øNo hablas Ingles? No assistance, no luck!

By Meagan Meiklejohn

With the recent inauguration of Barack Obama lifting the spirits of Americans, minorities have high hopes for diminishing discrimination in the United States. Beyond appearances, language barriers remain a sensitive issue as governments balance the battle against discrimination with properly accommodating immigrants in their country. Currently, the U.S. has not declared an official language at its federal level. However, the ProEnglish advocacy group counts 30 states, including Tennessee, and a dozen, if not more, cities that have already assigned English as their official language.

This past month, Nashville, Tennessee councillor Eric Crafton attempted a referendum, suggesting that Nashville’s municipal government confirm English as their official language. Having lost this proposal by nearly 10,000 votes, Nashville’s local government dodged a bad reputation, claiming that such a law would discriminate against an immense portion of their population. Presently, Nashville is home to the largest population of Kurdish Americans in the U.S., a generous amount of Hispanics and immigrants from Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Clouded by the possibility of saving thousands of dollars on translation fees and incorporating the English language into America’s melting pot, those in favour of such a change forget that America is not a monolingual country. America is composed of numerous languages from various backgrounds. Each background consists of cultures conveying their own customs and traditions, while each person comprises their own beliefs and values, incorporating the ways of those around them. If America cannot be defined by one religion, one colour or one race, then it certainly cannot be defined by one language.

Had the citizens of Nashville voted in favour of English as their official language, it would not be possible for the municipal government to attend to the needs of many of its citizens. Only those who are able to speak, read and write in English would be eligible to receive support. Local government would not be obligated to assist those who fall outside of this narrow category.

Municipalities deal with welfare programs, which, if only conducted in English, would leave countless people without a place to seek help. Papers would not be readable and staff would not be able to communicate with those in need; it would be the sole responsibility of the customer to find a translator or to learn English if they wanted to receive help.

Unfairly disadvantaging people on the basis of their language is a low attempt at saving money. As a measure of separating legal from illegal immigrants, it is understandable that the language one is able to speak could be a deciding factor, but it is not a necessary condition for citizenship or to legally live in the U.S. Until English literacy becomes a condition, governments remain in the wrong if the decisions they make exclude any portion of their population from receiving the services they require.


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