(A quick disclaimer before I dive into this post – I hate, hate, HATE political discussions. No matter how well-meaning you may be when you start the discussion, they almost always seem to end in some variation of the following conversation:
PERSON 1: Suck it!
PERSON 2: No, YOU suck it!
I get frustrated by situations where people who should normally be able to understand each other and have a simple, civil discussion, devolve into shouting husks of rage. So I try my best to avoid those debates. That being said, I do have a topic to discuss, so I’ll ignore the giant red warning flags waving me off road and just charge on in full speed ahead.)
I was listening to the radio today during lunch when a political ad came on. The candidate-who-approved-this-ad sounded like an old woman, but I didn’t catch her name or what she was running for. I was too distracted by the political causes she stood for, specifically one towards the end of the commercial – she wanted to make English the national language. Now, normally I’m a political dummy, but I do know that plenty of politicians have brought this up before, although I couldn’t recall anyone being so overtly for it, and that’s what caught me off guard. So much so that I ended up thinking about it in the car for a while, and then some when I got home, until I eventually decided that as much as I like English, and being able to speak it to everyone around me (at least in this country), I don’t think having it as our national language is a good idea.
Why, you ask? Let me tell you.
To me, this argument seems to stem from the immigration uproar that’s been constantly playing on the fringes of our political consciousness for over a decade now, and I don’t mean patrolling the border for illegal immigrants. I’m all for keeping people out of the country who are trying to get in illegally. There are rules in place, and those rules need to be followed. So if you’re caught breaking them, punishment needs to be involved somehow. No, what I’m talking about is the subtle undercurrent of racism in our culture and the staunch desire many of us have of avoiding change. I’ve always thought that this country is great because of one overriding reason – we embrace that which makes us better than others. We cherry pick the best pieces of other cultures and incorporate them into ourselves, adjusting on the fly without being burdened by centuries (or even millenia) of tradition or expectations. We all learned how America was the great ‘melting pot’ back in school, right? How we took people from different parent nations and mixed them up into a brand new whole? Well, there you go. We learn, we adjust, we evolve.
The US started as a pack of ex-Brits who wanted their freedom. Then we took in some of the french lurking on our borders. In the early 1800s we had an influx of Irish, then some Germans and Italians. On top of that, we had black slaves scattered throughout the country that eventually became free men and women, and large amounts of Mexican and Asian immigrants in the west and southwest. We took people in from all corners of the world, almost all of whom showed up for the promise of a better life. Our country and our political system allowed for that, and our culture grew and evolved because of that.
But now, I get the strange sense that a lot of people think we’re done. They seem to think that we need to lock down our society and culture EXACTLY as it is because it just can’t get any better. There aren’t any other good ideas out in the world, or new things to learn, or to understand. We have pizza, teriyaki chicken, and tortillas, so we’re all good now. Somehow, people think our culture won’t survive a large influx of Hispanics, or Muslims. They think it’ll die, or be so radically changed that it won’t have any place left for those of us who grew up here and enjoyed a Christian-white-male-centric society. But I don’t believe that. I’m pretty sure that just like we did with the massive influxes of the last several centuries, we will absorb those people, and the best parts of their culture, and we will be better for it.
In other words, change can frightening, but it can also be great.
And that’s why I think this English as a national language idea is a terrible one. It sends a message that we’re content with the status-quo, and that we don’t think our culture can ever get any better than it is right now. That’s a terribly arrogant assumption. Not to mention the fact that English is one of the most rapidly evolving languages in the world anyway. If we make English the national language, do we lock it down, exactly as it is right now, and only allow that version of the language to be the standard forever? I’m not even sure how we legislate something like that, or if we need to waste our time concerning ourselves about such a thing.
But, I’m digressing. The issue here isn’t English as a national language. The real issue is our fear of change, especially during a time when the entire world is changing… fast. History is littered with examples of civilizations that weren’t able to adjust as the world around them became faster, smarter, or just more determined, and they became chapters in a textbook because of that. If you’re a student of science (which I like to think I am), you’ll know that when the world changes, you either evolve, or you fade away. This particular issue, and the implications it carries, strikes me as the calling card of those who want to just fade away.