Kentucky: Language proposal deserved rejection
hfsclpp at gmail.com
Tue Feb 3 18:32:35 UTC 2009
Language proposal deserved rejection
Monday, February 2, 2009
A century ago, when the New Immigration from Southern and Eastern
Europe and Asia was at its height, it was noted that visitors to great
American cities could tell what section of town they were in by the
aroma of the cooking and the different languages they heard.
There were efforts to restrict immigration as there were efforts to
encourage assimilation. Both efforts persist today. The current
downturn in the American economy has served as its own brake on
illegal immigration, and it seems removed from the hue and cry of a
couple of years ago.
As many have noted, the United States is a nation of immigrants.
American culture is richer for this diversity — and that includes the
language we speak. Thus, it was a relief late last month when voters
in Nashville rejected a proposal that all government business be done
in English. The vote was 41,752 against the proposal and 32,144 for
it, reflecting the division in our nation over the issue of
immigration reform. Nashville Councilman Eric Crafton promoted the
referendum as a way to unite Nashvillians and avoid the extensive and
costly translation services of other cities. Had it passed, Nashville
would have been the largest U.S. city requiring all government
business be in English.
Business, academic and religious leaders; Nashville Mayor Karl Dean,
and Gov. Phil Bredesen said the proposal would tarnish the city's
welcoming image, harm tourism and business recruitment and endanger
federal funding for city services. (In Knoxville, there are no
"English only" initiatives for city government, said William Lyons,
senior director of policy and communications.)
The English language is rich with phrases from many other cultures,
and we use these every day without question and with little thought to
their origin. It is difficult to understand how one can appreciate
this literary and linguistic contribution to our language and at the
same time prevent a city government from using a second or third
language to help perform the services its citizens expect.
Studies of immigrants have shown that, while the first generation to
come here experiences difficulty learning and speaking English, the
second often becomes fluent in both languages and the third no longer
speaks the native tongue or has to learn it anew.
Lourdes Perez, director of Knoxville's Catholic Hispanic Ministry,
said it takes about 10 years to fully learn English. Meanwhile, the
ability to have necessary documents and information in another
language is a big help during a time of transition.
She said that, while she encourages people to learn English, "Many of
these people are in survival mode — getting the kids to school and
putting food on the table — and going to class to learn English isn't
always a priority."
We are a much better society when we can provide those who want to
become American citizens eventually with the help they need for
day-to-day living instead of throwing up obstacles just because we
believe we can.
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