Editor’s note: Denis Wyatt is on vacation. This column first appeared on Feb. 20, 2011.
English may not be the official language of California but the day may be coming when you night not be able to get a government job if you don’t speak a second language.
The latest sign that we are heading down that slippery slope came this past week in Oakland.
That city settled two lawsuits for $400,000 brought by people upset that Oakland didn’t follow their first-in-the-nation ordinance adopted in 2001 that mandated the hiring of bilingual speakers to translate public documents for all non-English speaking groups that consisted of more than 10,000 municipal residents. In Oakland’s case, that meant the city had to hire Spanish and Chinese translators.
The ordinance specifically noted vacant positions involving workers that deal with the public had to be filled with bilingual staffs. Examples included receptionists and police officers.
Granted Oakland got sued because in recent years it stopped following its own ordinances to save money. It cost $220,000 in 2001 when the ordnance was first put in place.
Proponents of the ordinance pointed out it helps enfranchise non-English speaking residents, helps them better understand how to pay for permits and fees, and prevents mix-ups in police situations. One example given was a Chinese speaking woman who did not know English who asked a neighbor to help call police as her husband was beating her. In the confusion the neighbor got arrested because no one involved could communicate adequately in English. While that matter was quickly cleared up, proponents say not having non-English speaking police puts non-English speaking residents’ lives in jeopardy.
Gee, did it ever occur to anyone if they migrate to a foreign country where most people speak a different language they should learn to speak that language for their own safety and self preservation?
For the better part of 200 years, immigrants to this country, legal and otherwise, managed to gain enough of a command of the English language to survive and in many cases thrive. If they preferred their lives in whatever country they heralded where they weren’t required to speak English to communicate in a business, in school, on a job or with the government then perhaps they should have thought twice about coming to the United States.
Just because they had a case of buyer’s remorse doesn’t mean they are owed special accommodations.
The Declaration of Independence was not written in Spanish, Nor was it penned in Hmong, Chinese, French or Swahili.
Framers of the Constitution didn’t even consider the question of designating an official language for the new United States of America since commerce and government was being conducted in English.
The colonies conducted business in English. There were other languages spoken in North America. The Spanish controlled Florida at one point while the French were the masters of Canada and the area that later became known to American students as the Louisiana Purchase. California went through a similar metamorphosis. First, it was under the control of Spain, then Mexico and ultimately the United States.
Those not speaking English when more states were taken into the union quickly learned the language.
A country needs one unifying, common thread of language in its day-to-day commerce. That language in the United States is English.
Had the same cultural mentality that exists today been prevalent in Philadelphia 235 years ago, the Declaration of Independence would have been penned in English as well as Dutch, French, German and any other language representing minorities who resided within the 13 original colonies.
The balkanization of the United States via language ironically limits the rights and ultimately the progress of those who wish to carry on the culture and tongue of lands they so eagerly fled to reach these shores.
Cultural protectionists who view “separate but equal” as a way of advancing the rights of immigrants are working overtime to guarantee that those who arrive on our shores today without benefit of English will never have a chance to become fully invested in the American dream.
“Separate but equal” was a doctrine that propped up the old power structure of the South.
It’s ironic that immigrant advocates in the name of civil rights have spent much of the last 30 years demanding the courts force government to provide “separate but equal” programs for non-English speaking residents - legal and otherwise.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.