News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Press one for English

As a bilingual person who speaks Spanish mostly with his family, it’s hard for me not to be offended by the English-only crowd. And I’m not alone, either.

Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza, is very blunt about the issue. “U.S. English is to Hispanics as the Ku Klux Klan is to blacks,” Yzaguirre told the media.

James Crawford, author of the book “Hold your Tongue” said this about the English-only movement: “From rightist Cubans to liberal Chicanos to radical Puerto Ricans, English Only has united them like nothing else in recent memory. They perceive it to be a campaign of intolerance, aimed in particular at Spanish and its speakers.”

A nativist website recently posted the iconic recruiting poster image of Uncle Sam pointing toward the viewer with this caption: This finger wasn’t made to press “One for English.” In a delicious piece of irony, the Confederate and U.S. flags are shown beside Uncle Sam. (Lest we forget, the most serious challenge to U.S. sovereignty came during the Civil War, an insurrection led by English-speaking whites.)

While the nativists shrilly decry the reluctance of Latinos to assimilate, the truth is exactly the opposite.

In 2006, the Harvard International Review reported the assimilation of today’s immigrants fares far more favorably on a host of demographic and socioeconomic indicators than previous waves of immigrants to the United States—including how quickly they are learning English. The nativists may notice lots of Spanish being spoken, but the reality is that more immigrant children today go to school than the immigrant children who were sent straight to work at the turn of the century.

Will today’s Know Nothings succeed in making English the official language of the United States? Here’s what seems more likely to me. This movement will drive a wedge in the widening gulf between Hispanics and the U.S. mainstream. 

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

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