It is one of the more persistent myths out there.

You know, Mexican immigrants come to this country and refuse to learn English.

Did I say refuse? No, these adults are supposedly in complete revolt,
speaking Spanish at home, at work, at the store, everywhere.

On purpose!

It’s one of the reasons folks are so hot to eliminate bilingual ed – to make sure the children don’t pay for the alleged sins of their wayward Spanish-speaking parents.

Yes, there are immigrants out there who have been here for years and still don’t speak English well. And I know that the assimilation model honed by previous immigrant groups is undergoing some revision. Proximity to countries of origin both refreshes the culture and delays the process of acculturation.

But has it occurred to anyone that: (1) It’s extremely difficult to learn another language as an adult and (2) that there might be a shortage of classes for these adults?

Presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan mongers in recent ads about the Spanish spoken here.

His solution: sealing the border. A better solution, given that our economy would shrivel without these immigrants: Address the shortage of English-language classes for adults in the Valley and virtually everyplace else in the Southwest.

Some 16,000 adults went through Rio Salado Community College’s ESL classes as part of the college’s basic education program last fiscal year and there is a waiting list. Rio Salado is the largest provider of such classes in Phoenix.

Kathy Price, who coordinates the college’s Adult Basic Education program,
estimates that the school could add 20 more classes at any given time and still not meet the demand.

The necessity of learning English is decidedly not news to immigrants who may cling proudly to their mother tongue and culture but still hunger to learn the language of their new country.

If you are ambitious and intrepid enough to risk life, limb and capture to trek here from Mexico – in the case of those coming without documents –
you’re probably ambitious enough to want to learn English, if you want to stay.

And if you’re intrepid enough to wade through our immigration laws to arrive and stay here legally, then you’ve most likely hit on the fact that not knowing English can amount to a serious handicap.

Earlier this year, I visited an ESL class at Chicano Por La Causa’s Via de Amistad site. Here’s what the experts, the students, told me.

Sylvia Baca said she came to this country “to have a better job, to improve my situation.”

Maria Palacios, in the same class, said she is learning English “to have a better future, to communicate with the people here.”

Another student remarked how she wants to be able to talk to her children’s teachers when they reach school age.

Most of the 20 or so in this particular class were from Mexico, but one student, Stani Slaba, was from Bulgaria. “The important thing is to communicate with the people. If you live here, you’re going to have to understand.”

The students spoke of the future, their children, personal and familial betterment and just plain necessity.

But these folks yearning for English aren’t the people that Buchanan wants you to hear about. Jingoism and reality are mortal enemies.

And they are not the people the folks pushing Proposition 203, which would ban bilingual education in Arizona, want you to hear about, either. It would upset their message that we have to take the responsibility for the education of immigrant children away from their ignorant parents.

Reality, choice and fairness can be pretty darn pesky.

Reach Pimentel at or (602) 444-8210.
His column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

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