This country is at a cultural crossroads.
In one corner, there are Americans who believe that in order to thrive in the 21st century, our work force must become more bilingual not only because we are becoming a more diverse nation, but also because it is just smart business. They are quick to point out that the United States is already the second-largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world, that about 380 languages are spoken here, and that mastering another language besides English results in workers who are economically more successful than monolinguals.
In another corner, there are Americans who long for a one-language society that wraps itself behind American flags and neo-nativist leanings reminiscent of 19th-century organizations like the Know-Nothing Party, who fought a changing Catholic demographic with little results.
To those who see bilingualism as a competitive advantage, there is hope and optimism. To those who see monolingualism as the only way to go, there is fear of change, paranoia, and yes, anger towards a changing America. This feeling was in full display the past few weeks when a viral Facebook meme from American Strong received over 168,000 likes and 25,000 shares. American Strong is an organization that raises money to honor and help veterans. Apparently, they also like to mask their nativism and racism through ignorant social media memes as well.
The meme confirms that the subject of language and culture still causes extremely passionate opinions from both sides of the argument. When my group of Rebeldes called out American Strong for posting such an ignorant and racist image, some English Only patriots called us “belligerent” and “un-American.”
Here is what the English-only crowd doesn’t want to admit, since it makes them feel uncomfortable and it completely discredits the argument of fear and misinformation that they continue to spread with messages that target “foreigners” as the scapegoat for all that is wrong about this country:
- New immigrants in this country fully undertand that in order to succeed in this country, mastering English is critical. There is a huge demand and hunger to learn English. However, the problem is not the demand, it is the supply. Our current system cannot accomodate the demand. As one report says, “the need for English language and literacy instruction by the nation’s LPRs (lawful permanent residents) and unauthorized immigrants dwarfs the scale and abilities of the current service system.” So instead of lamenting the perceived loss of a monolingual America, the English Only crowd could actually make some money by helping those who want to learn English. Talk about a win-win. Instead of capitalizing on this opportunity, we get racist viral Facebook memes and fear of change.
- You want a job? Beef up your bilingual skills. For example, Adecco, one of the country’s largest staffing and recruiting firms, recently published a report on the dramatic shift in the labor market and how the U.S. Latino population is at the head of that shift. One part of the report explored the importance of a new bilingual workforce and how the demand for more bilingual employees is just a business fact. So even though no one is “forcing” you to learn another language (code word for “Spanish”) because of those “illegals,” there is ample evidence that being bilingual will enhance your skill set and make you more attractive to employers.
But I get it. Blaming the “end of America” on people whose culture and language are different from yours is the easier thing to do. Someone has to sell those “Speak English, dammit” patches and t-shirts, since there is still a market for that. But while the haters keep hating, the rest of us who see bilingualism as a competitive advantage will continue to promote it because it is good business sense and will help to nurture a new American economy. That is what a true patriot does: work to make this country better and help it move forward.
Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77 ) founded LatinoRebels.com in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. This year, Julito represented the Rebeldes on Face the Nation, NPR, Univision, Forbes, and The New York Times.