Rant: The Decline of the English Speaking Peoples

America's national language is under siege.

So it turns out it’s muy important that immigrants, legal and illegal, learn English as a condition of citizenship, guest-worker status, indentured servitude, whatever. Who knew the great Melting Pot Nation of America has been living on borrowed time for the last few centuries by not strictly enforcing an English-only rule among the huddled masses and wretched refuse who show up here? President Bush has wisely counseled that “The Star-Spangled Banner” should be sung only in English, lest we lose our “national soul.”

Thank you, Middle Eastern 9/11 hijackers, for finally getting the point through our thick skulls that our greatest security threat is the influx of Spanish speakers from across the Mexican border. (Forgive our slowness, but all too many of us descended from immigrants.)

It’s bad enough we have to eat foreign food and answer that extra question about which language to use at the ATM. Thought experiment: How much is that additional second or two slowing down the U.S. economy and driving down productivity, precisely at the moment when the Chinese are breathing down our necks like a bunch of hopped-up, post-industrial railroad coolies?

All the greatest minds of the second, and probably last, American century—Lou Dobbs, Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, Ann Coulter —concur that becoming fluent in English should be a condition to live in these United States. The visionary Dobbs, channeling the great American-turned-English poet T.S. Eliot, goes further still, dissing divisive St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, with their prominent displays of non-American flags, just as Eliot cracked on the “apeneck” Irish for their self-evidently subhuman nature.

It’s embarrassing enough—humiliating really—that the United States doesn’t have a state religion, which would facilitate community, enforce national identity, and ruin nonbelievers’ weekends. We can at least have an official language, and it’s a damn good thing everyone agrees it ought to be English, since most of us speak it already, and it’s probably pretty close to what “American” would sound like if we hadn’t been British colonies originally.

Thank you, Rep. Tom Tancredo from the suspiciously Spanish-named state of Colorado for having the courage to introduce a constitutional amendment that would declare English “the official language of the United States.” (And for being the most forceful advocate of building a wall between Mexico and the U.S., though I hope he’ll be more careful checking out the government contractors than he was with the ones who worked on his house in the Centennial State a few years ago. Seems they employed illegal immigrants.)

Come on, already: If I moved to Australia, you can be damn sure I’d learn to speak Australian. Indeed, when I think of the need for English literacy tests for immigrants, I remember my maternal grandfather, Nicola Guida, who showed up at Ellis Island (what a polyglot slum that was!) in 1913 and then proceeded to waste most of his time working manual labor jobs like quarrying rock and digging basements by hand and raising four children, rather than taking the time to learn English, the ingrate. It’s one of the great pities of my life that, because I speak no Italian (other than what I picked up via the Godfather movies) and he spoke no English (other than what he picked up via Gunsmoke), I was never able to communicate effectively to him just how un-American he was.

I take some solace in the fact that, even if Congress passes no law to force English on immigrants, plenty of third-generation Mexicans will find it equally tough to talk with their grandparents. As the Pew Hispanic Center documents, about 80 percent of third-generation Latinos in the United States speak English as their dominant language—and exactly 0 percent speak Spanish as their dominant language.

The rest are considered bilingual, which means they’ll be able to tell their elders in their native tongue to learn English or get the hell out of the Land of Opportunity.

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