“Speak English and Be American”

In the Washington Post Article, “‘Get out!’: Woman roars in defense of Spanish speakers confronted for not speaking English” written by Alex Horton, he recounts the events that occurred on October 1st at grocery store in Rifle, Colorado. Two women, speaking Spanish while they shopped were interrupted by a woman named Linda Dwyer. According to the article, Dwyer was ‘offended’ that the two women were speaking Spanish and confronted them saying ‘speak English and be American’.

Articles like this makes us question whether or not our nation has fully embraced it’s multi-language background. The article “The English-Only movement Myths, Reality, and Implications for Psychology” (Padilla A., et.al.) reports that 18 states in the United States have designate English as the official state language, with the exception of Hawaii who has declared English and Hawaiian both the official languages. In addition, some of these states have been pressuring the federal government to step in and amend the constitution so that it declares English the official language. The problem with movements like this is that, like Dwyer,  they fail to acknowledge our nations multi-language background. When interviewed, Horton reports that when she was asked about why she acted the way she did she responded “It’s note a race thing, its a patriotic thing”. Interestingly enough, this occurred in a state that has declared English as the official language for the state. This proves my point that if state declares English its official language, it gives the constituents the permission to disrespect and belittle other languages on the grounds of patriotism. Now imagine if what would occur if our nation, given its current stance on immigration, declared English the official language. Surely encounters like the ones that happened in this small town in Colorado will occur more often on a nation wide level. I believe that English would suddenly become a political item used against immigrants with different language backgrounds.

According to an World Atlas article “The most spoken languages in the U.S”, written by James Burton this past June, Spanish is the native language of nearly 37,458,470 Americans making is the second most popular language in the U.S. I’m a part of those 37,458,470. I was born in Dominican Republic and learned Spanish as my native language. When I immigrated to the U.S with my mother I remember having a difficult time making friends. At the time I was five and had just begun Kindergarten and I was placed in an English only speaking classroom. I would be called out of class for English classes and that was the only time that in school I was able to speak Spanish. Nineteen years later, I can now switch between both language sin ningún problema. But I never forget where my roots are and thankfully living in the Bronx my first couple of years in the U.S has helped me fully embrace both sides of who I am.

If second language learners of English as discouraged to speak their native language in public places it would turn a blind eye into what makes our country so beautiful. There’s strength in having a bilingual or multilingual background and it also preserves languages. To me being American is embracing every accent mark, every rolled r, and still be able to write this entire post.


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5 Responses to “Speak English and Be American”

  1. Marwa Elraey says:

    Beautiful! I am glad you are able to switch smoothly between both. Unfortunately, this is not the case with most immigrants who move to the US at a young age and who are forced to only speak English, which often leads them to slowly forget their native languages. While English is crucially important to know and be proficient in especially here in the US, languages like Spanish–whose speakers constitute a substantial size of the American population–should be embraced along with English.
    I also think that just because English is the official language within a state or even the entire nation, it doesn’t oblige each and every single individual to speak English if they are not comfortable speaking it. Being patriotic and proud of one’s heritage is something and being ignorant and racist is something else. I think the answer should come from the people themselves and how they should think about and respect foreign cultures, many of which have an essential role in the formation of the American culture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • melissabker says:

      Couldn’t have said it in any other way! I whole heartedly agree with your comments. The case you bring up for bilingual children is very true, not everyone has the ability to switch smoothly between both languages. Being bilingual or multilingual is definitely an advantage when we live in such a linguistically diverse city.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. lindafauz says:

    Hi Melissa! I’m glad you embrace your first language and still have the ability to speak it fluently, often when young children come to America they lose touch with there first language while learning English and it’s very upsetting. A child usually attends school when they get here and are expected to learn English, slowly forgetting there first language. I’ve seen it happen to several classmates growing up and even to family members who have moved here from overseas. Were you offered extra help learning English during school when you arrived here from Dominican Republic?

    Liked by 1 person

    • melissabker says:

      Hi Linda! I was placed in an English only classroom and then taken out during class for lessons. This was the case for the first couple of years. Then before middle school I was placed in an ESL room.


  3. jaulie says:

    Hi Melissa, I love this post! I think the topic is incredibly interesting and I’ve had more than a few debates on the topic. As someone who comes from a family that doesn’t speak English at home, I think its really easy to feel threatened by the idea of a “official” language. However, if done right, policies that promote English as an official language don’t necessarily have to be harmful. It is possible to promote languages other than English, provide adequate resources to those who do not speak English, and maintain English as an official language simultaneously. I think the U.S. de facto does this already, considering I haven’t seen any Senators proposing legislation in Spanish or Chinese. One of the viewpoints I’ve heard is that making English an official language could provide legal basis for immigrants to have access to free English learning resources. Another is that having business conducted in one language is efficient for the government and saves money that can be allocated elsewhere. I am not personally against the U.S. English movement, since I don’t view it as xenophobic. However, I can see how many similar movements are, and that scares me.


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