To what degree do the words you use define the person you are? This is a central question in the hotly debated issue of making English the official language of the United States. If English did become the official language, the rights of people who do not speak English would be violated and the nation would be further segregated. Just as schools were segregated in our past, this again would show that segregation equals discrimination. People must understand that every citizen deserves the right to celebrate their diversity. The government need not interfere with the words that come out of people’s mouths. In a country torn by prejudice and segregation, the official language should serve as a reminder that America is as diverse population where differences are embraced, not ignored.
According to Dickstein, a bilingual citizen of Quebec, this scenario is only too familiar. As a Canadian citizen, he experienced the hardships of living in a country torn by a war of language. Quebec is a largely French speaking population that wishes to break away from it’s mother land Canada, mainly because of the language barriers. He feels that the U.S is now facing the beginnings of language problems similar to the ones Canada experienced.
One example of such problems is the proposal of the English Language Empowerment Act of 1996. This act suggested that all governmental official business be available only on English. The biggest threat of this act comes into play when voting. If the English Language Empowerment Act was passed, ballots would only be distributed in English. Providing citizens with documents and ballots in their chosen tongue allows them to play a vital role in deciding their government. Every citizen deserves to have their vote count. By not providing alternative ballots, the voice of democracy is being disregarded. It is necessary to increase the non-English speakers turn out for voting, not diminish it. By denying them an outlet to voice their opinion in a language they understand, the American people are denied a fresh perspective on governmental issues. After all, every citizen makes up the American government. To be an American entitles you the right to freedom of speech.
America has always represented a land of opportunity. Opportunity draws immigrants here in search of a place where they could start over, rebuild, and prosper as a direct result of their hard work. America offered its citizens hopes of the “good life”. But, how can America promise that if its laws are intolerant to the immigrants languages? By not accepting their language, they are immediately set up to be an outsider. They are seen as foreigners as opposed to citizens. People who don’t speak English are often assumed not to be Americans. In order to assist in the conversion of the immigrants to a new society, is necessary to provide them with signs, documents, ballots that they can understand.
As Dickstein points out, denying them of materials in their language does not help them learn English any faster. He proposes that America should not be “English-only but strive to be English Plus.” By this he means that we should not prohibit the use of other languages in order to make immigrants speak English. On the contrary, he suggests that “English Plus, like English-only, demands that everything feasible be done to encourage all Americans to achieve a minimum level of competence in English and to share a vision of what it means to be American.” People who do not speak English should be responsible for learning the language. America should make access to English classes more attainable and widespread. After all, a person does not just pick up a language because the government requires it. It takes months or even years of practice and hard work. So in the mean time, it makes no sense to deny them of articles in their own languages.
America was once described as a “melting pot”. This analogy refers to the opinion that to make America strong, its citizens need to let go of their individual identities and surrender to the uniformity of the nation. Thus, it suggests that “nationality” represents the idea that every citizen is the same. This, of course, is completely irrational. One look around shows just how diverse the population is. It is unreasonable to expect everyone to communicate in the same way. At times language can serve as a barrier to communication, but that does not mean that everyone must conform to the same rigid ideals of expression.
America is better described in terms of a puzzle. Every citizen has his or her unique shape, color, and identity. When they are allowed to maintain that unique identity and then come together, the result is a multicolored and vivid picture of something completely different. Dickstein comments on this idea by stating, ” the need to impose uniformity ..leads to the infringements on freedom and cultural openness.” The differences amongst citizens in our country should be embraced, not shunned. The attempt to label something as diverse as America is next to impossible. Categorizing an entire population of people under on official language is a falsehood. American citizens speak over 300 different languages so it is not accurate to say the official language is English. To do so would be similar to saying that every American is a white male, middle-aged, white collared worker, with a wife, 2.2 kids, and a Golden Retriever dog; it simply is not true.
Among the many faces of Americans, there are several that are overlooked. As explained by English professor Doug Gross, when the founders of this country attempted to settle the colonies, it was agreed upon that a common language was necessary. They being of English decent, obviously assumed that language should be English, as opposed to the German farmers of Pennsylvania, Polish butchers, or Irish laborers for example. They were in power so they were the ones to enforce their opinion as English for the unofficial, but nationally recognized, language. Similarly, today the English speakers are still in power, and it is still their voices heard when the topic of official languages come up. There is little representation of minority groups in Congress, or in any other significant part of the government. There is little that non-English speakers can do to give their opinions if their voices are overlooked in many faces of an English-only speaking government. These people represent a majority of America’ poor, homeless, or struggling. It is increasingly difficult for these people to make it in a country that doesn’t even recognize their language.
In conclusion, the motion to make English the official language of the United states is on I strongly oppose. To do so would result in the further segregation of American people because it chooses to ignore the population’s diversity. If the English Language Empowerment Act of 1996 were to pass, it would only add to the confusion that immigrants are overwhelmed with upon entering America. The act requires that governmental ballots be in English, which further complicates and deters non-English speaking citizens a role in government. Instead of passing laws which threaten and penalize non-English speaking citizens, the government should develop programs with incentives that encourage people to steadily convert to English. Furthermore, Dickstein holds that people should not be limited to only English. It is important to remember that every American citizen is an individual and therefor has a right to maintain their own identity.