If he were willing, my father could be a poster boy for anti-bilingual education forces.
Uprooted from his home in Mexico when he was only 9, he not only had to adjust to life in a new country and deal with a new culture, but he also was thrown into an English-only classroom.
But he made it.
Not able to communicate with his fifth-grade teacher at Wilson Elementary School, he feared he would learn nothing that year. And were it not for his bilingual classmates – who he said provided him with more instruction than his teacher – that might have been true.
But, as in most areas of his life, he succeeded where others probably would have failed.
In fact, his academic achievements allowed him to skip a grade in junior high and pass up his peers.
Today, he speaks English without an accent, which seems to be a benchmark for how well minorities have assimilated into American culture.
And that’s why those who favor measures like California’s Proposition 227 could use him as a model of how a student can be placed in an English-only environment and thrive.
But my father would never let them.
Despite his successes, the results of being denied the right to speak and learn in his native tongue were costly.
He may not have been punished as others were, but he began to believe what many immigrants now know: nothing foreign is valued in this country.
Never mind that high schools and colleges require students to study another language or that businesses take an interest in bilingual abilities, because every English-only move in this country negates that.
Overall, Americans seem to resent when anyone uses a language other than English.
That’s the lesson my dad learned.
And that’s why he and my mom decided they would not speak Spanish at home while my sisters and I were young, forcing us to learn what we could in a classroom.
My parents were convinced – as it seems a majority of Californians also are – that children cannot master more than one language, though most child development experts say the opposite is true.
It’s a lesson my grandparents cannot understand. They only know that some of their grandchildren have no trouble communicating with them, while my sisters and I fumble with the language.
It’s a lesson I hope I can avoid passing down when I have children. Although they might have to learn Spanish in a classroom (provided Spanish isn’t banned from schools altogether), my hope for them is that they’ll tackle a second language early and find value not only in a second tongue but in other cultures.
– Angela Alcala is editor of the Westside Sun.