05 January 2012

Reposted from Jobsanger

Does the above sign bother you because it gives the same information in two different languages? It does bother some people. These people want the United States to adopt an "official" language, English, and mandate that only that language be used on all signs, official paperwork, and in government offices. That would mean anyone in this country, whether visiting or living here, would just be out of luck if they could not speak fluent English.

And one of those people who want the United States to adopt an "English only" law is presidential candidate and current governor of Texas, Rick Perry (which is kind of weird since Spanish was spoken in Texas for a couple of hundred years before English was). In an Iowa campaign stop the other day, Rick Perry agreed with a teabagger who complained about other languages being used in this country.

I must admit that I have never understood this viewpoint. For one thing, even when immigrants come to this country without a knowledge of English their children and further generations are English-speakers. The inability to speak and write English never extends beyond a single generation. So even if this is a problem, it is a problem that corrects itself within a generation.

Second, how fair is it to cut off new immigrants from basic knowledge that everyone should be privy to? If a sign warns of danger or prohibits some kind of behavior (like the sign above), shouldn't as many people as possible be able to understand it? If a person has business in a government office, or must go to court, is it fair that the business be conducted in a language they don't understand? Of course not. Any American in a foreign country would expect a translator if they had to go to a government office or court, and we should do the same.

Third, just how does it hurt any English-speaking American to have signs, ballots, or other things in more than one language? The answer of course is that it doesn't hurt anyone. If English is your only language (which is sadly true of most Americans), then ignore the parts of the sign or document that aren't in English. Nobody is hurt by bi-lingual signs or documents, and some people are helped. That in itself is reason enough to continue doing it.

The only reason I can think of for wanting an English-only law is to force other people to be just like you. And trying to force others to be like you is not freedom -- it is just old-fashioned bigotry. It takes a pretty small-minded and bigoted person to think that their language or customs are better than those of other people.

Frankly, I love living in a country where a variety of languages are spoken and customs honored. And as a Texan, I believe the Spanish language, customs, and heritage (which were here long before any other) give a rich sub-text to the Texas experience -- and I wouldn't have it any other way.

We are lucky to live in the most interesting country in the world. It's time to set aside the bigotry and enjoy the rich texture of our modern America. Diversity is not a curse -- it's a treasure.

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