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In Case You Missed It: U.S. English Opinion Piece Published in Politico

August 24, 2012

“Everyone can agree that English is the common language of the United States.”

This is a phrase I hear often on Capitol Hill in discussions about making English the official language of the government — from supporters and opponents alike. H.R. 997, the English Language Unity Act, received a hearing before the House Subcommittee on the Constitution earlier this month. A bill that would declare English the official language of government, H.R. 997, has received an abundance of media coverage — unfortunately, most of it has been filled with misleading and negative information.

Often, I hear opponents of official English follow up that opening sentence with the claim that H.R. 997 was created to protect the English language from the threat of being overtaken by foreign languages, with the claim that it is anti-immigrant and meant to wipe out the use of foreign languages. These statements are all false, and unfortunately, the ignorant few who have not read the bill and listened to the motivations behind it continue to perpetuate these myths.

No reasonable person argues that the English language is threatened. In fact, if anything, we could all agree that the influence of English is growing. ABC News and Univision recently partnered to create a news channel geared toward Hispanics. It is broadcast in English.

No reasonable person opposes the idea that one of America’s greatest strengths is our diversity. The U.S. is a nation built by immigrants and made great by immigrants who learned English. In fact, many of the 122 co-sponsors of H.R. 997 support the bill because of experiences they or their family had when immigrating to the U.S. No reasonable person disagrees that bilingualism places one at an advantage. I myself am fluent in four languages — I learned English while maintaining my native Spanish and have continued to study new languages.

Declaring English, our common language, as the official language allows us the opportunity to celebrate our differences and share the culture and background that makes each of us unique. A common language allows us a way to communicate and share the diversity that makes our nation great. Former California Sen. S.I. Hayakawa, an immigrant and linguist, founded U.S. English in 1983 because he was concerned that our country would eventually split along linguistic lines. In 1981, while he was serving in the U.S. Senate, Hayakawa was quoted in the congressional record saying, “The ability to forge unity from diversity makes our society strong. We need all the elements, Germans, Hispanics, Hellenes, Italians, Chinese, all the cultures that make our nation unique. Unless we have a common basis for communicating and sharing ideas, we all lose.”


The English Language Unity Act has been referred to as a “symbolic” bill, implying that the effect it would have on the day-to-day life of individuals would be minimal. This is true in that it will not affect the freedom of an individual to use whatever language he or she chooses. The bill is more than symbolic, however, in the impact it will have on the federal government. It will ensure that the federal government is no longer required to provide documents, translations and services in foreign languages. Contrary to the negative implications opponents place on this effect of the bill, the motivation is to help raise immigrants up to the level of native English speakers, socially and economically.

By making the commitment to operate the federal government in one common language, a message is sent that the U.S. is not an “English optional” nation. It sends the message that to be successful in America, to earn a better, higher paying job, to communicate on a daily basis in situations that are heavily English-speaking (such as grocery stores or doctor’s offices) one must learn to speak English. The bill does include exceptions allowing the federal government to use foreign language in a number of instances, among them public health and safety, trade and tourism and more.

The English language is a bond that reaches far beyond political party and demographics. H.R. 997 would allow Americans to continue to speak in whatever language they choose in their daily lives, while also ensuring that we are all bound by a common, shared language.

Mauro Mujica has been chairman of the Board and CEO of U.S. English since 1993. An immigrant, Mujica has helped grow U.S. English, the nation’s oldest and largest advocacy group dedicated to preserving the unifying role of English in the United States, to 1.8 million members.
 
© 2012 POLITICO LLC
 
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NOTE: To read the original piece on the Politico website, please click here.


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