A reader recently sent me a link to a YouTube video expressing the difference between an assimilated immigrant and one that is not. It does not matter who the reader is because the video expresses what many believe is the problem with Mexican immigrants to the United States. As most of you know, I do not post links on my blog because it requires too much time to police years-old links to make sure they have not been taken over by spammers. Instead, I offer you enough information from which to Google the source so that you can see it for yourself. In that vein, the YouTube video is titled; Two Immigrants One from Mexico, One From Africa, guess who does better? It was posted on October 10, 2010 by Joseph Seckelman.
The video expresses a sentiment that I recently recognized as an underlining issue with those who oppose immigrants, especially those from México. It is the notion that immigrants must embrace the Anglo-centric way of life – that is to speak English and act like the Anglo’s of the country. The central nexus is that most of those opposed to immigrants oppose those that do not speak English.
The video starts out; “is America going to become officially a bilingual country as many foreign-born Hispanics and some American-Hispanics seem to want?” The narrator adds, “demographics can move the balance.”
Therein lies the fear that many of those opposed to immigrants have, a demographic with the authority to make the U.S. a bilingual, Spanish-English country. As more Latinos become politically involved and become citizens, they will have the opportunity to make the country into something they feel more comfortable in.
That is the underlining thing that is driving the fear of immigrants from south of the border – a United States that speaks Spanish as well as English.
The author of the video goes on to provide the demographics of immigrants as they entered the country from the past to the present. The narrator argues that, except for Hispanics from Latin America, namely from México, most of the other immigrants were smaller groups who spoke many other languages. The narrator goes on to point out that the new largest minority in the country is Hispanics.
He asks in the video: “will America become overwhelmed with Spanish speakers and become officially a bilingual country?”
The author argues that “in the past non-English speaking immigrants made a Faustian bargain when they came to America. Their American-born children, or grandchildren become English-dominant, and most lost their mother tongue.”
He adds, “due to their numbers, are Spanish speaking immigrants saying, no, for their children and their grandchildren becoming English dominant?”
He asks the question, “will English dominance, actually be best for Spanish speaking immigrants and their children?”
It is an important question. The author goes on to compare two recent immigrants, one from México and one from Somalia with similar backgrounds. The author argues that the Mexican immigrant’s lack of English dominance is detrimental to her future.
There is no doubt that my ability to speak and write English has been beneficial to me. As a matter of fact, I learned English in México. I also learned French and Latin. By the way, English was the language that was most difficult for me to learn.
I’ve lost most of my Latin ability because there are no speakers that I know that I can practice with. I was obviously immersed in Spanish, as well as English and French. Each because I lived in the country that the language was its primary means of communicating.
I have no doubt that having the ability to speak the dominant language is the primary means of success anywhere. Communicating is important.
However, the notion that English is the dominant language in the United States is open for debate.
Yes, yes, I know, most people in the country speak English, especially in the business sector. That is the narrative that many subscribe to.
I have no quantifiable metrics from which to prove the English notion one way or another. If all I do is watch English television and frequent English-only areas then I may believe that English is the dominant language.
But is it really?
Let’s look at some quantifiable metrics. First let’s look at the television networks. According to Nielsen, the top five networks in order are: CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and Fox News Channel. These rankings are through December 2016. The Spanish language station, Univision, ranked number six in the rankings. Telemundo came in, in thirteenth place.
It looks like the argument about English being the dominant language holds true. But is it really?
Let’s look deeper. As you most of you know, I live in Orlando. I have yet to go someplace where Spanish is not spoken. As a matter of fact, most anywhere I have been to in the United States, there have been Spanish speakers. However, since I speak English, I may not notice the actual extent of Spanish speakers everywhere I go.
There is a movement that was established in 1981 demanding that the United States adopt English as its official language. The group states that 32 states have enacted legislation making English the official language of the state. The group argues that official means that English is the only language to be used in “all levels of government business.” Texas is not one of those states. Florida enacted English legislation in 1988. As far as I know, there is no official dictum at the federal level to make English the sole-language for official federal business. Whether there is one is neither here nor there because it is a red herring argument.
English, as the official language of the country, is not a valid argument because the fact remains that most government official business uses translators when necessary, even in the so-called English-only states.
Federal law trumps local laws and as such, until it becomes official at the federal level, those accused of a crime will have the right to an interpreter, if they need one.
The issue is actually very simple to address.
Comparing immigrants from other parts of the world to those from México and Latin America misses a very important fact. Mexicans have inhabited vast parts of what is now the United States before the U.S. even became a country. As many argue, the Mexicans did not cross the border, the border crossed the Mexicans.
Now, now, keep your pitchforks down, today I’m only focusing on the notion that Mexican immigrants must assimilate like other immigrants. I’ll post a blog about the lost Mexican territories at a later date, so for now, keep your pitchforks handy.
The debate is about whether Spanish can co-exist with English and whether an assimilated immigrant means an English-dominant immigrant.
In June 29, 2015, The Guardian quoted a report from the Instituto Cervantes that estimated that the United States is second to México in the number of Spanish speakers in its midst. [Burgen, Stephen; “US now has more Spanish speakers than Spain”, only Mexico has more; The Guardian, June 29, 2015]
The birth-place of the Spanish language, Spain (46 million) is ranked fourth, behind Colombia (48 million). México, with 121 million Spanish speakers is first, followed by the United States with 52.6 million Spanish speakers. The report predicts that the United States will become the largest Spanish-speaking country, in terms of population, by 2050. That would be about a third of the nation.
Clearly that does not make Spanish the dominant language but it makes Spanish a very significant language of the country.
This bring us back to the argument about assimilating immigrants. The notion being that to assimilate one must have English as the dominant language.
Why must English be the dominant language of immigrants for them to succeed?
The video used the example of the Mexican and Somali immigrants to contrast who was more successful. The author interviewed both immigrants. The Mexican immigrant responded in English, albeit struggling with it but nonetheless in complete English sentences. The Mexican immigrant aspired to be a nursing assistant, while the Somali immigrant, who spoke excellent English, aspired to complete upper-level university degrees.
There are many factors, besides language ability, that contributes to success in life. Speaking English is one factor of many.
Is English a key to success? Possibly, but that does not answer the fundamental question of whether the fear of immigrants is rooted in the fear of being dominated by speakers of other languages, or a true belief that English-dominance will make future citizens more successful.
I believe that it is more of a fear of Spanish becoming a necessity in the United States and thus the assimilation argument is wrapped in altruistic motives.
Regardless, and this is the most important thing to keep in mind, the United States was founded on the basis that the people have the right to choose their own destiny. The laws of the country can only be made by the citizens of the country.
Because of this simple fact – it is disingenuous to argue limiting immigrants based on the assimilation issue because it is not the immigrants that make the laws of the land, but the citizens who have every right to so.
If you fear Spanish, say so, but stop pretending it is about assimilation.