Tongue tied


First Posted: 1/15/2009

Today we begin a series, titled Culture Shock, that will focus on the effect that immigrants -- legal and illegal -- are having on Robeson County. We do not intend any connotation in the series title; instead, it was selected because of the many adjustments that our society makes because of this infusion of people, specifically Hispanics.
Today's story focuses on the language barrier -- and that theme will likely take a major bite out of subsequent stories. The inability of many of these Hispanics to speak English fluently or at all obviously affects -- and severely limits -- practically everything that they do, from working to obtaining health services to shopping at a grocery store.
According to the 2000 Census, 4.8 percent -- 5,994 people -- of this county's population are Hispanics. But no one truly believes that figure; it is far too low. Again, the language barrier probably is the biggest reason that the Hispanic population is undercounted.
We don't want to go much farther without recognizing that the Hispanics are here at our invitation. They are filling labor jobs that Americans simply will not do. Consequently, these Hispanics become an important spoke in our economic wheel. That cannot be overlooked.
However, they are increasingly becoming a burden on taxpayers because of their disproportionate need for social services and health programs. Additionally, because this country has elected to accommodate their linguistic limitations, taxpayers are picking up the bill for translators who our needed at public schools and government agencies.
Understandably, that angers many of us, which is why the following refrain is too frequently uttered at Hispanics: “Why don't you learn English?” Although offered in contempt, the question is valid.
There are those of the political-correctness stripe who insist that America -- a nation that was built by immigrants -- should embrace the culture of other people, and that it is up to us to adjust. But they ignore the unwillingness of these immigrants to embrace our culture, which condemns them to isolation. When the Europeans arrived, they learned our language.
But there is a more important point: When Hispanics refuse to learn English, they forfeit any chance to melt into our society and to fully exploit all the opportunities that make this country great. English is the language of success -- and those who cannot speak it will never get the larger slice of the American pie.

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