Ruben Navarrette, Jr., is a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune; today I read one of his columns printed in the San Jose Mercury News. It’s an excellent column addressing the ridiculous “controversy” over two Vietnamese-American valedictorians in Louisiana who included snippets of Vietnamese in their speeches thanking their parents. Their speeches were almost entirely in English, mind you; they just included a single line or so each in Vietnamese. School officials hit the ceiling, apparently, and are considering banning anything other than English in future speeches. (If this school has a Latin motto, like many schools do, then this consideration becomes even more hilariously wrongheaded, on top of already being racist and xenophobic.) As far as I’m concerned, the two young women demonstrated their commendable virtues of intelligence, multilingualism, good judgment, and respect for their parents.
Anyway, Navarrette’s column does an excellent job of responding to the controversy. He quotes a Louisiana school official who said “I don’t like them addressing in [a] foreign language,” and responds eloquently and forcefully:
Here’s what I don’t like. I don’t like it when busybody officials think that because they don’t like something, they have to outlaw it. I don’t like that language has become a proxy for the immigration debate and the anxiety that some people feel over a changing cultural landscape.
I don’t like it that some American teenagers barely speak proper English, much less a foreign language, and that they will eventually be outmatched in the global job market if they come up against someone from Europe, Asia or Latin America who speaks two or three languages. I don’t like it that some of these same American kids resent the very notion of competition, and that English-only policies enable them by making everyone the same so that no one has a leg up because he knows more than one language.
Well, I think Navarrette may be engaging in some misplaced value judgments of his own in the last paragraph quoted–I presume he’s referring to the slang and “txt” speak of teenagers, or something along those lines. Many teens are fully capable of expressing themselves in more than one mode, so they shouldn’t be scolded for that. Other teens have been raised in text-poor environments with drastically underfunded schools and few opportunities to cultivate a love of reading and self-expression. Adult voters and politicians are to blame for that. If, however, he is referring to those teens who have plenty of opportunities but simply ignore them, then I can agree with him. And I definitely feel that English-only policies reflect a stunning belittling and devaluing of the notions of communication, cosmopolitanism, and genuine literacy, as well as a peculiar kind of entitlement-based blindness about the rest of the world and the future.
Despite my nitpick above, I was moved by Navarrette’s column and I feel that it’s worth reading and sharing. You can read the rest of the piece, “Afraid of Anything but English?”, at the newspaper’s website.