Sunday, January 18, 2009

Vote NO to the "English Only Bill"

"This thing is mean spirited. It's going to hurt us in terms of business
recruiting, and it's going to be used against us in terms of business
recruiting. It does not help us with tourism," Gov. Phil Bredesen

I am technically an “immigrant.” Although I was raised as an American since the day of my birth, I was born on foreign soil and became a citizen of this great country by naturalization, not by birthright. I’ve also spent a six years of my life as an outsider living in foreign countries. It was my experience that the natives of the countries I resided in did everything within their power to make sure I felt welcome and that my basic human needs were met. I believe it is our responsibility to do the same. As an immigrant and American that has lived abroad, I am extremely offended by the “English Only” referendum that we will vote on this Thursday. This referendum would prohibit any Nashville government business to be done in a foreign language. I find this referendum to be xenophobic, an unnecessary waste of taxpayer money, and completely distasteful.

Immigrants to any country understand that the first step in advancing financially, politically, or socially is to learn the local language. There were many Vietnamese immigrants living in my hometown of Gulfport, MS. The only ones that I knew that could not speak English fluently were the oldest generations (think “boat people”) that never had the opportunity to learn. These people made sure that the future generations of Vietnamese-Americans learned the English language. My father works in construction. Many of his co-workers are legal immigrants from Mexico and South America. They do their best to learn English so they can advance in their careers and build a better future for their families. Many people think that most immigrants are not willing to learn or speak English. This is a fallacy as the majority of foreign language households speak English. There is no need for us to try to force our language upon people who our new to our country. They have the desire to learn it themselves.

I believe that there are no financial benefits to this bill, and that it’s actually costing us more than we could save. The bill is ambiguous and largely unenforceable. Even the supporters of the bill do not have a clear understanding of it’s impact. Many articles and blogs I have read indicate the bill wouldn’t be saving the taxpayer much.

Even if the bill did save the taxpayer a little money, I don’t think it could offset the harm done to the city’s image. It’s extremely difficult to be a progressive city in the south, but if passed this bill will set us back decades. Do you think that if the English Only bill was passed Nissan would have relocated it’s North American headquarters here? To me this bill says “you’re not welcome here” to immigrants and I have yet to see any scenario that explains how this bill will help our city attract and retain new businesses.

I also wonder if Eric Crafton, the primary proponent of this bill, has some kind of hidden agenda. There has been no disclosure as to who is funding this campaign and Crafton has pulled out of debates regarding this issue. In a January interview he told the New York Times that he wanted this passed because “I happened to see a state legislature meeting in California where several of the state representatives had interpreters at their desk because they couldn’t speak English. That’s not the vision I have for Nashville.” This statement may have been less than truthful as retracted this statement when concerned citizens reported to the Times that calls to California’s Chief Clerk of the Assembly revealed “To our knowledge; every person that has been elected to the legislature since 1850 has known how to speak English. The only time we’ve had a translator present is in the rare instant when a foreign dignitary is delivering an address to the Assembly.”

If you are legally able to vote in Nashville I encourage you to vote NO to both amendments. Many key figures have spoken out against “English Only” including Governor Bredesen, Mayor Karl Dean, Former Mayor Bill Purcell, The Tennessean, The City Paper, The Nashville Scene, TheNashville Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Nashville Chamber of Commerce. (A full list can be found here)

In closing, I’d like to share a quote from local attorney and the Nashville Scene’s 2008 Nashvillian of the Year George Ramos :

“It is unfortunate that Mr. Crafton is resurrecting this divisive battle that ultimately will benefit no one. There are many things in life for which we do not need yet another law, and an English-only law certainly is at the top of that list. It's just not necessary here in Nashville in 2008. Somehow, Nashville has managed to survive for over 200 years without such a law.

Newly arrived immigrants don't need a law to tell them that they will more effectively overcome the many economic and social barriers they face with a knowledge and command of the English language…. Rather than
proposing a largely symbolic but ultimately ineffective law that only serves to make the integration process harder, Mr. Crafton, if he truly wanted to help, should be advocating for more resources to improve and increase the number of English classes for immigrants. Such classes are too scarce and overcrowded at present. They are overcrowded with immigrants who are doing everything possible to learn the English language and to make their lives better in this, the greatest and most accepting country in the world.

We will come together to show that there are many other humane, respectful, dignified and truly Christian ways to assist our immigrant population in the integration process. Mr. Crafton's divisive and ultimately ineffective law, on the other hand, will only serve to polarize our community. It will accomplish nothing tangible.”

REMEMBER: Vote AGAINST Ammendment#1 and Ammendment#2 on THURSDAY, JANUARY 22

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