This article initially appeared on PolicyMic on 2/10/12
Campaigning through New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina, the Republican candidates employed harsh rhetoric about immigration reform, vowing to punish people in this country illegally. The Florida primaries last week, however, presented an immigrant-sympathetic constituency which the GOP candidates worked hard to sway.
Amidst the immigration debate, the issue once again arose of whether the U.S. should declare English the official language of the country. The candidates did not hesitate to continue their tactic of attacking one another to better themselves. In his string of negative ad campaigns, Mitt Romney accused Newt Gingrich of calling Spanish “the language of the ghetto.” While this may have contributed to Romney’s victory, should this really be an issue?
Given the daunting issues we face today, pursuing legislation to make English the official language would be overbearing and unnecessary for several reasons.
First, with 82.1 percent fluent speakers and a whopping 96 percent claiming proficiency, English is the unofficial official language in America. In order to effectively participate in political life and commerce in the country, it is to one’s advantage to learn English. Knowledge of the English language not only opens up doors that lead to the realization of the American dream of increased economic opportunity, but it makes integration into American society less stressful. Thus, there is already an incentive to learn English, it just has to be exploited and government coercion is unnecessary here.
Second, an official language will not discourage multilingualism, as people will continue to speak their native languages. As a child, I lived in a country where over 250 languages are spoken and English is the recognized official language. From that experience, there is no real difference between a “languageless” country such as the United States and having an official language. Most people still spoke in their native tongues but communicated in English in the public space.
Third, learning a new language is a gradual process that cannot be achieved overnight. Most immigrants come here as adults, making the learning process even harder. While they may never become fluent English speakers, their children and future generations will be. Thus, those who view other languages as threats to the preservation of our national English heritage are worrying needlessly.
However, although I agree that multilingualism should be encouraged because it promotes diversity and serves an as an asset in an increasingly globalized world, English should be the primary language of learning in the school system. While ESL and other foreign language-based programs in schools are beneficial in helping foreign students absorb into our education system, it would also be to their advantage to learn English, as this will maximize their capacity to excel outside the classroom.
America is a nation that prides itself on tolerance and its multicultural heritage, so a decision to pass legislation is unwarranted and will only play into reinforcing the suspicion that government is on a mission to infringe deeper into our privacy.
Contrary to popular belief, promulgating law that recognizes English as the official language of the U.S. would not lead to an overnight feeling of solidarity. It may however, intensify the alienation of minority groups. In addition, how would it be enforced? Would people be penalized or arrested for not being able to speak English fluently? Would the government be obligated to fund programs that provide English lessons? What are the cost-benefits? Questions such as these would have to be taken into account before considering passing such law.
Photocredit: Oregon Mag
And your speech gets slow and hazy
You better change your way of being
Before you found your brain got lazy
You can build a better future when you join the winning team
If you desire a bright tomorrow, you must build a brighter dream
Dare to let your dreams reach beyond you
Know that history holds more than it seems
We are here alive today because our ancestors dared to dream
From Africa they lay in the bilge of slave ships
And stood half naked on auction blocks
From eastern-Europe they crowded in vessels overloaded with immigrants
And were mis-named on Ellis island
From South America and Mexico, from Asia, they labored in sweat shops
From all over the world, they came to America
Many shivering in rags, and still they dared to dream
Let us dream for today and for tomorrow
Let us dare to dream”
— Maya Angelou”
I look super short but I can’t wait till the weather warms up so I can hit up Central Park! (Taken with instagram)
The past year was marked by global economic uncertainty, a vicious partisan divide in American government, and political protests/uprisings in the MENA region as well as in the West with Occupy Wall Street. Without a doubt, these events will shape the direction of world politics and political behavior in following years.
Ushering in the New Year and given the ambivalent state of affairs both in the domestic and international fronts, several political actors should adopt strategic New Year resolutions that would promote security and ensure some level of economic stability.
1. President Barack Obama – Throughout his presidency, the stringent party divide has restricted the president from making significant progress in tackling issues ailing the country. Although the unemployment rate dropped from 9% in November to 8.8% in December, the economy remains a top priority as 13.3 million Americans are still without jobs. Obama will have to continue working arduously to break through the partisan gridlock that has overwhelmed Washington in order to regain the support of disenfranchised Americans.
Secondly, Obama has been successful in terminating the Iraq War, eliminating Osama Bin Laden, and “suppressing” terrorist activities against the U.S. However, he cannot rest on these accomplishments. Ending the Afghan War and pulling troops from Afghanistan and Iraq would solidify some of the promises he made in 2008 and would place him in a better position for reelection.
2. OWS Leadership – OWS has chosen to shun the traditional top-down hierarchical leadership structures in place of peer-to-peer networking and working groups which may prevent outside infiltration, but how effective will this leadership approach be in the long run? OWS organizers in the United States should consider consolidating their demands, formulating a leadership panel, and taking their demands from Wall Street to Washington. Consolidating a single voice in the months leading up to the presidential elections could be very strategic in bringing their demands to fruition.
3. American Millennial Voters – Without a doubt, millennial voters have a very important role to play in the upcoming elections. Candidates will be targeting this population due to their vulnerable positions in the economy as recent grads and struggling job hunters. Republican candidate Mitt Romney has gone as far as to say, “If I’m president, all college grads will have a job….”
Although a bit drastic and unrealistic, Romney’s statement highlights the importance of young people’s votes to his campaign. Thus, a nonchalant attitude towards the presidential elections would be counterproductive because young voters have an opportunity to make their voices heard and demand more of government.
4. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – Iran has come under attack in recent months and much of current political discussion revolves around the “Iranian threat” which in reality is essentially non-existent. Ahmadinejad will have to remain a rational actor and employ diplomacy in order to avoid war with the U.S. and possibly a demise of the Islamic Republic as we know it. Unnecessary political chauvinism such as the one displayed by Saddam Hussein prior to the Iraqi invasion could prove detrimental to Iran and the rest of the world.
5. President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria – Finally, the president of the most populous African nation, as well as the world’s 10th largest oil producer, will have to seriously address the terrorist threat in his country. Boko Haram, an Islamist religious sect in the Northeast region of the country aiming to eliminate the Nigerian democracy and establish a fully Islamic state has committed acts of terrorism against the Nigerian people and their government since 2009.
Rumored to have links to Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram is responsible for the bombing of a United Nations building in the nation’s capital last summer and the bombing of five Catholic churches on Christmas Day. Nigeria’s role as one of the most prosperous countries in the continent is at stake if Jonathan does not act effectively in eradicating this threat.
Altogether, these politicians, groups, and many others have a very important role to play in the shaping of both American and global politics in years to come, and decisions made in 2012 will determine the future of history.