The English language is wonderful because it has so many sources: German, Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, Yiddish, Native American, African, even Chinese. The English language is what we should aspire to be, inclusive and growing.
Unfortunately, some Republican legislators want to flip this on in its head. They want English to be exclusionary, to close us off.
That’s not their stated intent. Their stated intent is to make English “the official language” of Wisconsin. The three legislators, Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), Sen. Dave Craig (R-Big Bend) and Sen. André Jacque (R-De Pere), say making English the official language will encourage non-English speakers to learn the language faster.
The law is unnecessary. Every wave of immigrants that has come to America has eventually learned English. In case the legislators haven’t noticed, despite waves of Norwegian, Swedish, German, Polish, Irish, Italian, French, Jewish and Belgian immigrants in the 19th century, English is the most commonly spoken language in Wisconsin.
That hasn’t changed with today’s immigrant waves. English is not only the dominant language here in the United States, but it is used around the world. It doesn’t need the protection of “official” status.
The law will not even make English the language for all official government acts. It’s riddled with exceptions, including:
“…except that such expression may be in another language when appropriate to the circumstances of an individual case, the implementation of a program in a specific instance, or the discharge of a responsibility in a particular situation.”
If any local government official thinks they’re going to avoid conducting official business in another language, they should check with their attorney before they get sued.
The law’s only practical effect would be to confirm the worst suspicions about the Republican Party. Instead of a Big Tent, the party wants to construct a tiny exclusive country club. As that club becomes more exclusive with blatant appeals to nativist sentiments, they will lose more elections – and deserve to do so.
Nass, Craig and Jacque should look back to the example of the state’s founders. When the final draft of Wisconsin’s constitution was drafted in 1848, the delegates at the convention voted to ask the state’s foreign language newspapers to translate the constitution and publish it so that everyone could read it. Because it was the American thing to do.