THE VOICE OF REASON
Spanish Language

  I DON'T "HABLA" YET . . . DO YOU?

Nick Jimenez, a writer for and editor of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, recently criticized former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, for proposing English as the official language of government ("Working Overtime to Learn English," May 18, 2008). The proposal, Mr. Jimenez believes, is little more than "one of those jingoistic bludgeons used against immigrants."  "This is leadership?" he sardonically asks.  In response to his question, I respond emphatically and categorically:  "Yes, it most certainly is!"

For anyone who cares to observe the phenomenon, there is a monstrous invasion of the United States taking place across its southern border and on a daily basis.  Many of the invaders are from Latin America, while most are from neighboring Mexico.  Regardless of their immigration status, these aliens speak a single language -- Spanish.  They tend also to settle in this country in enclaves, which they are gradually transforming into various versions of their own third world.  This is an incontestable fact and, if Mr. Jimenez refuses to believe it, I encourage him to read Victor Davis Hanson's brilliant book, Mexifornia: A State of Becoming.  Hanson points out that in Selma, California, his own hometown, more people now speak Spanish than English and that, what is more, in order to accommodate this lamentable reality, most of the town signage is in Spanish.  Genuine assimilation to the traditional standards of American culture is no longer occurring there.  Surprise, surprise.

"But Selma, California," you exclaim, "that's an insignificant hole in the road!" Well, yes and no.  It is a small community, but it is a microcosm of what is happening throughout the country.  The influx consists not only of Mexicans and Latin Americans, but also of Cubans and Puerto Ricans.  This is why Harvard professor, Samuel P. Huntington, refers to it as "The Hispanic Challenge." It is a kind of euphemism for a bloody mess!

Consider the following: in 2003, more than 40 percent of the population of Hartford, Connecticut, was Hispanic, well exceeding the city's black population.  "Hartford," the city's first Hispanic mayor proclaimed, "has become a Latin city, so to speak.  It's a sign of things to come," with Spanish increasingly used as the language of government and commerce.  Now, there's the real story, Mr. Jimenez!  Why not print that?

This unrighteously indignant newspaper editor also fails to point out another interesting fact.  It is that second- and third-generation Mexican Americans and other Hispanics, even when they come legally to this country, deviate from the usual pattern of the American immigrant by maintaining their competence in and continuing to speak their native language.  It is not unusual to observe them conversing with a department store clerk, placing an order in a restaurant, receiving instructions in a voting booth, or testifying in open court, in – yes, you guessed it – Español!

Oh, yes, there is a third fact Mr. Jimenez also neglects to mention. Maintaining competence in Spanish hardly appears to be the overall goal of Hispanic leadership. Osvaldo Soto, of the Spanish American League Against Discrimination, has stated that "English is not enough.  We don't want a monolingual society." But wait a moment:  what is that again?  The goal is not assimilation to a 400-year old American standard, but the transmogrification of American culture!  Get ready, in other words, for more signs on restroom doors that say "occupado" and additional ones on and about election day that read "Vote Aqui!"  Duke University literature professor Ariel Dorfman, a Chilean immigrant, asks, "Will this country [the USA] speak two languages or merely one?"  I need not tell you what the professor's recommendation is.

Let me be crystal clear:  I do not criticize any person who wishes to develop fluency in multiple languages; in fact, I applaud the goal as a private endeavor. Kindly highlight that last phrase – as a "private" endeavor opposed to a public policy.

Having said this, the truth is that America may sooner than we think become a bilingual nation.  Before this officially happens, however, I suggest that a vote be taken on the matter.  In fact, I  propose a plebiscite concerning not only whether to embrace bilingualism, but also concerning which other language to include within its compass. It is a bit presumptuous, even outrageous, to try to convert a traditionally English-speaking culture into one where Spanish has equal billing and to do so without polling the people first, is it not?  Although disregarding the will of the people may be an acceptable mode of operation in the great "promised land" immediately south of us, the idea strikes a Hun like myself as blatantly undemocratic.

Who knows, there may also be those who relish the idea of a bilingual American culture, but just not Spanish for heaven's sake!  Who, after all, with the exception of a few notables like Cervantes and Ortega y Gassett, have written in that language?  Some may wonder what a student, after mastering the language,will be able to do with it.  Read the presidential addresses of Vicente Fox?  Run for the governorship of New Mexico?  Or order from the alternative menu listings at IHOP?

The English language is an essential tie that binds our culture together.  It is that part of the American experience that safeguards the country from descending into chaos by becoming a Tower of Babel.  To compromise the pre-eminence of the English language, as the rudimentary element of our culture it is, has a fragmenting effect, creates misunderstanding and hard feelings, and makes for hyphenated Americans.  Is that what we really need and want?

May 20, 2008