If I had to hyphenate myself I would be a Senior-Hispanic-Polish-Jewish-American. To heck with that….American is just fine. I am an immigrant. I came to America from Bolivia when I was ten years old, arriving on a Thursday. By the following week I was enrolled in a public school in Portland,Oregon and there was no bilingual education. It was sink or swim regarding English. After some water treading I learned English within two months and I remain fluent in Spanish. We settled finally in The Bronx.

By the time I got to Bronx High School of Science all almost all of my friends were born elsewhere and had similar stories. Many parents learned English in night schools. Becoming a citizen was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for all our families. My own father insisted that my brother and I memorize “I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman. On the lovely day we were finally sworn in, we all went to  the swanky Hotel Waldorf Astoria for dinner. I have that picture. The next day our parents joined the Republican Party and never missed a single election until they died. My father used to crow that in America “I vote, therefore I am.”

The controversies and policies about immigration all range from awful to passable. My meager suggestion is not a solution but a serious option.

English is the official language of the United States of America, not an option for pushing the number one. It should be taught and learned and mandatory for anyone seeking residency and citizenship. In 1948 after Israel’s independence hundreds of thousands of refugees from Arab lands and Europe’s graveyards entered Israel. Some estimates state that there were over one hundred different languages and dialects among these people as well as differences in alphabets. At that time, outside of Israel and orthodox schools, probably more people in the world,  spoke Khalmic Mongolian than Hebrew. Nonetheless Israel successfully implemented a series of schools for newcomers named Ulpans where practical Hebrew was taught including lessons in shopping, commuting, and communicating with the endless bureaucracy.

Within a year or less this great incoming population spoke Hebrew, and identified themselves simply as Israeli citizens….no hyphens. Nothing like this has ever been seen anywhere else in the globe. Why can’t we do the same instead of tolerating the mangling of our national language among those who only learn to be functionally illiterate in two languages instead really learning one?


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