. Public schools would continue teaching Spanish grammar and literature classes.
Yet attacks on the Spanish language – or at least the attempts to make English just as predominant on the island – are nothing new for Puerto Ricans. As soon as American boots landed on Puerto Rican soil in 1898 and conquered the island, a campaign was undertaken to make English its first language. Public schools taught all courses in English from 1900 until 1948, when the first democratically elected governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Muñoz Marin, did away with the requirement.
Puerto Ricans continued to resent any infringement on their culture by the colonial government, and in 1991, Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon made the bold move of declaring Spanish the island’s sole official language. (The law was short-lived, and English became the second official language only two years later.)
Now Gov. Fortuño wants to accomplish what has yet to succeed in over 100 years of American dominion.
The governor, un estadista, claims that his goal serves economic purposes, and I don’t doubt that it does. But, for most Puerto Ricans, the English language carries with it too much political baggage. As a Spanglish-speaking people, Puerto Ricans have no objections to learning English or speaking it, but being forced to learn it – especially in an all-English curriculum – seems too blatant an assault on their puertorriquenidad.
There is no legitimate political status between independence and statehood, so to talk about Puerto Rico is to talk about an island under colonial rule. The most damning evidence is the political rights denied the people. Puerto Ricans living on the island (over 3.7 million souls) are prohibited from electing the members of Congress who decide the island’s laws and the president who executes those laws. And the same restriction also extends to any other U.S. citizen on the island, Puerto Rican or not.
I do believe in the benefits of a bilingual education – in terms of educational attainment and career prospects – but to institute all-English curricula on the island would be putting the Puerto Rican culture in more danger than it already is (even Spanish fluency is low on the island).
If Gov. Fortuño and the colonial government want Puerto Ricans to speak English fluently, the island should first be granted statehood. Until then, que se vayan pa’l carajo con su idioma.