Immigrants from China, Mexico and Hungary voiced support yesterday for making English the official language of the land and sounded alarms over government policies they said are linguistically dividing American society.
“If we view coming to the United States as a way to better one’s life, then English should be the prerequisite for becoming a United States citizen,” Josephine Jung-Shan Wang, a naturalized citizen from China, told the Congressional English Language Task Force.
“Bilingual ballots are abominable,” Mrs. Wang said at the hearing.
Accepting and acquiring English is “a small fee” for being able to vote and become part of the American dream, she said.
“Why come here if you are unwilling to do that?”
Rep. Toby Roth, Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House task force, has introduced a resolution, with 59 co-sponsors, to make English the official language of the United States.
“We feel that what kept America together is the English language,” Mr. Roth said.
All but one of the panelists denounced bilingual education because of its emphasis on native-language instruction. They also criticized multilingual ballots and other government language services.
The dissenting voice was Sara Melendez, a native of Puerto Rico and president of the Center for Applied Linguistics.
“What would outlawing bilingual ballots do to Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens?” she asked.
Too many people would use a law making English the official language “to oppress and discriminate against non-English speakers,” she said.
Jose Fabila, a Sacramento businessman who described himself as “an ordinary American of Mexican descent,” said: “English is the language of opportunity for everybody in this country.
“In my state of California, the politics of bilingual education and bilingual services drive up the costs of immigration and cause resentment against immigrants. But immigrants have not even asked for these services. It is in this way that the government divides us on the basis of language and national origin.”
On language mandates in the workplace, he said, “I should not be expected to conduct my business the way the United Nations conducts its business, complete with simultaneous translation into six languages.”
Sandor Balogh, a Hungarian immigrant who is professor emeritus at Hudson Community College in New York, said, “In school the children of new immigrants should all learn in English, while in the home or through other private educational efforts they might be educated in their own native culture.”
Mrs. Wang said there are more than a dozen private weekend schools in the Washington area to which Chinese families send their children for training in their native language and culture – without government support.
Other panelists said the backers of bilingual education and similar enterprises are those who gain politically or economically.
“What is unique about bilingual education in this country, which makes us a curious spectacle to educators outside the United States, is that we claim that teaching a child in their native tongue is the best way for them to learn the second language, English,” said Christine H. Rossell, a political science professor at Boston University who opposes bilingual education.
“Indeed, we go even further in arguing that a student must fully develop their native tongue before they can learn a second language. No one else believes this crazy idea.”
Mike Thompson, chairman of the Florida Conservative Union, testified on the impact of the Metro-Dade County Commission’s May vote to reject English as the exclusive language of government.
New laws require multilingual broadcasting and that government bids and help-wanted ads be in Spanish and English. And regulations are creeping into the private sector.
“Yesterday a regulation went into effect requiring every auto repair shop in Dade to display in English, Spanish and Creole signs telling customers they have a right to a written estimate before repairs begin,” he said.
Multilingual tutoring in Dade schools costs taxpayers $64 million a year, Mr. Thompson said.