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June 18, 2007

Want to Help Spanish-Speaking Immigrants? The American Dream Is In English


Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was again under severe fire by the politically correct crowd last week for giving one of the most rational suggestions in his career. His sin? Advising Spanish speakers in the United States to hold back on watching Spanish-language television while they are trying to learn the English language. How dare he!


“I'm sitting shaking my head not believing that someone would be so naive and out of it that he would say something like that,” said one Hispanic leader. Schwarzenegger's statement was “both insensitive and irresponsible,” added a California professor. Even a Spanish-language newspaper chimed in, insisting, “It is absurd to blame the Spanish-speaking media for low Latino academic performance.”


Is it? The pillars of daily life in America are religion, the family and immediate community, as well as the workplace, the media and school. Adults don’t even have the latter of these. Thus, when you speak with your family in your native tongue, interact mostly with co-workers of the same background during the day, read the Spanish version of the Bible, and watch the kind of television you had watched growing up in another country, it becomes a tad difficult to learn the English language.


A Spanish-language newspaper columnist in Los Angeles asserted, “[Latinos] are busy working. They don’t have time to learn.” But isn’t that only because many of them live in the United States by name only? When the Spanish language is available for you to speak, work, worship and absorb the news in, there is no doubt that you can never learn to speak English.


Most immigrants who have come to confidently speak the English language, particularly adult immigrants, did not learn the language to the extent they have in special “English as a Second Language” courses. They learned it by reading English newspapers, watching English television and interacting with English-speaking colleagues at work. Since it is particularly difficult to absorb a new language as an adult, courses would not suffice – you have to surround yourself with that language.


And that is and has always been the way it works for immigrants, until now. Immigrants landing at Ellis Island, like those landing on the West Coast, have by and large been forced to adopt English in order to succeed in this country. Recent Spanish-speaking immigrants, however, have a way out. The traditional forms of adopting the English language – namely work and media – no longer apply to them. The extensive availability of the Spanish language in places like Florida and California makes it incredibly difficult for Hispanic immigrants to leave their bubble and to instead immerse themselves in an English world.


Schwarzenegger is therefore right on the mark when he asks Spanish-speakers to make efforts to adopt the language of the country in which they have chosen to live. Unlike immigrants past, many newly arrived Hispanic immigrants today can, in unprecedented numbers, survive in America without ever learning English. Therefore, they are not forced to do so by circumstances that surround them. This low standard that many choose for themselves, however, hurts them and their community significantly, preventing them from advancing satisfactorily in American society.


Schwarzenegger would know about the great value of learning the English language. Despite a sometimes agonizing accent, Schwarzenegger grasped enough of the language to succeed as a Hollywood actor, and then to run the biggest state of the Union. That is the American Dream. A Hispanic immigrant to America who limits himself to a Spanish-speaking world, however, can never – ever – succeed the way Schwarzenegger has.


If anything, Hispanic community and media leaders, as well as politically correct professors and columnists, should strongly stand behind the Governator. Because as long as they encourage the Hispanic community to watch Spanish-speaking television, and as long as they maintain such low expectations for America’s newest wave of immigrants, they are doing nothing but depriving them of the full extent of the American Dream.

© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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