Apache. Cherokee. Cheyenne. Chickasaw. Lakhota. Navajo. Shoshone. These are just a few of the Native American languages that were spoken in what is now the United States. This was a multilingual country long before land was forcibly and violently taken from the Native Americans and colonized by Europeans. And throughout its history, the United States has remained a multilingual country.
As the National Education Association states: "In early American history, two languages often co-existed. The Continental Congress printed a number of documents, including the Articles of Confederation in German and English. An 1837 Pennsylvania law required school instruction in both German and English. In 1839, German-speaking, French-speaking, and Spanish-speaking parents in Ohio, Louisiana, and New Mexico used bilingual education. And California, which was officially bilingual for 30 years, printed its first state constitutional proceedings in both Spanish and English."
The fact is that the United States has no official language. English is not the official language. But lately there has been a strong movement to make English the official language of the U.S.
Why English Only?
In the 19th century, restrictive language laws were used to prevent English-speaking African Americans from voting. The Jim Crow laws (laws that enforced segregation in the South) made literacy a requirement for voting. It wasn't until the 1960s that African Americans won the right to vote. In California, the second constitutional convention ratified the state's first English Only provisions.
As you can see, these laws were used to prevent people from exercising their rights as citizens of the U.S. Despite the unfairness of such language laws, some states have laws that prevent funding programs or services if a non-English language is used. There have even been various English Language Amendments proposed by Congress and organizations such as U.S. English, Inc.
Reasons Against English Only
The ACLU also states that "restrictive language laws have been enacted periodically since the late 19th century, usually in response to new waves of immigration. These laws, in practice if not in intent, have punished immigrants for their foreignness and violated their rights."
What You Can Do
Find out where your state's representatives and senators stand on the English Language Amendment. Let them know if you support or oppose their position.
Get the word out: Create a Web page about the issue of English as the official language. Write an email message about your position on the English Only movement and send it to people you know. Make a pamphlet in English on one side and another language on the other. This could be a collaborative project with your friends, other students and foreign-language teachers.
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