In 40 years, guess which country will be the largest Spanish-speaking nation on earth? The United States of America. To boot, Spanish will be just behind Chinese as the most commonly spoken language in the world.
These are, of course, only predictions. They come from a good source, though—Humberto López Morales, general secretary of the Association of Spanish Language Academies. But some Americans are already taking steps to prevent Morales' first prediction from coming true. Iowa Rep. Steve King reportedly plans to reintroduce a bill that would make English the official language of the U.S. The bill would require those trying to become naturalized U.S. citizens to be tested on their ability to read, write and speak English. It would also require that those pursuing U.S. citizenship be tested on their comprehension of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and related texts. Lastly, it would mandate that official functions of the U.S. government be carried out in English, which could mean that voting ballots would appear in no language besides English.
This bill fails on so many levels. To start with, why declare America an English-only country now? For years, immigrants of German, Italian, Norwegian, etc. descent came to this country and not only conducted business in their native languages but even educated their children in them. Proposing an English-only America now raises the idea that King isn't so much concerned with having a unifying language for the country but that the U.S. has been attracting the wrong kind of immigrants—non-white ones. King's remarks on race in recent months don't help matters.
In December, when the federal government finally paid a settlement to African-American farmers who experienced years of discrimination, King accused President Obama of giving them reparations for slavery. Never mind that these farmers had been systematically denied loans and subsidies that led to them losing their livelihoods. The settlement had nothing to do with that and everything to do with a sneaky black president getting back at the man by handing out reparations. (Right.)
Unfortunately, this wasn't the first time King tried to put Obama on blast. Last June he not only flatly stated that Obama favors black people but attacked Attorney Gen. Eric Holder in the same vein. He accused Holder of saying "white people in America are cowards when it comes to race." But Holder never said that. In fact, he called America a nation of cowards when it comes to race.
Who knows? Maybe King made this mistake because in his mind America and white are one in the same. And that mindset is the driving force behind his vision of an English-only United States.
Why, for example, does King want immigrants to be tested on their comprehension of the Constitution, when native English speakers have trouble digesting its antiquated language? And the possibility that ballots would be printed exclusively in English is really frightening. I live in a community where Spanish, Armenian, and Tagalog are all commonly spoken, along with English. I want my neighbors to exercise their right to vote because they care as much as I do about what happens in the community. The fact that some of them don't speak English fluently doesn't negate that.
Arguably, what's most upsetting about the proposed English-only legislation is the notion that immigrants somehow resist learning the language. Do some people feel insecure about their English-speaking ability? Sure, but insecurity and resistance aren't the same thing. When I taught at a mostly Latino school, the top goal parents had for their children is that they be fluent in English. And a 2007 report by the Pew Foundation bears this out. It found that although 23 percent of Latino immigrants spoke English very well, 88 percent of their children did, and 94 percent of their grandchildren did.
There's no conspiracy on the part of immigrants against English. Newcomers to the U.S. just often lack the resources needed to learn it. If the industries that typically hire immigrants provided opportunities for them to master the language, you can bet the number of English-speaking immigrants would rise.
Overall, what's so sad about the English-only legislation is that conservatives like King deny being xenophobic. They say they're anti-illegal immigration and welcome those who come to the U.S. with papers. Yet, the legislation King has in the works would damage legal immigrants the most.