Official English Does
Not Mean Discrimination

An Immigrant Gives a Different Perspective
to the English-Only Debate

by Marilyn Medina, NPRI Business Manager

am not a Nazi, a Klan member or a skinhead simply
because I support making English the official language
of the United States. This mischaracterization is a myth perpetuated by those opposed to official English laws. In fact, I am an immigrant and English is my second language.

Furthermore, there are a lot more people out there like me than what many people have been lead to believe. For instance, a 1993 San Francisco Chronicle article stated that "90 percent of Filipino, 78 percent of Chinese, and almost 70 percent of Hispanic immigrants in California supported official English." In fact California, Hawaii, Florida and Alabama are just a few of the 23 states that have already passed official English laws. (Nevada Assembly Bill 441 —a bill that would have designated English as the official language of the Nevada—was killed in Government Affairs Committee; the chairman refused to even hold a hearing on the bill.)

According to the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, "English is used as an official or semi-official language in over 60 countries and has prominent place in another 20. It is either dominant or well established on all six continents." Some of these countries include: Guyana, India, Irish Republic, Liberia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Zimbabwe. English is already de facto a "world" language recognized as such by other countries in recognition of the political and economic progress made by English-speaking nations in the past 200 years.

Making English the official language of the United States is more than just a symbolic issue. English as a common language would foster unity in this country, something I know from my own experience. I was born and went to school in the Philippines, which consists of thousands of islands with many dialects. In the first grade I was taught several languages including English. (In fact, many of my books were printed in English). It was understood that a country whose citizens speak hundreds of dialects could never be truly united; hence the need for a common language.

Allowing English to be America's official language is not just a symbolic issue; it is also an economic issue. Currently, many government documents are written in multiple languages, costing taxpayers millions of dollars. And if we're going to allow our money to be used to translate government documents in many different languages, then what about including other languages for taxpayers as well? It is hypocritical to have only Spanish, French, etc. without also including the other languages. Isn't it discriminatory to exclude even the smallest minority?

When my family and I moved to the United States, we felt privileged to be here. (Notice…I did not say we felt we had a right to be here.) I even remember the moment when my grandfather cried with joyful tears when he passed his U.S. citizenship test. He taught me that in order to be successful, you have to be willing to make adjustments.

In addition, my parents encouraged me to speak English. Others may argue that my parents disconnected my culture from me. On the contrary, my parents would be horrified if I forget my roots. In fact, I will never forget where I came from. It will always be a part of me. Furthermore, I think it is stupid and ignorant for people to think that speaking only in English will rip a culture from someone. How can anyone, especially the government, do that? Completely giving up one'

s culture is of one's own volition. As Mauro E. Mujica, chairman of U.S. English said, "...maintaining one's original language is the responsibility of the individual, not the government."

As an immigrant, I had the responsibility to adjust accordingly in this new country. I don't expect this country to cater to my needs, nor do I feel that it should cater unneccessarily to those of anyone else. u

Marilyn Medina is NPRI's business manager.

Join NPRI

Op-Ed index | Search | Comment | Journal index