USA's Official Language
By Masashi Nagadoi
Now, thanks to the innovative, modern day, ever-evolving social network phenomenon, mixed with well-fed newsworthy socially conscious current affair data, we’re sucked into a massive, uninterrupted information spiral. Some somber, manipulative, expose-type, venomous stories will swallow my head so overwhelmingly that I’m afraid of causing harm to my health. I have to find a way of filtering and sorting them, absorbing and analyzing all the critical data astutely.
With that consideration in mind, when I happened to discover and watch several disturbing videos on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, I was absolutely so agape that I could not help but reevaluate the true American core values and our own human decency. Let me describe the contents: One video portrays a seemingly regular young American man wearing a plaid shirt in a wheel chair yelling with rage at another man (off camera) who is capturing the incident while trying to calm him down. It looks like that it took place at the airport lounge. I saw some slot machines in the background (it turned out to be Reno airport). The reason why the man in plaid went berserk at the other guy is just because before the camera started recording, the other guy was speaking with his mother in Spanish on the phone. The man in plaid, with a fierce look, launched into a tirade of abusive words against the other guy barking, “Speak English! We live in America.” The other video portrays an American guy with a baseball cap with a contemptuous look, yelling, “Go back to Africa!” Another one is a lady with unabashed loathing at Walmart screaming, “Go back to Mexico!” Another one is a middle-aged customer lady, rumpled hair, at a donut shop, in an aloof manner, talking down at the ethnic employees at the cash register, “Go back home. Trump is President.” Another one is a disgruntled old lady shouting at a Latina woman at IHOP, “Speak English!” All are unbelievable. It’s completely disgusting and I’m stunned to see so-called patriotic Americans throwing abusive words in such a manner to other fellow humans in public places. It’s unquestionably absurd. Shame on them!
Once again, thanks to instant Social Network age, we are now able to see all the very sad heart-breaking, sickening, raw footage, reflecting the chilling malicious reality. I am certain that the current orange-faced President is one of the contributing factors of these skyrocketing hateful speeches and conducts. However, it’s sad to say that lots of combative, frustrated, aggressive people in the US have already had this kind of xenophobic, nationalistic sentiment in their realm of the subconsciousness even before he took office. It’s been infested. They feel confident now they have the right to erupt their emotions proudly, candidly, and blatantly without remorse nor repercussion — they don’t like minorities and foreigners who don’t speak English, which seems like this administration’s incessant cryptic agenda.
Well, I have no intention of becoming a clamant problem-solver like a sorcerer with a magic wand for this seemingly deep hateful friction, but let me present some thoughtful hints for better understanding only through my own personal experiences.
Having grown up in Tokyo in the 70s and early 80s in my boyhood and teen-hood where the American influence was extremely strong (even if it’s superficially) in terms of culture, fashion, movies and music, such as McDonald’s, Disneyland, Apple, Star Wars, E.T., President Reagan, Keith Haring, CNN, MTV, Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, etc., the majority of Japanese young generation including, myself back then, was inclined to find fascination towards the US, embrace the auspicious Americanization with gleaming gratitude, and really dream of coming to the US as an ultimate, idealistic destination, our version of the Promised Land. It’s the pinnacle of power, prosperity, ambition, success, career, fantasy and happiness. It’s faithfully riveting, titillating, and transfixing. It was an era when the economy was booming. We see America as our best friend of Japan, the big brother of Japan, and above all, the undisputed world leader who could do no wrong taking care of everybody on the planet. We owe the US for having helped us recover and rebuild Japan so quickly, effectively, and responsibly after the war. The majority of Japanese people’s mentality, including mine, was believing in the US as our savior forever. Simply following what the US has done and imitating it would be the best-case study for the bright future. The US possesses all kinds of magic bullets as well as golden nuggets or even platinum nuggets… a lot of them! And my life mission I promised myself was to find one. For preparing this endeavor, the best logical, reasonable way for me to get more information about the US was to learn English.
I have to tell this particular incident I had encountered during that soul-searching period, which ended up motivating me to study English even harder. Well, this is personal and a lot to do with my father and grandfather’s influence, too. We all loved Professional Wresting! Can you believe it? I was so fascinated by their heroic (sometimes bloody violent) acts in the ring! Maybe because of my own lack of mental and physical machismo, by watching them, it would fulfill my psychological inferiority making me feel bigger and better. Maybe, simply, all the boys wanted to be physically strong. I was particularly a big fan of The Funks (Dory Funk Jr. and Terry Funk are brothers). (* I had my other cool hero idol masked wrestler I enthusiastically admired. I’ll tell you later.) When those star wrestlers including Bruiser Brody, Stan Hansen, and Abdullah the Butcher came touring in Japan for the fight events, I excitedly went to the sports arena in Tokyo holding my precious Canon AE-1 camera and several white high-quality cardboards in hand hoping I can get their autographs. Well, I’ve got tons of out-of-focus blurred shots, but I never had a chance to get any of their autographs. All the fans swarmed towards those popular wrestlers every time they sneaked out from the dressing room before the match. I did not have the balls to ask wrestlers afterwards who lost the bloody match. I thought their fights were real, and they were too mad to pick up a magic marker to take time to scribble their names for kid fans. Then, almost by accident, I witnessed a small boy who looked much younger than me, who was approaching one of the star wrestlers without fear, actually talking to him, smiling to each other, and getting his autograph! I was appalled and simultaneously felt jealous. The little boy was talking to him in English, huh! A bulb light up! Then, at that moment, I realized that if you can speak English, you will gain an advantageous position and receive benefit. To me, it was a learning curve of experiencing a prime example of how to get ahead and achieve your goal in the real society even though it seemed like such an indistinguishable interaction to others at that time.
When I came to the US 30-some years ago to study at college in Minnesota, my mantra was based on this aphorism, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. I wanted to learn everything. However, I vividly remember my first year at Principles of Economics class in college, I was completely confused and petrified since I had no idea what the professor was saying in English. I was so depressed and scared of a thought that I would never graduate and might end up being stuck on a frozen lake somewhere in the dark, dreadful, cold, snowy winter. My American roommate, David, advised me, “If you don’t understand, ask the professor, talk to her.” I responded, “But I don’t know what to ask, because I don’t understand what she was saying in English!” My point is that learning a foreign language is difficult and painful. There are a lot of words, expressions, and jargons in English I still don’t understand. And I really can’t get rid of my Japanese accent. At any event, I can absolutely understand first-hand how hard it will be to come to a foreign land, and learn the language, culture, and customs while assimilating into the society. Some immigrants come over to the US simply to seek a better life. I can completely sympathize with them. Dismissing someone just because he or she doesn’t speak English is sheer ludicrous.
I really appreciate all the American people and friends in the past who patiently listened to my awkward imperfect English, taught me and helped me learn about this country, people, and rudimentary American values. In return, when I was given a chance to tell my friends about our Japanese language, people, art, and culture, I hope they gained some sort of alternative perspective of people overseas and enriched their lives with an enlightening, cathartic glimpse. I believe that educational cooperation with schools and communities at the ground level will tremendously help unify people.
Needless to say, it will be easy and convenient if everybody speaks the same language everywhere in the world. It may still take some time for the Esperanto language to become unified language for sure, or maybe never. However, the great things about the US is that this place is, in fact, a melting pot. Because of multiculturalism and ethnic diversity, the US relishes its strength and a wide variety of ideology. By examining historical testament of immigrants, you will see how this nation has been built. If everybody is the same, how boring it would be!
By the way, have you ever used these following words? Robot, Mosquito, Cookie, Kudos, Bungalow, per capita, chef, pajama, safari, zombie, plaza, paparazzi, hamburger, schmuck, and slogan. I’m sure you must have. Well, these words are originally derived from other languages. They are (in the same order): Czech, Portugal, Dutch, Greek, Hindi, Latin, French, Persian, Arabic, West African, Spanish, Italian, German, Yiddish and Scottish Gaelic & Irish. Well, people here in the US have been already using a lot of foreign languages.
Wait a minute. I mulled it over for a while. The English language itself is not even your own language! It came from another country… England? Maybe? Yes? Agree? So, what is the fuss about hating someone speaking a foreign language? You’re speaking other country’s language, too! Besides, I bet ancestors of all those hateful wretch Americans are originally from some places where they didn’t speak English.
According to the US census in 2016, yes, English is the primary de facto spoken language by 237.8 million people and followed by Spanish (40.5 million) and Chinese (Mandarin & Cantonese, 3.4 million). However, 430 languages including indigenous and the sign languages are used in the US. Aside from those indigenous languages, many are brought by the immigrants from all over the world. Again, that’s the validated historical facts.
Furthermore, please don’t be surprised to learn that the US Constitution does not state that English is an official language! As a matter of fact, there is no official language in the US! Some 32 states use English as their designated language. I guess they must’ve been obligated to pick one language just like state’s flowers and birds. The US is such a diverse country. We should be blessed by the diversification. A state like California allows residents to take a DMV’s driving test in more than 30 other languages such as Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Japanese, Hungarian, Polish, Russian, Samoan, Spanish, Thai, Turkish, Vietnamese, etc.
In conclusion, not speaking English is not only illegal, but also doesn’t violate anybody’s rights, either. Everybody has the right to speak whatever the language is. I guess you can create your own mumbo jumbo lingo if you like. Yelling “Speak English” to some innocent harmless people is just not illogical. It’s contradictory nonsense and utter folly. Instead, you should give them accolades, “It sounds beautiful. I love that. Which language are you speaking?” There are a lot of artful, intriguing, celestial languages besides American English, too! Literatures, songs, movies in foreign languages have different substance, flavor, and feelings. Maybe you should learn foreign languages, too. It will be a great experience expanding your horizons forever! You may appreciate more your own American English, too once you step outside if the box.
FYI, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution protects foreign language education. Please check “Meyer v. Nebraska” US Supreme Court case in 1923. The Court ultimately recognized that teaching a child German (in this case) is not harmful. Then on February 9th this year, Steve King (Republican Congressman from Iowa) has sponsored English Language Unity Act (H.R.997) and introduced to House. This bill will establish English as the official language of the US. All the citizens should be able to read and understand generally the English language text of US laws. It’s a little vague. The current orange-faced President also has made a robust announcement stating his favoring English speaking immigrants with financially self-supporting as well as demonstrating skills that can contribute to the US economy.
I have to warn you. An English only nationalistic movement will diminish the greatness of the US causing dangerous pitfall and alienating a lot of non-English speaking minority groups. By using English as the only means of communication will the county be unified as one? I don’t believe so. It will be counter-productive. On the contrary, non-English with not so skillful not so financially stable immigrants will be a vital hard-working every-day labor force for the backbone of the US economy. This shortsighted asinine throw-someone-under-the-bus inept policy will traumatize the whole apparatus dividing this precious nation even wider. There is no logical benefit to narrow their own nation’s future by catering services just for English speakers. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying, “Don’t learn English” nor “Stop speaking English.” It’s better for a wide variety of people in different circumstances to have a wide variety of options to accommodate their needs. The US has enough broad, deep tolerance and acceptance. You just can’t simply put everything in a same box. Oh, I had to add this note: Even in England, English is not the official language, either!
I wonder if the treacherous Trump administration will willingly accept millions of eligible English speaking immigrants from countries like India, Pakistan, Philippines, Nigeria, Bangladesh Egypt, Thailand, Nepal, Turkey, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Malaysia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Papua New Guinea, Liberia, Jamaica, Algeria, etc.
To those hateful, ghoulish, knucklehead Americans who yell at innocent people, “Go back to your country!”, let me advocate this for you. Actually, I truly thought about this for a while. The only group of people who may have the rights to claim, “Go back to your country!” will be indigenous people. I don’t believe they will say such things anymore though.
Let’s just hope we all come together to thaw cacophonic tension, fear, insecurity, and unknowns, and harmonize our communities by giving love and let us all experience feelings of gratitude for each side reciprocally. Without doubt, the characteristics of the American greatness are attributed by friendliness, generosity, fairness, equalities, ambition, confidence, dreams, democracy, optimism, opportunity, individualism, liberty, progress, justice, freedom, and diversity.
Oh lastly, my other hero wrestler is Mil Mascaras (Thousand Masks in Spanish)! He is a superstar from Mexico! Aside from his popularity among Japanese kids, cool muscle bound physical presence, wrestling skills with high-flying moves, I was fascinated by the design of his variety of masks and exquisite Aztec costumes. My dream was to go to Mexico and study Spanish. And I did. I have his autograph safely stashed away in my sister’s house in Tokyo.