Stop the presses!

At the risk of losing whatever liberal cred I have left, I am astonished to report that I am, for the only time in memory and perhaps the only time ever, in accord with el Presidente in this sentiment, as expressed by the cute cutie Tony Snow (now known as the President's Press Secretary, but known in this house from his days as the host of the once-avidly watched Fox News Sunday -- I was not the avid watcher, but I'm guessing you knew that. Nevertheless, Tony Snow has always seemed like a good guy to me, and I haven't changed my mind just 'cause he's gone to work in the Fun House at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.):

"What the president has said all along is that he wants to make sure that people who become American citizens have a command of the English language," Snow said. "It's as simple as that."

I do think it's as simple as that, myself. Now, look here: I'm not one of these "English-only" freaks, but the simple fact is that if you or I wanted to move to any country in the world whose primary language was not English, we'd have to learn that language if we wanted to live there, study there, work there (despite what we're led to believe about how desirable English-speaking employees are in Western Europe, for instance, it's bilingual or trilingual speakers of English plus the local language of commerce that they're looking for, of course), etc., much less if we wanted to establish citizenship. I see nothing wrong with that standard as long as it's applied universally.

I've been fortunate enough to spend time in France and Italy in the last couple of years, and let me tell you right now, my dears, good luck to you while you're traveling if you only speak English. You might (might) be able to get by right in Paris and right in Rome, but otherwise, bust out your French and Italian. I am roughly (reasonably) fluent in French, and gesticulate passionately enough while speaking to pass for a pidgin Italian speaker, and I was sooooo glad for that facility in language, because it was the rare person indeed that could communicate as well in English as I'd have needed them to if I were solely an English speaker. I took up Spanish in early 2005 in part because I'm feeling that the more polyglot you are, the better. (One of these days I'm thinking of getting hypnotized to see if any of my Hebrew is still there, but that's a post for another day.) At any rate, you could certainly not move to another country and not learn the language, nor should you expect to be able to, honestly.

I'm not saying I think that if your native language is something other than English you can't speak it at home, and I absolutely think you should teach it to your kids, but at the end of the day, if you want to be a citizen of the United States, right now, at least, until the English speakers are no longer the majority and we adopt a second language on par with English, you must learn it as a condition of citizenship, in my opinion. You must speak and read it well enough to take the citizenship exam and pass a driver's licensing exam, and read the damned questions up on posterboard in the jury assembly room!!! (That last one's just a bete noire of mine after spending 15 years in San Francisco, called up for jury duty every 18 months or so, watching with disbelief as people resident in California for 25 or more years purport not to understand such simple inquiries as "name," "age," "marital status," "number and ages of children," "profession," and "address," particularly if everyone else in the room has given these demographic details -- at a minimum, you'd think people would catch on just by emulating their fellow sufferers! Hogwash, I say. Unreal!! But I digress...)

The question of immigration is far more thorny for me, as it clearly is for everyone in the political arena, and I suspect for most thinking people. While I don't countenance illegal immigration (although I have heard and read, as have we all, especially in CA, that farm economics is dependent on migrant or occasional labor, what I don't get is why a visiting laborer program wouldn't work, if properly administered. Let me note here that I have not read the President's proposed guest-worker program, and probably should. Maybe it's the proper administration part that's unworkable... Hm...), obviously, I have to say that our porous borders bother me less on account of the folks from Central America and Mexico coming into TX, NM and CA than on account of people from places where they're being trained to do harm here coming through or across those same porous borders. You know where I'm talking about -- and don't think the irony is lost on me that the murderers of 9/11, almost without exception, were here legally -- and the ones who were here illegally were pretty much just here on expired visas, which were originally obtained (together now) legally. I'm sort of at the point now where I think all foreign visits need to be closely monitored, wherever the visitors are from. I'm sort of paranoically isolationist (although, is it still paranoid when you've got good reasons for feeling standoffish??), in a way, not least because I feel like Americans' travel all over the world is pretty closely monitored; why not adopt similar protections right here at home? Again, back to the linguistic reasoning: what's sauce for the goose, etc.


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