The Decline of the English-Speaking Peoples

From Lacoochie to Le Sourdsville to Los Angeles, America's national language is under siege


So it turns out that it's muy important that immigrants, legal and illegal, learn English as a condition of citizenship, guest-worker status, indentured servitude, whatever. Who knew that we—meaning the great Melting Pot Nation of America—have been living on borrowed time for the past few centuries by not strictly enforcing an English-only rule among the huddled masses, wretched refuse, and all the rest who showed up here?

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

Christ, it's bad enough that we have to eat foreign food, live in states with Spanish-derived names, and answer that extra question about which language to use at the ATM. (Thought experiment: How much is that extra second or two of time slowing down the U.S. economy and driving down our productivity, precisely at the moment when the Chinese are breathing down our necks like a bunch of post-industrial railroad coolies? You can be damn sure that the Chinese government doesn't allow ATM users to pick their own language.)

All the greatest minds of the second, and probably last, American century—Lou Dobbs, Arizona Sens. McCain and 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 farther still, deriding St. Patrick's Day celebrations just as Eliot rightly attacked 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 and national identity. We can at least have an official language, and it's a damn good thing that 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 great state of Colorado "Reddish-Colored" 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 you'll be more careful in checking out the government contractors than you were with your personal ones, to make sure they aren't using illegal immigrants to pour the Christmas-time concrete.)

Come on, already: If I moved to Australia, say, you can be damn sure that I'd learn to speak Australian. Indeed, whenever I think about the need for English literacy tests for immigrants, I think about 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 via the Godfather movies) and he spoke no English (other than what he picked up watching Gunsmoke, his favorite TV show), I was never able to communicate effectively to him just how un-American he was.

I can take some solace—very little, but in this crazy world of run-amok immigration and full employment, we take what we can get—in the fact that, even if Congress passes no law to force English onto 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.