Friday, July 16, 2010

Letter to the Editor regarding English Only

The following is a Letter to the Editor I wrote that appeared in this week's edition of the Quad Press:

Before I became a pastor I worked for farm workers in California in the late 1980s. I came to understand that the phrase “English-only” was code for “you are not welcome here.”

When I read that Lino Lakes Councilman Dave Roeser wants to establish English as the official language of Lino Lakes, I couldn’t help but hear these code words.

In the article I read, Roeser was quoted as saying that the city doesn't spend any money right now on documents in languages other than English. His proposed policy would guarantee that the city wouldn't be required to spend money in the future on translation services. He said his motivation for this policy is to save the city money.

It seems strange to me that Roeser would want to save money on an issue that isn’t costing the city anything. And he’s using words that minority groups have come to understand to mean, “you are not welcome here.”

I don't know Dave Roeser. I would be happy to grill a steak for him and listen closely to him in order to understand his rationale for having an English-only policy in Lino Lakes, a city where the new church I serve worships.

I would like every person in our country to learn and know English; however I've never been convinced that passing English-only policies causes people to learn English. I've seen the English-only rhetoric for what it is — a way to make immigrants, legal and illegal, know that they aren’t truly part of the community.

As a person of faith, my final test is what would Jesus do. He spent much of his time with the people whom his first-century culture ignored. If he lived in the United States today, I believe he would go out of his way to spend time with people who didn't speak English. I believe he would encourage this group to learn English, but he wouldn't do it by passing a law.

Immigrants have the responsibility to assimilate; just as politicians have the responsibility to be frank about their motives.

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