English first? No law is necessary

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I’ll never forget the first time I realized my Spanish skills were eroding. I look back on it with humor and regret.

My father was dying but had not stated his burial wishes. I needed to find out if he wanted a burial or cremation.

Our relationship was a bit formal; he could be tough to approach. Shortly after initiating the conversation, I flubbed my words because I didn’t know how to say cremation in Spanish.

“I don’t know what you want, Dad,” I told him in Spanish. “Mom says she wants to be burned when she dies.”

I said burned. I was crudely asking: Should we burn you?

My dad corrected me: “Cremación,” he said, filling in the right Spanish word.

The translation was simple, yet it had escaped me.

This is what happens when you immerse yourself in one language: It becomes harder to think in the second one.

My immigrant parents were not proficient in English but expected their children to be. It is typical for immigrant families to embrace English, if not by the present generation, then the next.

But apparently that isn’t fast enough for some who want the government to force English on immigrants by recognizing English as the official language.  

Thirty-one states, including Illinois, have done so. The Washington Post noted earlier this week that lawmakers in Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are considering following suit. 

For some states, such as Illinois, English as the official language is nothing more than a designation. Other states have outlined standards to go with designations. The Post pointed out that Tennessee mandates that all its communications and publications, including ballots, use English only.

Other states have similar standards but don’t adhere to them. 


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