Monday, January 05, 2009

My Thoughts on Nashville's Ridiculous English-Only Vote

The citizens of Metropolitan Nashville/Davidson County are currently voting on an amendment to the city charter that, if passed, would eliminate the use of any non-English language by Metro government. Currently, I live just outside of Davidson County and therefore do not have a vote; but since I work and go to church in the city, I feel that my opinion on the matter is at least fractionally valid.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and many of the city's business leaders have opposed the amendment, fearing that it would inhibit the city's ability to attract businesses in an increasingly global marketplace; the administrators of Nashville's several universities have opposed the amendment, fearing that it would inhibit their ability to attract the best students from around the world; Nashville's religious leaders have opposed the amendment, citing God's command to love and show mercy to the foreigners living among you. Yet, conventional wisdom says that the amendment will pass. Xenophobia is a powerful force.

This recent Nashville Scene article on Eric Crafton, the father of the English-only amendment, explains Crafton's motivation for introducing such an unnecessary change to the city's charter. Apparently, while Crafton was serving in the Navy in the early 1990s, he was stationed in Japan. When he learned of his assignment, he stocked up on books and tapes and taught himself Japanese. By the time his ship arrived in Yokosuka, Crafton was semi-fluent. A few years later he returned to the states with a mastery of Japanese and with a Japanese wife. Good for him.

Crafton expects anyone who moves to the United States to learn English much in the way he learned Japanese—immediately. But, as the Scene article correctly points out: "Learning a new language with the full backing and resources of the American Navy, they argue, is so removed from the life of your average Nashville non-native speaker that it might as well take place on another planet." Refugees fleeing civil war and genocide don't have the option of stocking up on English books and CDs—they have neither the time or the resources to learn English before they settle in the U.S.

My church shares a facility with a congregation of immigrants from Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, and Laos, many of whom are refugees; it also hosts English-as-a-second language classes for students of dozens of nationalities. The pastoral staff recently issued a statement on the English-only amendment that included the following regarding the immigrant members of our church community: "All of these persons are eager to learn the language. Navigating our government and school systems in English can be difficult and frustrating. Without language assistance it would become impossible and completely inhospitable." Exactly.

See also:

Aunt B. on Tennessee's tendency to make things double and triple illegal

Southern Beale on all of the city leaders who are opposing the measure


Blogger TN Rambler said...

I share your concerns. I hope that it will be defeated.


5:22 AM  

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