I found myself in a Starbucks on Saturday afternoon in the middle of this Outlet Mall that my partner Susan was walking her way through. I ordered my iced green tea, found a table and sat with my laptop surfing the web and writing off and on.
After about a half an hour I stopped reading and writing and simply took in my surroundings. It was then that I realized that not one person who was seated around me was speaking English. There was this brief moment when I had to stop and think if I was in the United States or in a Starbucks on one of the Philippine Islands. Yes, it was also in that brief moment that I realized that I was thinking and sounding like a Republican… It was a sad, sad reality for me.
Yesterday I was at my Grandson’s High School Graduation and again, I found myself surrounded by people who didn’t speak English. Well, maybe they did, they were simply choosing to speak Spanish, Tagalog… anything but English. I found it so disconcerting, sitting trying to listen to kids give their Commencement speeches while the people around me were talking amongst themselves in their chosen language. I finally turned around and gave the people behind me the “look,” which in any language means: “Shut the hell up.”
I hate it when that little Conservative English-speaking devil sits on my shoulder, I really do. I can feel that frickin pitchfork he carries digging into my shoulder and I can hear that distorted voice saying: “If they want to live here, they need to speak the language…” I hate it even more when I agree with this distorted voice.
There is also a little Liberal devil that sits on my other shoulder waving an American flag saying – we all need our freedom, we all need our individuality, we all need the freedom to be you and me! You can’t force someone to speak a certain language – you’ll take away their individual heritages their customs, their history.
At this very moment in time, the House Republicans are moving ever closer to voting on a bill that would make English the official language of the United States. The bill would require official functions of the United States to be conducted in English, and would also establish the English language as a requirement for naturalization. Don’t judge me – but I wonder if this really is such a bad thing…
The 2010 census shows us that 25.2 million, or 9 percent of the US population over the age of five is Limited English Proficient. This means that 25.2 million people do not speak English as their primary language and have limited ability to read, write, speak or understand English. And for these 25.2 million people we spend tax dollars printing everything from cereal labels to ballots in the language they have chosen to speak. Is this a good way to spend our tax dollars? I’m having trouble dealing with the pitchfork and the American flag on this one.
I do, however, believe the whole melting pot era is long gone. Monetarily, we cannot afford this whole notion of multilingualism. Printing ballots in 7, 8, 9 or more languages is an expense most counties in the nation cannot afford. Bilingual education can cost taxpayers up to billions – yes, with a B – a year.
How can we possibly be a nation united when we don’t understand what the person standing beside us is saying? Already we have 25.2 million people, 9 percent of the population who cannot speak, read, or understand English proficiently. What happens to us as a nation when that number reaches 10 percent, 15 percent, or 30 percent?
I’m not saying we should have to speak English all the time, and certainly I would never even dream of taking away a person’s heritage. That’s not what this is about. I just believe we should know enough to read a ballot, and be able to read and understand the labels on food. We should certainly be able to read the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence of the County in which we are a citizen, in the language in which it was written. We should have the ability to communicate with cashiers and neighbors, police officers and 911 operators. I just believe if the people sitting behind me at my Grandson’s graduation spoke English, they might have shut up long enough to listen to what the kids were speaking about… then again – perhaps they did speak English, and they were just rude. If that’s the case, this blog should really be about people not having manners…
Whatever the case may have been, I believe before we no longer understand the people with whom we have contact on a daily basis, before we no longer have the ability to communicate with one another, and before we go broke writing everything in 100 different languages; the subject of a universal language in The United States of America needs to be addressed. (Pitchfork and Flag both waving in the wind!)