As an immigrant to this country in the 1960s, I have experienced firsthand the challenges of assimilating to a new language and a new culture. I know what a trial it can be. I also know what an advantage it is to be proficient in English, the common language of the United States of America. Throughout my years in this land of opportunity, I have not only maintained my native Spanish and become proficient in English; I have also become fluent in French and Italian, and I am currently studying Russian. Language truly is the key to success, and I am appreciative of the many doors that have opened to me in the United States upon learning English.
I can say with confidence that proficiency in the English language is the greatest asset an immigrant to the United States can receive. More than anything else, being able to communicate with fellow citizens opens the doors to equal opportunity. Furthermore, having a common language with which to communicate is one of the few issues that a strong majority of Americans stand behind. A June 2010 Harris Interactive poll, commissioned by U.S. English, found that 88 percent of respondents believe that English should be declared the official language of the United States. Further support came from 96 percent of Republicans, 83 percent of Democrats, 89 percent of Independents and even 83 percent of Hispanics.
Unfortunately, now more than ever, newcomers are facing increasing struggles as they adjust to life in the United States. If the language they speak is used by enough fellow Americans, they may have the ability receive native language translations when requesting government assistance. While some may see this is as a ‘welcoming’ gesture, consider what difficulty this newcomer faces when, without fluency in English, he or she has to sign a child’s permission slip, visit an emergency room, or ask for help finding an item at a grocery store. An endless onslaught of government translations sends the false sense of security that in the United States, English is optional.
In reality, we can all agree that we live in an English dominant society, and without knowing how to read, write and speak this common language, one would certainly be at a disadvantage. Declaring English the official language of the United States government will not limit the languages spoken by individuals; instead, it will end the government translations that are delaying assimilation and holding immigrants back from reaching their fullest potential.
As the 113th Congress approaches, I hope legislators will take it upon themselves to listen to the will of the American people and pass a bill to help place all residents of the United States on equal footing. Declaring English the official language of the United States will send immigrants the message that this country wants them to succeed. It will add an extra incentive for newcomers to learn America’s common language, while encouraging them to embrace their native language and culture that have made this nation into the melting pot that it is.
Come January, it is time for our elected officials to return to the ideology of our nation’s forefathers. It is time they take up the task of passing laws that will provide all Americans with the tools they need to achieve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Rather than continuing the partisan gridlock that has dominated politics in recent years, it is time to tackle the issues that, supported by a majority of Americans, will have a positive impact on individuals, communities and our country as a whole. Designating English as our official language of government would be a great place to start.
Mujica is chairman of the Board and CEO of U.S. English, Inc.