The Return of English-Only Views in National Politics

It seems that the bizarre rise of Trump as the leading Republican candidate may have come with the reemergence of a number of issues that haven’t been around for a while. One that has been in the news this week is the English only movement. A few election cycles ago, the principal champion of English only was none other than Colorado’s Tom Tancredo, who has since disappeared into relative obscurity.

The most prominent story regarding this was, predictably, instigated by Donald Trump, who lambasted Jeb Bush for responding to a question in Spanish by speaking Spanish. The idea that English should be the only language of the US is seen by many (and I think correctly so) as little more than thinly veiled bigotry against immigrants from Latin America. Obligating new immigrants to learn English before or immediately upon arrival and then use it almost exclusively is asking them to assimilate much faster and much more completely than any previous immigrant group. It’s not practical and also flies in the face of how the US has historically dealt with immigration. There are still immigrant communities in the US that primarily speak their original language generations after moving to the US, yet many of these are looked on with pride. Somehow people speaking Spanish is an affront to American values yet there is little hand-wringing over immigrants who speak other European languages and struggle with English many years after immigrating.

Furthermore, the US has always had many languages. English has never been the official national language and is not native to the US. There are still thousands of native speakers of indigenous languages, and there are plenty of communities that historically speak non-English European languages.

I think the correct answer to this issue could be summed up like this:

If you didn’t want people to speak Spanish in the US then you shouldn’t have annexed Spanish speaking countries or built an economy dependent on Spanish-speaking immigrants.