Fr. Ernesto has been running a series dealing with immigration and has included sections about language use. Here is his latest blog on the subject of language other than English in the USA. It has a different perspective from that which many of us Anglos bring with us to this blog.
. . . I oppose Tagalog in Alaska and French in Lousiana and Maine if used for official government purposes. And in New Mexico Spanish language rights are actually enshrined in the state Constitution (which I oppose). Census figures about language ability do not relate directly to the issue of official language use. The attempt to prove that there are few non-English speakers raises a provocative question: if it’s a non-issue, why am I confronted with Spanish in all sorts of official government settings? Whom is it serving, if the non-English speaking population is so small?
Sometimes history is the answer that gives the key to the answer to a conundrum. This is one of the cases in which a knowledge of history is very important. Let’s look back at history. Folks need to remember that in the southwest, in Florida, and in Puerto Rico, Spanish-speakers were present before the first Anglophone colony was set up in this country. Sadly, too many of those who argue today either make it seem as though the Spanish-speakers came here second or make it seem as though it is a purely immigrant issue. But, Spanish-speaking populations that date to before the arrival of Anglophones have preserved their heritage in all three places. But, with the possible exception of Puerto Rico, and as the 2000 Census pointed out, the vast majority of Latinos are bilingual and quite Anglophone. So what is the big deal?
Well, we are in the same position as the Scots, the Welsh, and the Irish. Just like them, we were invaded by the English–in this case the USA. And just like in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, regular and constant attempts have been made by those English (Anglophones) to eliminate our language and our culture. [Remember I, too, was born in a country that was a colony of the USA for a very short time.] For the Scots and the Welsh, the road back to their language and culture has been very difficult. At one point, Welsh was a fading language. But now it is finally a growing language again. And, yes, many signs and forms in Wales are now present or available in both languages in spite of the fact that all the Welsh speak English. In Scotland there is a rather extreme “freedom” party that is non-violent but argues for the independence of Scotland. They are the parallel to some of the extreme Latino parties in the southwest. In Puerto Rico, up to 1/3 of the population has favored independence at various time, again a parallel to the Scottish experience.
Here is the bottom line. If you support the Welsh and the Scots and the Irish in their efforts to preserve their language and culture, then you should be willing to support Latinos in their drive to preserve their language and culture. Should I mention that both the Scots and the Welsh quite often display “their” flags either alone or alongside the Union Jack? And yet, in time of war, the Welsh and the Scots show themselves to be faithful British subjects, just like the many Latinos that have faithfully and willingly served in the Armed Forces of the United States.
Yes, the Census shows that the overwhelming majority of us are bilingual. But that is not the point. We are as unwilling as the Scots and the Welsh to have our culture and our language suppressed by the “English.” That is why it is such a big deal.
Here is a fun quote from the movie Braveheart to finish with:
King’s Advisor: [to Princess] Sanguinarius homo indomitus est, et se me dite cum mendacia. [He is a bloody murdering savage. And he’s telling lies]
William Wallace: Ego nunquam pronunciari mendacium! Sed ego sum homo indomitus. [I never lie. But I am a savage]
William Wallace: [to Princess] Ou en français, si vous préférez? [Or in French if you prefer?]