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

Friday, August 10, 2012

The one issue that unifies Latinos

The idea of political uniformity among Latinos is an illusion. While local Hispanic communities may have political propensities, a national "Latino vote" is a mirage created primarily by special interests who stand to profit from this political golden fleece. When was the last time you heard about a political party's popularity with Irish or Italian voters? Yet every day a legion of media pundits tries to convince us that people in the U.S. with origins in the world's 24 Spanish-speaking countries are somehow unified in their opinions.

But there is a single issue that will unify almost every Latino from the hard-line Republican Cuban exiles in Miami to the MEChistas in East Los Angeles. Surprsingly, it's not immigration reform. That issue is "English-only" laws.

Like hurricanes, tornadoes and locusts, the English-only movement seems a perennial plague of the U.S. political landscape. Undeterred by facts or constitutional precedent, this movement derives its impetus from the deep well of xenophobia plumbed by political demagoues.

The latest incarnation of the U.S. English movement comes from Congressman Steve King. The Iowa Republican has proposed the "English Language Unity Act" which would declare English as the official language of the United States. King's legislation requires the English language be used in work places and requires official government functions to be carried out in English.

Congressman Steve King, R-Iowa, has proposed the "English Language Unity Act" which would declare English as the official language of the United States.
In truth, this bill is mostly political theatre. Even Rep. King likely does not expect it to be ratified by the Senate. This was the fate of a similar bill proposed by the House in 1996. But what this bill will accomplish is to win King support from people who feel threatened when they hear a foregin language spoken. The other effect of King's legislation is the message it sends Latinos and other recently arrived immigrants.

It says you are not welcome here. And that animosity will do more to unify Latino opinion than anything else.

Is a single language necessary to create national unity and prosperity?

Switzerland is one of the oldest constitutional democracies on earth -- and one of the world's richest nations. It has the highest wealth per adult of any country. Zurich and Geneva have been ranked as the cities with the second and eighth highest quality of life on the planet. Oh, and one other thing...

Switzerland has four official languages.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez