American Elephants

We want you to speak English… by The Elephant's Child

Yesterday, Obama’s comments to an Hispanic audience about speaking English were widely discussed. The context of Obama’s remarks seemed to be that there is something negative about demanding that immigrants learn English. Here is what Obama said:

You know, I don’t understand when people are going around worrying about “We need to have English — only.”They want to pass a law, “We want English — only.”

Now I agree that immigrants should learn English. I agree with that. But understand this. Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English — they’ll learn English — you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish.

Obama’s assumption that all immigrants learn English is incorrect. Many do not take advantage of English classes on offer. But that is not the point. English is the language of commerce in this country, and people who cannot speak English correctly are handicapped in the job market, and in their financial dealings.

But there is a far more important point, made particularly by Daniel Boorstin.

No nation ever believed more firmly that its political life was based on a perfect theory. It was given to us by our first settlers and the Founding Fathers, and is continually embodied in the American experience. We celebrate the United States as the Land of the Free. We believe in American Independence, American equality, American liberty and American democracy; in sum, the American Way of Life. And it is embodied in this special land. The American Myth tells the story of ordinary people moving into an extraordinary land, and in overcoming the challenges of the frontier, they were changed, transformed. The ordeal in the wilderness created the American — free-thinking, optimistic, tough, open and self-reliant.

What we ask of new immigrants is that they become Americans, accept our history as theirs, our values and our way of life. We give no special honors to those who have been here longer. The American whose ancestors came with the Winthrop fleet, or across the land bridge from Siberia or through Ellis Island share the very same American way of life as the newest citizen from El Salvador or Ethiopia.

They must stop being citizens of Mexico or Britain or El Salvador and become Americans. Equal Americans. And part of that is speaking the American language. Not for our convenience as Obama suggests in The Audacity of Hope:

And, if I’m honest with myself, I must admit that I’m not entirely immune to such nativist sentiments….When I’m forced to use a translator to communicate with the guy fixing my car, I feel a certain frustration.

But as a necessary part of becoming an American, they must learn our common language, for we want them to become full participants in American life.

Obama is thinking (again) of foreigners’ impressions of America. How tacky of us not to speak several languages as our European betters do. But Europeans can travel a few miles and be in another country where another language is spoken. Many Americans learn a foreign language in school, yet never have the experience of having to speak it, and it soon fades away.

English is best learned in school by immersion, not by treating English as a “second language”. Liberal ideas of “multiculturalism” are naïvely intended to celebrate all cultures as equal. Helping new immigrants to remain apart, living in their own neighborhood, speaking their old language, observing their old customs may seem kind. The problems that Europeans are having with immigrants who do not assimilate, and who want to impose their old customs and laws on their new country, are a direct result of misguided and meaningless “multiculturalism”.

The United States has done a surprising job of assimilating newcomers. We are, after all, a nation of immigrants. What is astonishing is the intensity of patriotism among new citizens created by this simple fact.

We must understand, when the left pushes “multiculturalism”, that it has nothing to do with cultures, and everything to do with politics. Americans know this instinctively. 83% say getting immigrants to speak English is a higher priority than creating a “bilingual” America.

9 Comments so far
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I live in South Florida. I significant portion of my taxes goes to accomodate the immigrants that chose not to learn English. To believe that immigrants will learn English is out of touch with my reality.


Comment by Calvin

I think your experience is common across the country. Letting kids in school continue to speak their native language rather than learn English quickly is cruel to them. By forcing immigrants to learn English we are helping them to assimilate, which opens the possibilities of our country for them.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

“What we ask of new immigrants is that they become Americans, accept our history as theirs, our values and our way of life.” Whose history is “our history”? Lakota? Navajo? Hopi? Oh yes, I forgot. Neocon clowns believe in exterminating the original inhabitants of America, not “accept Lakota history as ours” even as they demand the same from others. “Do Unto Others” isn’t in their playbook. Why aren’t we accepting Navajo history as ours, and demanding the Spics and Nips and Kikes and Wetbacks and Wops and Guineas learn Navajo history? Because this is a Christian Neocon Clown Fascist nation, or those such as the author of this blog would like it to be.


Comment by Judas Disney

The last I heard, the Lakota people and the Navajo and the Hopi were all proud Americans, and certainly they are a part of us, and their history is part of ours. Did you ever hear of the Navajo code-talkers? Have you ever seen a ghost dance shirt or a buffalo jump, or visited a Hopi pueblo? Do you know the history of the neo-conservatives who are mostly elderly, but still around? Also proud Americans who have contributed greatly to this country. Put away your copy of Howard Zinn’s Marxist history and crawl back under your rock. Surely your mother taught you not to call people names.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

You really ought to learn what words mean before you use them Judas Disney. Fascists are people who want big, powerful, central government to control everything and everyone — just like liberals. Fascism is a phenomenon of the left, not the right. Conservatives of all stripes want smaller government with less power precisely because we have learned from history what big government leftists do to the people when the people don’t do as they wish. Try reading Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, which we link to in the side bar. Try educating yourself.

Also, if you are so upset about how America has treated Indians, then I suggest you start by giving your property back to them.


Comment by American Elephant

Judas Disney, our history is the history of the United States of America, which includes the history of the native peoples here. It includes the positive and negative aspects of that history. That’s what history is–the study of the past as it was, not the past as we wish it had been or as it should have been.

Can you name any Neocon who has called for the extermination of native people? Unless you can cite a source you ought to refrain from making the accusation. (I’m not supporting “Neocons” necessarily–just truth.)

Here’s the relevant question for you: when immigrants move to America, do they apply to live in the Navajo Nation or the Iroquois Nation? No, they apply to live in the United States of America, which is what the real topic here is. Essentially all you did was change topics.

The last time I checked all US history textbooks and all US history courses do include material on our native peoples.


Comment by renaissanceguy

You are right that Judas Disney is wrong in calling conservatives fascist. The problem is, the Republican party is no longer conservative. Conservative does mean smaller government. I haven’t seen much of that under your boy W. Libertarians are the true conservatives in this country, love it or hate it. Don’t misuse the word to refer to John McCain or George “What Constitution?” Bush. The religious right has turned the Republicans away from conservative ideals. A national language is not a conservative concept. Such a law would be expanding our government, restricting people’s rights, and going against the intentions of our Founding Fathers.


Comment by Bill

I don’t think that we need an official “national language”, but I do believe that every immigrant should be required to learn English. I am opposed to bilingual education, it has been proven over and over that immersion works better.

To state those facts is not to denigrate anyone’s other language. Another language requirement in high school or college is fine, but unless kids are put into a situation where they use the second language regularly, the requirements are useless.

People don’t realize how different this big country is than European countries where a few miles will put you in a different country with a different language.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

I don’t know what the religious right has to do with this. I certainly don’t see anywhere that the religious right is calling for bigger government, or where they have turned Republicans away from conservatism. In fact, as far as I can tell, it is religious conservatives who are most upset with the abandonment of conservative principles. It has been so-called “moderate” Republicans that have decided the way to get re-elected is to bring home the pork and vote like Democrats.

And yes, the government did get bigger under President Bush. Almost entirely because of the new Department of Homeland Security, which he opposed.

But your characterization of President Bush as “what constitution” Bush is simply silly and ill informed.

As for a national language, no one is suggesting people be forced to speak English, what I suggest, and I didn’t write this post, would shrink the US government, because I wouldn’t allow the government to publish materials, or provide services in any language but English. If you come to my country and want the government to help you, it is incumbent on you to learn how to communicate in English, it is not incumbent on me to pay for translators and interpreters.


Comment by American Elephant

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