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Archive for Sunday, July 13, 2008

Rhetoric obscures immigration issue

July 13, 2008

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— La cucaracha, la cucaracha, ya no puede caminar. La cucaracha, la cuca ...

Oh, perdón. I was just tuning up for an interview with Baracko Obama and Juan McCain.

Juan y Baracko have been busy lately wooing los que hablan español. That is, people who speak Spanish. With an estimated 9.2 million Hispanic votes in play this November, the stakes are high. And the pandering is in high gear.

Both men have put out Spanish-language ads and both made appearances Tuesday at the national convention of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). Obama, however, seems to know something about the Hispanic soul that McCain doesn't.

Anyone familiar with Hispanic art and literature knows that poetry isn't only a genre. Poetry is in the DNA of this romantic, passionate people. Obama knows this language without speaking Spanish.

Thus, while McCain spoke PowerPoint about his economic plan - creating jobs, stimulating small business, keeping taxes down - Obama told stories of a little Hispanic girl stuck in a crumbling school building and a nursing mother torn from her baby during a government raid to round up illegal immigrants. While McCain talked about clean energy initiatives as alternatives to foreign oil, Obama recalled a young girl named Cristina, who asked for Obama's autograph, then translated his comments for her non-English-speaking parents. It was in that moment that Obama, dream weaver and healer, realized that Americans have nothing to fear but fear itself - "that for all the noise and anger that so often clouds the discussion about immigration in this country, America has nothing to fear from our newcomers. They have come here for the same reason that families have always come here ... in the hope that here, in America, you can make it if you try."

(Cue Jimmy Cliff: "You can get it if you really want.")

The danger to the American way of life isn't that we'll be overrun by those who look and speak differently, said Obama. "It will come if we fail to recognize the humanity of Cristina and her family - if we withhold from them the same opportunities we take for granted."

Yes! ¡SÃ-s e puede!

Suddenly, we're all feeling so loving toward Cristina and so worried about the nursing baby and the little girl in that lousy school building that we forget that Americans have legitimate concerns about how those children got here.

It may be true, as Obama said, that a problem for one American is a problem for all Americans. But are problems for non-Americans also problems for all Americans?

Are those 12 million people "hiding in this country" because paranoid, xenophobic Americans fear people of different colors who speak other languages, as Obama implied? Or, are they hiding because they came here illegally? Does that matter? By all means, let's frame the immigration debate in humanitarian terms, but preaching unity will only get us so far. Grounding the soaring spirit of e pluribus unum is a terra-firma rule of law that has to be reckoned with. And it is helpful if all concerned can read and comprehend the law.

The key to achieving that goal, obviously, is that everyone speak English. Yet, speaking at a town hall in Georgia recently, Obama said that "instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English, they'll learn English, you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish."

Americans certainly could benefit from learning other languages for numerous reasons, including job competition in a global marketplace. But such rhetoric obscures the detail that millions of immigrants do not learn English in part because government accommodation makes it unnecessary. Drop by Little Havana sometime and ask for directions.

Non-English-speaking people, meanwhile, do not fare well in this country. Rendered effectively mute by ignorance, they are condemned to menial jobs, low wages and dim futures. Immigrants need to learn the language of our government and business so that they may prosper, but also to prevent our becoming balkanized and less inclined to understand each other.

One nation under English is a necessary step toward true assimilation. Encouraging anything less, even in the name of compassion, ultimately will keep Hispanics down. And dependent - just the way some people like them best.

Some poetry, alas, is just doggerel.

Kathleen Parker is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

Comments

Brent Garner 6 years, 5 months ago

My point is that tanzer should not use the Quebecois as an example of the "advantage" of a bi-lingual system. Frankly, the author of the article makes a very good point when he states that those who come here and do not learn English suffer economically and in other ways due to the language barrier. Let me assure you that if I were moving to Germany or France I would be wise to acquire a working knowledge of either language so that I could function and work effectively in those countries. I am baffled why we have advocates for bi-lingualism suggesting that such an approach would be economically beneficial. First, what language other than English should we require? Second, no other country operates that way so where is the model that proves the point? Now, do I think all of us should learn a second language? Absolutely! I have learned two and can say that the process of learning those languages increased my understanding, but I would never expect to have to conduct business in my own country in anything but English!

Brent Garner 6 years, 5 months ago

Ahh, yes and don't the Quebecois run the secession flag up the flag pole every now and then? Yes, they certainly seem non-balkanized to me. Yes, indeed. They also certainly seem fully integrated among their English speaking Canadian fellow citizens. Yes, indeed.

Corey Williams 6 years, 5 months ago

What about Texas? There is usually someone in the state legislature every year that puts forward a bill for secession. And there are several websites and organizations in favor of it. Are they non-balkanized? Are they fully integrated?

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