Thursday, July 31, 2008


By Leo E. Laurence

Copyright © 2008 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

Our American cultural landscape is changing, particularly as the percentage of Latinos increases and many young people speak more than one language.

But, the English-only wars that are emerging are unnecessary and may even be un-American.

Research indicates that children of immigrants are more likely to lose their native language and speak only English, than never learning English at all.

One day the valedictorian of a high school wrote into his speech a single sentence, welcoming his grandparents, who had traveled to the United States to attend the ceremony. That sentence was in his grandparent’s native language.

At an eighth-grade graduation in the same city, another valedictorian did something similar. She included a single sentence thanking her parents – and in their native language – for their support.

The single sentence in the high-school speech was in German. The single line in the junior high school speech was in Spanish.

Guess which one caused a furor.

Days before the graduation ceremony, the junior-high principal tried to pressure his student to remove the line in Spanish.

He reportedly was afraid that those who didn’t understand Spanish might feel uncomfortable. It is more likely that the principal didn’t want to respond to the angry phone calls from Minutemen-types.

The girl stood her ground.

The principal backed down.

The Constitution’s first-amendment right of free-speech was on her side, the same as the Constitution’s presumption of innocence makes it wrong for journalists to use the phrase “illegal immigrants” or “illegal aliens” when referring to undocumented immigrants in their stories. It’s the law!

Conversely, no one said a word about the line in German. But, the Minutemen are attacking Mexicans, not Germans.

More recently, Cindy and Hue Co, cousins and co-valedictorians in a Louisiana high school, recently delivered part of their speech in Vietnamese. They are daughters of Vietnamese immigrants.

Cindy told the Associated Press that she added a sentence in Viet-namese to thank her parents. It also meant that she could always be true to herself, and she expressed gratitude to her parents for im-migrating to the United States.

Unfortunately, it, too, turned out to be controversial.

Now the school officials are thinking about adopting an official school policy that requires future commencement speeches to be in English only, contrary to the First Amendment of our federal Consti-tution.

That is what many dislike.

They dislike it when busybody school officials think that, because they don’t like something (e.g., adding a compliment in another lan-guage to a valedictory speech), they can simply outlaw it, even what that act may violate the federal Constitution.

Some American teenagers, who can barely speak proper English, may eventually be outmatched in the global market by teenagers from Europe, Asia or Latin America who can speak two or three languages.

Some of these American kids dislike the idea of competition, and that English-only policies may actually be a handicap for them.

Many believe that monolingual kids need to study harder and become bilingual themselves, and eliminate controversies about a single sentence in a graduation speech in another language.

Contact Leo E. Laurence at, or call (619) 757-4909.