Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The English cops

The English as the Official Language campaign has spread from Iowa to the federal front, and it may finally be time for me to change my mind on it all.

Used to think it was kind of a silly waste of ten years or so of much ado about nothing. Also a bit of an insult to the intelligence of a state where people of all backgrounds, races and religions have typically gotten along just fine without legislative hand-holding.

Pshaw, what was I thinking?

Now, I realize it could just be the beginning of a whole new attitude for Iowa. Sure, opponents of the English as an Official Language point out that it hasn't resulted in anything of a practical nature. Spoilsports.

Guess we'll just have to put some more teeth into it. Instead of just preventing the state government from communicating with its people, we'll have to expand on the enforcement of this philosophy.

We can start with arresting children who jabber happily in Spanish on the playgrounds. They are surely an insidious threat to our mother tongue. I'm not sure how we are going to bust people who think in other languages, but I have faith our local Congressman will find a way.

Personally, I'm all in favor of a life sentence for my old high school French teacher. If she'd spoken more English, I might not have written her number on the boy's room wall.

What's that you say? The Constitution says something about "no law... abridging the freedom of speech..."

Poppycock. We'll just amend that a bit to say that people are free to speak as long as we get to pick the language they do it in.

I'm told that voters are upset that people are not speaking English in the grocery store. I'm upset too - $3.79 for a freaking box of Twinkies?!?

When the legislature is through, the English language will be safe once again in the nation as it is in Iowa. It will finally be as official as the all-American George Washington dollar bill (which reads, by the way, NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM, "a new order has begun" - in Latin, and features Roman numerals.) That baby's out of here.

No sense stopping there. I really think we should name brown as the official hair color, and blue as the official eye color. Nothing ethnocentric about that, in my blue-eyed view. Picking the official religion might take a little longer, but we can't have people running around willy nilly believing in who knows what.

While we are at it, we might as well make some money out of this "official" frenzy, since we've been so busy with language reaffirmation that we haven't had a chance to fix the train-wreck economy.

If we just name Coke as the official drink of Nebraska, the Chevy S-10 as the official car of Iowa and Berkinstock as the official sandal of Minnesota, we can surely get some product promotion cash to fund school budgets.

I'm almost certain that as soon as the English as the Official Language is signed into law in Washington as it was in Des Moines, all immigrants will immediately start using the King's English. And I'll turn in my daughter for an English misdemeanor every time she uses "ain't."

Of course, all of this is very tongue-in-cheek. I don't mean to make light of the party faihful and legislators who support the concept, or to underplay the feelings of those who passionately support or oppose it.

English is vital to the success of all newcomers, and the success of the newcomers is vital to the future of all our communities. It is no joke.

But couldn't there be a better way than an empty mandate, driven by fear of change and manipulated by public opinion polls?

Instead of a English Reaffirmation bill, why not a Multicultural Charter?

Why couldn't Iowa be the first to reach out to all of its people with a groundbreaking document of welcome, a blueprint for successful assimilation and cultural understanding as well as a tool for English education?

"Official Language" isn't going to teach anyone to read or speak English, and it isn't going to bring cultures together. Why can't this state show the nation a program to help communities in their efforts to establish hands-on English as a Second Language teaching programs for children and adults? Why can't we help, instead of fearfully mandate?

Iowa's history has been as a place of tolerance and promise - from its role in the Underground Railroads, to its nation-leading efforts in the 1970s to resettle Southeast Asian freedom-fighter refugees and their families in Storm Lake..

English isn't in trouble. We are, though, if we are

satisfied with popular but empty political rhetoric instead of real, honest efforts to reach out to our neighbors.

* Reach the editor at dlarsen@stormlakepilottribune.com