English Only: Putting a limit on intelligence

Xelena Gonzalez

The most worthless piece of junk mail I’ve ever received at Northwestern — besides the school’s quarterly Drug & Alcohol Policy pamphlet — was a solicitation for donation to the U.S. English Only campaign. They actually asked me, a young, educated Latina, for money to support their racist, elitist goal of legally making English the “official” language in our country. I’m not sure where they retrieved their mailing list, but sending me that crap was about as misguided as offering a free Maxim subscription to a convent.

Perhaps they thought they could sway me by including a cover letter from a fellow Mexican American who is actually in support of this campaign. He talked about the struggles of growing up Latino and speaking another language. He emphasized the need to assimilate, to speak only English to succeed in this country. He encouraged other Latinos to do as he did, to contribute money to this campaign, to sell his own people out. His rhetoric screamed coconut (that’s the brown version of an Oreo); he is something of a Ward Connerly for the Latino community.

Other “average Americans” gave testimonials about their encounters with sales people who spoke only Hindi, or stores that had signs only in Vietnamese. One woman actually complained, as a concerned taxpayer, about footing the bill for Spanish translations on the backsides of everything from tax and census forms to library-card applications. And here I thought America wanted all those illegals accounted for and educated.

These folks believed everyone should be required to learn the one official language of English, to make things easier on everyone (“everyone” meaning the white majority, of course). I just figured they’d hit the crack pipe one too many times, until I actually encountered a few NU students who feel the same way. These kids aren’t stupid and they’re probably not bigots — just a little misinformed.

To those who feel the same way as these students, let me pose one question — a question many of Alianza’s guest speakers have reiterated: When did knowing more become a bad thing? Limiting ourselves to English would only limit our capabilities and lower the bar of intelligence. Why would you choose to close yourself off from learning or being exposed to something new and different?

If that’s not substantial enough of an argument, check out the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the agreement that turned over Texas, California, New Mexico and Arizona to the United States. This document legally protects our rights as Mexican Americans to maintain our language, land, religion and citizenship. Repatriation proved that the United States didn’t stick to the land and citizenship part of the promise, so it’s our duty to preserve our language against all odds. I would hope other “ethnic” Americans feel the same way, that they are not ashamed of their native tongues, but choose to celebrate them with confidence.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. But when in America, do as you damn well please. Because that’s your right.

Esto fue dedicado a mis compañeros de U.S. Latino Literature, que no solo me dan la libertad para expresar mis ideas, pero también comparten las suyas.