Lefty: As a nation of immigrants, the United States should encourage diversity in all its forms. The Latino peoples are entitled to bring their rich heritage with them when they choose to enter our country. Why shouldn’t they continue to speak Spanish if that’s their preference? We’re supposed to be a democracy, even though our imperialist leaders stole the entire American Southwest from Mexico back in 1848. (I see it as poetic justice that the Southwest is slowly reverting to its Spanish roots. Call it Santa Anna’s revenge.) If we post bilingual signs, create bilingual packaging and add bilingual instructions to our voting booths, how does it inconvenience the rest of us? Nobody is forcing you to learn Spanish, Righty. The ignorant xenophobes who fight bilingualism are sending the worst possible message about America to the rest of the world.
The New Moderate:
It wouldn’t hurt Americans to learn a foreign language or two, including Spanish. Our xenophobic tendencies sometimes get the better of us; a nation so vast and powerful shouldn’t be so provincial. But The New Moderate feels compelled to support English as the lingua franca of these States. Should we make it official? Yup, we probably should.
I know I’m attempting to hold back the tide here. I know I’m taking a stand that eventually will put me on the wrong side of history. I know my rhetoric might strike many of you as shrill, immoderate and even hateful. But I don’t think my position is immoderate at all.
The English-speaking majority shouldn’t have to make special accommodations for immigrants who, for whatever reason, resist learning English. Like Righty, I’m especially galled by the stealth bilingualism I’ve noticed in children’s TV shows aimed at English-speaking kids. What are those children’s shows telling us, anyway? That we’re expected to learn Spanish because Hispanics will never learn English? If so, they’re making ridiculous demands of the English-speaking majority while unconsciously insulting the Hispanic community.
Why should the rise of Spanish as a second American language trigger our inner alarm systems? The reasons are many, but let’s start here. Suppose the next great wave of immigrants came to us from Russia, and that those newcomers balked at learning English. Would we adopt trilingualism to accommodate them? How about an incoming wave from India — would we feel obligated to add Hindi, Bengali and other Indian dialects to our already overcrowded signs? Do you see the point?
But bilingualism is more than just the first step toward out-of-control multilingualism. All those bilingual signs, packages, ATMs, automated phone messages, voting booths and TV shows send Latino immigrants the misleading message that they can survive in the U.S. without learning English. Why bother to sort through all those inconsistent English pronunciations and gnarly English spellings when the U.S. makes it so easy to get by en español? The problem is that American college professors aren’t planning to give bilingual lectures anytime soon. If Hispanic immigrants want to advance beyond laboring jobs, they have to be ready for the all-English environment of American higher education.
When immigrants settle in a new land, they should be eager to embrace their adopted nation and learn as much about it as they can — including its language. It doesn’t take more than a few weeks for an observant foreigner to pick up the essential words and phrases. Hi. Bye. What? Where? How much? Help! By six months they should be able to hold simple conversations in the language of Shakespeare and George W. Bush. No excuses. The older folks might be pardoned for preferring the comforts of their native tongue. And The New Moderate encourages all hyphenated Americans to preserve their ancestral language and customs at home. But those who expect to work in the U.S. and attend school in the U.S. should learn the language of the U.S. — and until further notice at least, that language is English.
Some on the left (including our friend Lefty) note with satisfaction that the rise of Spanish in the U.S. represents a kind of historical justice, a reversion of stolen territory to its original tongue. But keep in mind that Spanish was the language of conquerors, not natives. (Anyone out there remember the conquistadors?) Nobody is striking a blow for the underdog by encouraging the acceptance of Spanish as a second language in these States.
A few decades ago the province of Quebec had the audacity to remove English from all its previously bilingual signs, even though its territory has been ruled by the British since 1763. (It’s been nearly 250 years, mes amis — time you got used to it!) The United States would clearly be more justified than Quebec in limiting its communications to a single language — the language of its founders and government. English.
Ultimately, America just can’t afford to deal with the prospect of nations within a nation. One of the great strengths of the U.S. has been its ability to absorb those huddled masses of immigrants and transform them into something called Americans. That transformation is critical to American identity. Without it, the U.S. will most likely decline into a fragmented, factional (think of Iraq or the former Yugoslavia) and depressingly third-rate nation.
Bias against speaking Spanish in the U.S. should never be equated with (or transformed into) prejudice against Hispanics. The New Moderate knows several Latino immigrants who speak fluent English and have adapted themselves to American life in the best immigrant tradition. I’m on their side (assuming they’re here legally), as all moderates should be. We can only hope they carry more clout in their community than those who like to pretend they’re still south of the border.
Summary: No special status should be granted to Spanish or the languages of other recent immigrants, who should learn English if they want to advance in American society.