English-Only Bills Are Not Unfair to Immigrants

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As a Cuban American, I have to agree with the English-only and English as official language initiatives that the states of Indiana and Minnesota have introduced into legislation.

For those who are unfamiliar, legislators in these two states are trying to pass laws that would require public documents and other government business, such as government agency documents, applications, driver’s license exams and voting ballots, to be done only in English.

Supporters of the bills say that the number of special accommodations made for immigrants make them less motivated to learn the language and irritate those who do speak English. Meanwhile, critics say that the legislation is mean-spirited, unnecessary and hostile to people’s native languages and cultures.

I personally believe that Latinos – who come to this country looking to better their lives – have to realize that one of the ways we can say “thank you” for our opportunities here is by providing this great nation with our talents, our ethics and our respect.

The concept of “respect” covers a great deal. We must respect all the basic foundations of this country, including its Constitution, its Bill of Rights, and yes, its language. English is the official language of this country, and everyone who comes to live here has to learn it.

This isn’t a new or radical proposition. In most developed countries around the globe, newly arrived citizens are expected to deal with the official language.

Learning English does not take away from your individuality and your ability to grow independently in whatever other foreign language you choose to speak. I myself am bilingual, and I’m very proud of it.

For people that see this argument as racism, I have to tell you, you’re using the wrong word.

The immigrants who came to this country at the turn of the 20th century never expected to go to an official office, whether it was city, state or federal, and find workers there who would accommodate their native language. They made sacrifices. They studied – at home, at night school or elsewhere – and they learned English.

I think those fundamental realizations have to come to light in America today. If we want to live in America, we all have to be Americans. Yes, our culture is important, but America comes first.