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R.Reese, Paper Presentation: 34th World Congress of the International Institute of Sociology, Tel Aviv, Israel, July 10-16, 1999

LANGUAGE DIVERSITY AND THE POLITICS OF THE ENGLISH ONLY MOVEMENT IN THE U.S.

ABSTRACT

While many know the United States has no official religion, few are aware that the U.S. has no official language. English is not the official language of the U.S. However, recently, there has been a significant push to make English the official language. There is no lack of desire by the immigrant population in the U.S. to learn English. Immigrants realize that their success in the U.S. is inextricably intertwined with their mastery of this language. There are over 300 languages spoken in the U.S. and English is the de facto official language. Some suggest the movement to make it the de jure language is borne out of a prevalent anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. Indeed, during the last two decades a number of successful initiatives have been aimed at restricting the privileges of the immigrant population in the U.S. This paper will briefly discuss the political dynamics of the “English Only” movement in the U.S.

 

 

"What distinguishes today's English Only phenomenon is the apocalyptic nature of its fears: that the American language is `threatened' and, with it, the basis of American nationhood. We are warned that unless action is taken to halt our `mindless drift toward a bilingual society,' the United States will soon be balkanized, divided, at war with itself. Ostensibly to defend `the primacy of English,' a new cadre of zealots is working to restrict speech in other tongues. And there is a real chance that such proposals could become law; in several states they already "(Crawford, 1992, preface).

According to a 1995 Time/CNN poll, 65 percent of adult Americans thought that there should be a law making English the official language of the country. The U.S. is one of the most diversely populated countries in the world. It has long been considered a “melting pot.” One of the biggest issues facing the U.S. in the twenty-first century is how to manage its vast language diversity. Some suggest that the U.S. should celebrate diversity by highlighting the importance of the various languages that are spoken in the country e.g. bilingual education. However, others suggest that U.S. should ignore dealing with the complications of language diversity and make English the official language of the U.S. and the only language of the government. Each policy perspective is highly controversial. Recently, opponents of bilingual education in California were successful in abolishing this form of instruction in public schools. The negative reaction to the country's language diversity has prompted other states to propose similar initiatives. Anti-immigrant sentiment has fueled the “English Only” movement in the U.S.

In his State of the Union address on January 20, 1999, President Bill Clinton stated,

"We have a responsibility to make them (immigrants) welcome here, and they have a responsibility to enter the mainstream of American life. That means learning English and learning about our democratic system of government. There are now long waiting lines of immigrants trying to do just that...Whether our ancestors came here on the Mayflower, on slave ships; whether they came to Ellis Island or LAX in Los Angeles, whether they came yesterday or walked this land 1000 year ago, our great challenge for the 21st century is to find a way to be one America. We can meet all the other challenges if we can go forward as one America. "

Some suggest that racial tension, especially anti-immigrant sentiment, is at its height in the United States. Indeed, this sentiment is the creates the backdrop for the “English Only” movement in the U.S. Although it has always been a consistently pervasive problem in the U.S. President Clinton has recently put racism and anti-immigrant sentiment on the national agenda. Clinton has urged Americans to undertake "a great national effort" to solve the nation's oldest problem. In giving a commencement address at Portland State University (June 14, 1998), Clinton his disapproval of “politics and ballot propositions that exclude immigrants from our civic life.” Clinton urged native born Americans to confront their prejudices toward people with “new accents” and to abandon misguided albeit understandable fears about “the America they know and love becoming a foreign land.” He firmly stated that the anti-immigrant politics that have been manifested in recent policy initiatives is “not only wrong but un-American” (Harris, 1998, p.3).

In 1965, the national-origins system and the explicit exclusion of Asian immigrants were abolished. The new immigration policy increased the number of immigrants allowed to enter the U.S. and gave priority to those who had family members already established in the U.S. This new policy lead to a substantial increase in the racial and linguistic make-up of the immigrant population. Between 1950 and 1960 roughly 2.5 million people legally emigrated to the U.S. Between 1921 and 1960, 18 percent of America's legal immigrants emigrated from Latin America and only four percent came from Asia. By contrast, between 1971 and 1980, 40 percent of legal immigrants arrived from Latin America and 35 percent came from Asia. In the next five years, 35 percent of this population came from Latin America, while 48 percent came from America (Gallegos, 1994, p.34). According to Bee Gallegos (1994),

Along with the sheer number of immigrants, their geographic concentration—the Asians in metropolitan areas in California, the Hispanics in states close to Mexican border—increased the visibility of foreign customs and values. To some, it also raised the possibility of a territorial basis for linguistic separatism (p.34).

The recycled debate on immigration has resonated throughout the history of the U.S. The overwhelming majority of Americans continue to oppose liberal immigration policies. Perhaps the combined liberal immigration policies of the 60's, 70's, and 80's, coupled with the numeric decrease of the white European population has caused panic and precipitated the English only movement. Is this panic justified?

The number of U.S. residents who speak a language other than English at home increased by 41% in the 1980s. Today's statistics show that these individuals are learning English at faster rates than before. This generation will lose their first language faster than any generation before. According to Crawford (1992), “by objective measures, bilingualism is no more prevalent now than in several earlier periods of U.S. history (preface).” According to the most recent census, 96 percent of the U.S. population are fluent in English.

Nevertheless, there is a spirited assault on bilingualism in the U.S. This assault is primarily against Latinos, and to a lesser extent, Asians (ACLU, 1996, p.2). The Latino population has grown to more than 25 million and is expected to rise to 31 million by the turn of the century. By 2050, one American in five could be of Latino background (Amparano, 1997, B2).

In 1992, Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) angrily opposed a Bush Administration plan to aid the former Soviet republics and to make immigrants eligible for welfare, in the U.S. During a floor debate concerning this issue, Byrd stated that we should not continue to accept immigrants who do not speak English. Byrd used an anecdote to express his feelings: “I pick up the telephone to call the local garage—I can't understand the person on the other side of the line. I'm not sure he can understand me. They're all over the place, and they don't speak English. We want more of this?” Later, Byrd apologized profusely for his insensitivity and lack of judgement. Irrespective of whether Byrd's apology was sincere or not, the sentiment of many had been expressed (Tatalovich, 1995, p.1).

In order to accommodate those individuals in the country who speak little or no English, many businesses, schools, and governments have moved to implement bilingual or multilingual policies. Some see this effort to accommodate multilingualism as dangerous. They suggest that this liberal policy of inclusion has the potential to fractionalize the country. Others suggest that mandating English as the official language will drive a wedge in ethnic relations in America. Opponents of English only suggest that it promotes xenophobia and deprives immigrants of basic rights to communicate (Gallegos, 1994, p.28).

James Crawford (1992) in his book, Language Loyalties summarizes the English Only debate when he states:

"For supporters, the case is obvious: English has always been our common language, a means of resolving conflicts in a nation of diverse racial, ethnic, and religious groups. Reaffirming the preeminence of English means reaffirming a unifying force in American life. Moreover, English is an essential tool of social mobility and economic advancement. The English Language Amendment would `send a message' to immigrants, encouraging them to join in rather than remain apart, and to government, cautioning against policies which could retard English acquisition."

"For opponents, Official English, is synonymous with English Only: a mean spirited attempt to coerce Anglo-conformity by terminating essential services in other languages. The amendment poses a threat to civil rights, educational opportunities and free speech, even in the private sector. It is an insult to the heritage of cultural minorities, including groups whose roots in this country go deeper than English speakers Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and American Indians. Worst of all, the English-Only movement serves to justify the racist and nativist biases under the cover of American patriotism" (Crawford, 1992, p.2-3).

Some suggest the contemporary movement to make English the official language was a reaction to the multicultural liberalism of the 1960s. This movement was spearheaded by advocates of multicultural education. Their objective in this movement was to reduce prejudice, eliminate sexism, and equalize educational opportunities in the school environment . Proponents of multicultural education argue that schools should play the primary role in promoting cultural pluralism and diversity (Spring, 1995, p.25; Webster, 1997, p.3).

Over the years, multicultural education has been presented in various forms. Each form has invariably given rise to criticisms. One form of the multicultural approach is bilingual education. The debate revolves around how much multicultural education reform is sufficient. Opponents of multicultural education and bilingual education such as Arthur Schlesinger (1998) insist that this agenda has gone too far and is undermining the unity of the nation. He states that multicultural dogma “replaces assimilation with fragmentation and integration with separatism...it belittles unum and glorifies pluribus” (p.21). Perhaps Schlesinger accurately captures the sentiment of Theodore Roosevelt as Roosevelt states,

We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language , for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, of American nationality and not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding house” (in King, 1997, p.56).

THE EARLY ENGLISH ONLY MOVEMENT

In 1923, the Supreme Court struck down English Only laws in twenty states which prohibited the teaching of other languages in schools. Justice Reynolds made it clear that restrictive English Only laws were antithetical to the basic principles of our democracy when he wrote for the court in Meyer vs. Nebraska (1923) U.S. 390

The protection of the United States Constitution extends to all, to those who speak other languages as well as to those born with English on the tongue. Perhaps it would be highly advantageous if all had ready understanding of our ordinary speech, but this cannot be coerced by methods which conflict with the constitution—a desirable end cannot be promoted by prohibited means.

According to Robert D. King (1997),

"Traditionally, the American way has been to make English the national language—but to do so quietly, locally, without fuss. The Constitution is silent on language: the Founding Fathers had no need to legislate that English be the official language of the country. It has always been taken for granted that English is the national language, and that one must learn English in order to make it in America" (p.55).

The Bilingual Education Act of 1968 was the official impetus for bilingual education in the U.S. The idea was to have English as a Second Language students use a combination of their first language and English to transition into speaking English fluently. The 1974 Supreme Court case, Lau v. Nichols, helped to solidify the “bilingual education movement.” This case pitted Chinese students against the San Francisco Unified School District. The students wanted schools to provide more resources to assist them in their acquisition of English. The court ruled in favor of the Chinese students requiring schools to provide special programs and support for those students who did not speak English. The court said, “Teaching English to the students of Chinese ancestry who do not speak the language is one choice. Giving instruction to the group in Chinese is another. There maybe others.” The Lau decision did not force schools to implement a “bilingual education” program but urged schools to provide resources for English as a Second Language students to help facilitate their acquisition of English. In the end, the Supreme Court decided that Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act required school districts to take measures to ensure meaningful education opportunities for non-English speaking students. The Lau decision helped to institutionalize bilingual education in many schools in the U.S. (Ravitch, 1983, p. A26). The bilingual voting rights amendments of 1975 gave the English as a Second Language population access to bilingual ballots—further solidifying the role of bilingualism in our society (Crawford, 1992, preface).

In 1981, U.S. Senator S. I. Hayakawa, a long time critic of bilingual education. introduced Senate Joint Resolution 72, the English Language Amendment (ELA). This resolution proposed to make English the official language of the U.S. This resolution stated the following:

Section 1: The English language shall be the official language of the United States.

Section 2: Neither the United States nor any State shall make or enforce any law which requires the use of any language other than English.

Section 3: This article shall apply to laws, ordinances, regulations, orders, programs, and policies.

Section 4: No order or decree shall be issued by any court of the United States or of any State requiring that any proceedings, or matters to which this article applies, be in any language other than English.

Section 5: This article shall not prohibit educational instruction in a language other than English as required as a transitional method of making students who use a language other than English proficient in English.

Section 6: The Congress and the States shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

This resolution did not pass in the Ninety-seventh Congress (Tatalovich, 1995, p.12).

In 1980, Dade County, Florida was the first local government to have a ballot initiative that restricted language usage other than English while conducting official government business. Dade County voters passed an ordinance that prohibited the county from using funds that supported projects that were not conducted in English. Four years later, the Dade County commission modified and loosened the ordinance. In 1983, voters in San Francisco approved a nonbinding initiative that instructed the federal government to print election ballots only in English. In 1989, the voters of Lowell, Massachusetts voted to make English their city's official language (Gamble, 1997, p.260; Crawford, 1992, p.20).

In 1986, voters passed California's Official English initiative, Proposition 63. With the exception of Republican Senator Pete Wilson (later Governor), most of the state's leading politicians opposed the initiative. In fact, Governor Deukmejian called it “unnecessary” and warned that “it would cause fear, confusion and resentment among many Californians (Gallegos, 1994, p.37). Nevertheless, voters passed this proposition with 73 percent of the vote. Others states followed.

By 1987, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, and South Carolina had passed English only initiatives. By 1988, voters in Colorado, Florida, and Arizona had passed English only initiatives. In 1990, it was Alabama's turn. Similar to the outcome in California, many of these initiatives were passed by significant margins (King, 1997, p.56).

In the last four years, Alaska, Georgia, Montana, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Virginia, Wyoming and Missouri have enacted some form of official English legislation. In all, twenty-four states in the U.S. have made English their official language. In 1999, such bills were considered in 14 states. No state has strictly enforced or monitored compliance with this law as Arizona' Proposition 106 proposed to do. These laws were mostly symbolic acts that were passed during the zeitgeist of the “English Only” movement of the mid 1980's ” ( Gamble, 1997, p.260).

One glaring irony of this movement on the state level is that some states such as South Carolina, Mississippi, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana, passed English only laws without a significant bilingual population. Why? Where was the linguistic threat of fragmentation? If the premise of this movement is based on the fear of linguistic balkanization, these states have certainly overreacted.

THE ARIZONA LAW

In 1988, the Arizona “English Only” law, Proposition 106, was adopted by that state's voters by a b 50.5 percent majority as a constitutional amendment. This law, sponsored by political activist Bob Park, was the most restrictive “English Only” law to date. This law mandated that the state and all of its subdivisions work “to preserve, protect and enhance the role of the English language as the official language” (Gamble, 1997, p.260).

In January of 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review Arizona's “English Only” law. By refusing to review the law, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the ruling of the state courts to stand. The state appeals court ruled the amendment unconstitutional. The state court held that the Arizona's “Official English” initiative violated the First Amendment "by depriving elected officials and public employees of the ability to communicate with their constituents and with the public." The court also stated that “The amendment adversely affects non-English speaking persons and impinges on their ability to seek and obtain information and services from government.” In April of 1998 the Arizona Supreme Court unanimously agreed with the lower court's ruling. The Arizona Supreme Court interpreted the literal meaning of the Arizona law which stated English should be used by "all government officials and employees during the performance of government business." The Arizona Supreme Court suggested the broad nature of the initiative's objective, raised “constitutional problems” (Arizona Republic, 1999, p.B4).

Critics of the initiative called it racist. The difference between the various state laws and the Arizona initiative, was that the state English-only laws were symbolic and nonbinding. The proposed Arizona law would have posed legal sanctions for noncompliance (Bee News Service, 1999, p.A1). While the various state laws sought to encourage the collective use of English, the Arizona initiative sought to repress the use of other languages.

H.R.123

U.S. English, the largest national, non-partisan, non-profit citizens' action group working to make English the official language of the government at all levels, is responsible for initiating the English only movement in the mid-1980s. U.S English was founded by S. I. Hayakawa and a Michigan ophthalmologist named John Tanton. After the failure of their English Language Amendment in 1981, U.S. English focused attention on state and local governments. This organization is largely responsible for the 46 states and numerous counties and municipalities who have considered English only legislation since 1981 (Gallegos, 1994, p.34).

In 1996, U.S. English Representative Duke Cunningham of California and Senator Richard Shelby sponsored official English legislation (H.R. 123). H.R. 123 (English as the official language legislation), as it is known, passed in the House of Representatives by a bipartisan vote of 259 to 169. Some 36 Democrats joined with Republicans in this vote. The Senate failed to act on this bill, rendering it void. Legislation must pass in the House as well as the Senate and get the endorsement of the President before it becomes law (www.us-english.org/incindex.html).

PROPOSITION 227

Businessman Ron K. Unz was the sponsor of Proposition 227. It was his objective to dismantle bilingual education in California. In June, 1998, Californians passed Proposition 227 with 61% of the vote. This proposition, called the “English for the Children” initiative, requires all public school instruction in California be taught in English. “Students shall be taught English by being taught in English.” The proposition calls for a one year “English Immersion” program instead of bilingual education (Anderson, 1998, B2). Bilingual education refers to the method of teaching children in their native language, allowing them to make the transition to English gradually. An English Immersion program provides students with an intensive English only learning format. The 1.4 million students in the state who do not speak English are to get one year of intensive immersion in English and then be shifted into mainstream classes. Schools have 60 days to make the switch (Beck, 1998, p.B11).

Among those who opposed proposition 227 was President Clinton. He campaigned in California against the initiative. However, he said that bilingual education is not working well for all children, that it could slow the progress of learning English and should not keep students “trapped in some sort of intellectual purgatory where they'll get bored and drop out of school and won't go forward" (Beck, 1998, B11).

Opponents of Proposition 227 argue that it takes longer than one year to become proficient in a language. Dr. Mark Ryan makes the important distinction between the two types of language ability: social language skills and cognitive language proficiency. Social language skills can be acquired in one to two years. However, cognitive language proficiency, the ability to read a history book or solve a word problem in mathematics, can take five to seven years (Ryan, 1998, p.10F). Opponents of the proposition are using this type of theoretical information to challenge the new law.

A lawsuit, challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 227 was filed a day after the elections. Civil rights advocates claim that the proposition denies individuals equal access to education. The lead plaintiff in the Proposition 227 suit was Valeria G. She was identified as a Spanish-speaking, limited-English student in the Calexico school system. The plaintiffs included the California Latino Civil Rights Network, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the National Council of La Raza and several other students statewide. The plaintiffs argued that the initiative would cause “irreparable harm” by forcing schools to teach a large population of students in a language they can barely understand. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the ACLU and others represented these plantiffs (Anderson and Sahagun, 1998, p.A1).

Former Governor of California, Pete Wilson, the State Board of Education and Superintendent Delaine Eastin were defendants in this suit. Joan Beck makes two points that sum up the argument of the defendants of this proposition:

1) Public schools have the duty to teach English efficiently and quickly to children who aren't fluent in the language. It is not their job to maintain immigrant cultures or languages. Diversity and tolerance are admirable, of course. But this nation must have a common language. And people who choose to live in this country benefit from knowing English well.

2) Neurological research clearly shows that the brain can learn language most easily in the early years of life and that the older students get, the more difficult it becomes. The more time children waste in bilingual classes waiting for a gradual introduction to English, the harder it is to learn English proficiently. Immersion is the most effective way to teach

language, especially to young children, because of the way the brain encodes language. Seventy percent of California's non-English speaking students are in elementary school, a majority in kindergarten through 3rd grade (Beck, 1998, p.B11).

Some schools, administrators, and teachers have vehemently opposed this proposition and have threatened not to comply. Proposition 227 may be amended only through another voter initiative or through a law approved by two-thirds of the Legislature.

COMPANIES & ENGLISH ONLY

Some companies in the U.S. have begun to implement controversial “English-only” rules. Companies state that rules that prohibit workers from speaking languages other than English are necessary for the cohesiveness and the efficiency of the organization.

Their reasoning is that language that is not understood by colleagues or customers is both rude and inefficient, and can be hazardous to safety in some professions such as hospital operating rooms (Davis, 1997, p.B1). According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), these companies may in fact be breaking the law by implementing restrictive language rules.

The EEOC, under its National Origin Discrimination Guidelines, states that unless English-only rules are a “business necessity,” they may violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Brady, 1996, p.20). According the EEOC, restricting the usage of language reduces employment opportunities and may create an “atmosphere of inferiority, isolation, and intimidation. The courts, however, have been generally supportive of English only rules within companies. In two major cases, Garcia v. Spun Steak Co. and Long v. First Union Bank, federal courts have stated that they disagree with the EEOC guidelines and refuse to be directed by them (Bahls, Steven, 1998, p.78).

ANTI-IMMIGRANT SENTIMENT

Strong anti-immigrant sentiment has continued to persist in the U.S. primarily as a result of two variables, resources and xenophobia. Politics and public policy has been driven by these two variables. The perception is that immigrants take jobs away from or depress the wages of the native-born and drain social services. Xenophobia surfaces because the native-born perceive immigrants as a threat to cohesiveness of the “American way of life.”

A 500-page report issued by the (U.S.) National Research Council (May, 1997) suggests that immigrants add as much as $10 billion yearly nationwide and lower consumer prices. Residents in most of the U.S. enjoy a net tax gain, because immigrants are concentrated in six states but their taxes are mostly distributed to the federal government (McDonnell, 1997, p.A3).

Racism has been a constant factor in fueling anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. The glaring irony of this notion is how a nation built by immigrants could be so intensely xenophobic. U.S. policy on immigration has often reflected this xenophobia. In 1882, congress banned Chinese immigration. The 1921 Immigration and Naturalization Act had xenophobic underpinnings as well (Kang, 1997, p.A32).

The discriminatory trend of favoring certain immigrant populations over others has endured. Joe Hicks, director of the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, takes the stance that U.S. policy on immigration and anti-immigrant sentiment among the public is a result of racism. He states that "while Asians and Latinos are scapegoated as the cause of most problems attributable to immigrants, Canadians are not viewed as being part of those same problems." In fact, Canadians comprise the fourth largest groups of undocumented immigrants in the country (Los Angeles Human Relations Commission Report, 1997, p.18). Despite this fact, the much longer U.S. and Canadian border is rarely a part of the heated immigration debate. At the same time, the U.S. and Mexican border is always at the center of this debate.

Anti-immigrant sentiment in California resulted in the passage of Proposition 187. This proposition symbolized the intense anti-immigrant sentiment in California. Unlike other anti-immigration laws in recent history, Proposition 187 had no disguise, no camouflage. This was a starkly anti-immigration proposition. In 1994, voters of California endorsed Propositon 187 with 54% of the vote. However, in 1997, United States District Judge Marianna R. Pfaelzer ruled that the Proposition 187 (minus one section) was unconstitutional. Proposition 187 would have made illegal immigrants ineligible for public social services, public health care services (unless emergency under federal law), and public school education at elementary, secondary, and post-secondary levels (Rodriguez, 1998, p.30; California Secretary of States Office, General Election, 1994, p.1)

The 1996 Welfare Reform Bill or the 1996 Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, reinforced the sentiment that was generated by Proposition 187. This bill made all illegal immigrants ineligible for food stamps and other welfare benefits. But unlike Proposition 187, this bill did not tackle the question of whether illegal immigrant children had a right to public education, hence, letting the 1982 case of Plyer v. Doe stand (Fragomen, 1997, p.438).

CONCLUSION

Since its inception, the U.S. has embraced the spirit of bilingualism. At the time the nation was founded, it was common to hear as many as 20 languages spoken, including Dutch, German, French and a number of Native American languages. The Articles of Confederation were printed in English and German. The waves of immigrants that began to arrive in U.S. changed the linguistic complexion of the country. In 1780, John Adams proposed to the Continental Congress that official language academy be created to “purify, develop, and dictate the usage of English.” He idea was rejected for being undemocratic (ACLU, 1996). The U.S. Constitution does not take a stance on the official status of English in American society.

Today, there seems to be a false sense of alarm regarding the status of English in our society. King puts this controversy in perspective when he states,

"We are not even close to the danger point. I suggest that we relax and luxuriate in our linguistic richness and our traditional tolerance of language differences. Language does not threaten American unity" (p.60).

English is quickly becoming the chosen language of communication among the global community. David Crystal, one of the most prominent linguists in the world, states that the evolution of English as a world language is unprecedented. In the history of human civilization different languages have taken their turns at influencing the international community: Hebrew, Greek, Latin Arabic, Classical Chinese, and French. However, no other language in history has achieved such universal status as English has today (Crystal, 1997, p.139). Given this reality, the English-only movement seems ironic.

This movement is just one component of a larger movement to restrict the privileges shared by the immigrant population. The foundation of this movement lacks justification. The U.S. is not linguistically balkanized. There is not a national crisis (or a foreseeable crisis) that revolves around language. Immigrants in the U.S. want to learn English. Immigrants realize that their success in the U.S. is intertwined with their mastery of this language. English is the de facto official language of the U.S. There is not a serious faction attempting to replace English with any other language. Moreover, as Robert D. King states (1997), “there is almost nothing the government of a free country can do to force its citizens to use certain language preference to others” (p.56). Given this, perhaps mandating the use of English only has no substantive value. In the symbolic context, the declaration of English as the official language appears to be a patriotic endeavor. However, stripped of its patriotic guise, this movement is one that is steeped in xenophobia.

At the end of the debate the question remains, "How can a nation, created, established, and built by immigrants be so xenophobic?" The (politically) conservative population of the U.S. is alarmed by the changing demographics in the country. In a effort to thwart the impact of this changing population, policy makers have mounted a serious campaign to “make America what it used to be.” The perplexing connotation of “making America what it used to be” captures the paradoxical nature of this recent movement. The U.S. was, and always will be, the land of immigrants.

 

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