English Only What

I guess high schools either aren’t teaching anything about the history of the Americas — as opposed to “American History” which is invariably the History of the United States of America, or, as popularly known, U.S.A., USA, U.S., US, or “us” — or else the high school students we’ve produced who can call in to radio talk shows specialized in math and not history.

I keep hearing about “English as the official language,” and I wonder if they have any idea what they are saying. That ONLY English has ever been spoken in North America?

I wonder what was spoken by the Oneida, the Chippwa, the Klikitat and Paiute, the Shoshone and Commanche, Cheyenne, Sioux, Iriquois, Pawnee, Shawnee, Kiowa, Nez Perce, Navajo, Tohono O’odham (or, as known in Indian Country, “the tribe formerly known as Papago”), Cherokee, Hopi, Seminole, Creek, Commanche, Apache, Zuni, Arapaho, or any other of the five hundred nations that were here PRIOR to European incursion 500 years ago.

Or, what about the fact that half the names west of the Mississippi are Spanish, half are French, and another 65% are Native American in origin. The entire nation is awash in “Indian” names: Potomac, Massachusetts, Delaware, Pontiac, Michigan, Ohio, Wyoming, Oklahoma. Or what about Colorado, Nevada, California? Santa Fe. San Diego. San Jacinto. San Francisco (OK, I admit that “San Francisco” was renamed after the Mexican War by local white merchants, because they didn’t think anyone would come from back East to settle in a place named “Yerba Buena”– roughly, “good herbs”). We even have a state NAMED ‘Indiana.’

We stole half of Mexico in the Mexican War, and called it, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California. We bought most of the midwestern interior from Napoleon (French) who’d recently taken it (back, with interest) from the Spanish. The Russians were rapidly grabbing all the resources in Alaska, and the dominant, official language there was Russian, until they palmed off what they thought was an exhausted resource storehouse to the Post-Lincoln Administration: lesser remembered than “Seward’s Folly” — for Secretary of State William Seward — is “Andrew Johnson’s Polar Bear Garden.” The latter is funnier, but wordier, to the eternal benefit of Seward parodists.

So, when was it that only English speaking peoples inhabited the area of the United States? The Spanish descendents of the original colonists of New Mexico are still there, and they arrived prior to the founding of Jamestown in 1607. Many Native American tribes can be traced back at least 2000 and often to 11,000 years.

What were they speaking before the English arrived with their “official” language?

I realize that English became the “official language” of New Amsterdam after the Dutch settlement was seized at gunpoint by the English. But is that the legitimacy of English for our official language?

Should New York City’s example be the rule? And, if so, then do we cede that whoever shows up with a gun and tells us what THEIR idea of an “official language” is, is entitled to name our language by right of trial by combat? THAT’s why we have to speak English ONLY?

Do we tell the Native Americans to kill their languages and only speak English from now on? Do we pretend that no great number of the “patriots” of the Revolution spoke German? Spoke Spanish? Spoke French. Spoke a dozen Native dialects, and conversed by sign as well?

Do we rename our states to whatever the English equivalent of that awful foreign name is? Do we rename our national parks and monuments into English, our Official language? Before you answer, please consider what “Grand Tetons” actually translates as in French.

(And consider how delirious the poor French trapper who named them must have been to come up with THAT descriptive. Onward.)

No: there is a viciously racist, xenophobic streak in the idea that “English” is. or ever could be the only language allowed in the USA.

But, for a language what was outlawed by the Norman Invaders, and was only spoken underground for centuries after the conquest of William in 1066, English, one would think, could be more tolerant of other languages. If we MUST get even with other languages for having had the temerity to be spoken, then ban French. It was French that became the “official” language of England, at the point of William’s sword.

But, again, consider that if you do, vacations to Montreal and to Quebec will be right out. And that would be much more OUR national loss than theirs.

The premise that English has any other right than the right of the conqueror to pretend to be the one and only, official language of these United States is preposterous, on the face of it.

Like the immigration debate, this is actually about “brown people.” And by that, I mean “Hispanic.” (I know, “Latino,” “Chicano,” etc. etc. etc. — you get the point.)

HALF of the illegal immigrants in the United States are NOT Hispanic by any connection of culture, melanin or language. But those brown people South of the Border are what they are invariably talking about when they talk about “illegal immigrants.” And that is not about “the law,” as it is about “the other.” And about hate born of fear. Good old xenophobia, as practiced by virtually all anthropoids, but most expecially and artfully by Homo Sapiens. We are Sunni, they are Shi’ia. We are North, they are South; we are Protestant, they are Catholic; we are Christian, they are Musselmen; we are Germans, they are Jews; we are Normal, they are Perverts; we are Ashkenazi, they are Sephardic.

Perhaps you know a refrain or two. If not, you are undoubtedly humming along: it is the SOLE universal human song: destroy the other. “Destroy” and “other” permutate endlessly, according to fashion and prevailing conditions, but “destroy the other” is the song that humanity sings most often, and best.

That we stand against it is a quixotic oddity, but it is a position that must be taken, no matter how hopeless it might seem, or else cast off all pretence of morality or ethics. No: the unspoken language that must be destroyed is “Spanish” and the unspoken “other” that must be destroyed is “Messikans” — in the traditional gap-toothed argot.

So, before we consider remaining silent in face of the NEW “Know Nothing” party, we need to remember that this national outpouring of anti-immigrant fervor and “groupism” is nothing new. Forget ‘racism’ or ‘anti-Papists’ or any other identifying characteristic — it’s a specific group designated as “other,” and we have many shameful incidents in our national history of this practice, from the “Know Nothing”/AntiMasonic Party, to Andrew Jackson’s virulent antipathy to the original inhabitants of North America, to the original KKK, the reformed 1920s KKK, the anti-Irish movement, the anti-Communist “Red Scare,” the anti-Witch sentiment of the New England Puritans, the treatment of the Issei and Nisei on the West Coast and their internment during the Second World War, the militia and skinhead movements … oh, we’ve got a LOT of examples of “anti” some “other” movements.

So, while the “anti-immigrant” or “illegal immigrant” or whatever else this furore is about continues, don’t be convinced that there’s any nobility to it. Or that you should politely remain silent.

And “English only”?

From people who rarely speak it with any great facility themselves?

In a pig’s eye.


5:44 BREAKING NEWS as I edit errata in this, the “Immigration Reform” bill is dying on the Senate floor.


© 2007 Hart Williams. Cross-posted from Zug - Hart Williams' Blog
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Skiing Uphill and Boregasm, Zug is 'the little blog that could.'

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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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3 Responses to English Only What

  1. Ginny Cotts says:

    Funny thing about this. The GOP who want to make it law are really big on business being better than government.

    How many businesses now have signs in other languages here in the good ole US of A? This is, of course, standard in other countries where tourism and many close neighbors with other tongues. Here we are now seeing signs for various services in Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, etc depending on the percent of immigrants in the local area.

    Maybe these homocentrics should do what business does.

    Get over it. Embrace it. It’s more business.

  2. Here’s a concept those immigration paranoia-ists will never get:

    “Mitakuye Oyasin… We are all related”

  3. Darrell Prows says:

    Not that I’d really recommend this, but if you walked up to some “Coonass” down in the bayous of Louisana and told him he had to speak english, he’d have a knife in you before you could get the words out.

    Up in the grain fields of the northern great plains farms are often in both countries and folks don’t want to hear about where our border with Canada is. Or so it has been from the start.

    Because of 9-11 everything must change, even things that make more sense the way they are. After Bush and the radical right are finished turning the country on its head, I hope we can still figure out which way is up.