One Country, One Language

Wait — I know most of those who blame the administration for every calamity since the San Francisco earthquake aren’t going to believe this, but the President had a good idea. A real good one. While out in Iowa, trying to sell immigration reform, he called on immigrants to "learn the values and history and language of America." "The language," yes! Say it again, George!

It may be that plenty of longtime Americans, like, you know, don’t, you know, speak, like, you know, English so good either. And say "who" in place of "whom" when the sentence calls for a direct object. Let that go. Even bad English is recognizable as English, which is more than one can say of the Spanish that huge segments of the business and political communities have introduced to the American mainstream through signage, telephone prompts and the like.

What is wrong with Spanish? Nothing is wrong with Spanish. Nearly all of us in Texas and the Southwest pick up at least a bit of it with ease and appreciation as we go about daily life, on account of our proximity to Mexico and Mexicans. This is fine. What isn’t so fine is the unannounced campaign one encounters everywhere to present Spanish as a valid alternative to English. If we want to embed Spanish in the daily routines and rhythms of 21st century America, let’s keep putting up signs in department stores explaining, in Spanish, which products are where. And let’s keep offering, on recorded telephone messages, the opportunity to press "numero uno" in order to hear Spanish. Most of all, let’s keep providing ballots and political information in Spanish.

Caramba! Madre mia! What a bunch of idiocy on the part of, you would have thought, intelligent Anglos. You don’t exactly integrate newcomers into a new culture by encouraging their reliance on the language of the old culture. Why should anyone who speaks Spanish give it up, or put it aside, when there are no major economic or cultural penalties attached to the nonuse of English? If I moved to Mexico to work, I’d go right on speaking English, assuming Mexican society granted me the same sort of linguist incentives we grant Mexicans here — something that Mexico sensibly declines to do.

What’s wrong with Americans? It’s good old 1960s cultural guilt more than anything else. We can’t stop despising ourselves. The idea that America should have a unitive culture and philosophy — why, it’s just racist, that’s what! We can’t tell the rest of the world what to do, even on our home ground. We listen with thirsty ear while the rest of the world tells us what to do.

All right, I exaggerate. Still, the white-Anglo-guilt factor, more than anything else, helps Spanish secure for itself a larger and larger place in our affairs. With Congress’ extension sometime this summer of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, we may expect the provision of Spanish-language voting materials to continue, raising as it does the question of how such materials inspire commitment to the ideals and systems of the English-speaking.

Let us reflect that the President paired the need for learning English with the need to learn American "values and history." It all goes together — a single package deeded to us ages ago. Alas, the language of Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison is the same language some of their political heirs have decided to let go of or play down.

You can say it doesn’t matter — that the content alone matters. Maybe, and maybe not. Begin by saying your language doesn’t matter all that much to you. You might next discover some of your values don’t either — a judgment the custodians of our 1960s and ’70s legacy seem well-prepared to make.

In these confused and confusing times, one of the most sensible things Americans can do is preserve linguistic unity. Let’s be able to understand and respond when someone informs us we’re really up a creek.