Monday, July 7, 2008

English-Only Graduations?

I found this story on a New Orleans blog andI found this story on a New Orleans blog and I have a lot to say about it. In Terrebonne Parish, the two valedictorians, who were cousins, gave parts of their speeches in Vietnamese. Their family is from Vietnam. There is actually a large Vietnamese population in Louisiana. The school board is now looking into creating a rule that would require valedictorian speeches to be in English only.

Read the story here.

Along with anti-immigrant sentiment comes a fear that English will cease to be the America's first language. Yet, as the rest of the world scrambles for English classes, I don't understand how anyone could really think that the nation's future will not be in English.
While this story doesn't surprise me at all, I'm trying to understand what could be going through school board member Rickie Pitre's head. My suspicion is that he's never seen a foreign movie, failed out of Latin in high school and doesn't even know his last name or the name of his Parish are French. In some of Pitre's statements it is clear he is bothered by students who know something he doesn't. And he probably doesn't know that being bilingual makes all students more likely to pass state exams, do well in school and move on to college. I don't want to claim racism, but would he have had the same reaction if the students had used phrases in Latin or French? Is the fact that Vietnamese is so completely foreign to his ears, that he is uncomfortable with the changing demographics of his Parish?

We should examine the motives of the "English Only" movement and what it really says about our nation. I'm not surprised by this story, but it is ironic that it would occur in Louisiana, a state with it's own complicated linguistic history. There was a time when French-speakers were discouraged or prohibited from speaking French in school. I've met numerous people here who tell me their own grandparents never spoke English perfectly because they spoke French their whole lives. But despite the efforts of some, Louisiana has never been an "English Only" state and to try to make it that way would be to ignore the history most people here are very proud of.

Would Pitre also want to take down the "Bienvenue en Louisiane"?

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