Planning for Prejudice

In my last post I talked about the potential impact of Lino Lakes impending decision to make English the official language of the city government. Since then, they’ve not only approved the measure but Governor Pawlenty seems to think a similar measure would be useful for the whole state.

The very definition of the word “prejudice” is to pre-judge. Creating policy that affects individuals around something that might happen is exactly that—a pre-judgment. And it’s fascinating to read some of the comments posted to the Pawlenty article. Many are simply a knee-jerk “Yeah! I support this!”, with no apparent consideration of its effects on non-English speakers. Those who look back to an idealized past when “my ancestors learned English!” are not only indulging in weak analogies, they’re simply missing the fact that times have changed. Immigrants and immigrant communities are different, the places they’re coming from are different, our culture and society are different. Our approach to the needs of immigrant communities must also be different.

There is nothing sacred about English—it is only one of many languages spoken every day in this country. Now, I’m not saying that English doesn’t have a special place in American society, both currently and in the past—it does. But its future will be different than we’ve perhaps imagined, maybe than we can currently imagine. To try and hang on to a past legacy, especially one built from historical accident, only excludes those outside that history, those whose voices will become part of a future history. We owe them the right of hearing their voices.

No matter what language they’re speaking.


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