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English-only repeal won't impose Spanish

May 16, 1993

Dade's so-called English-only ordinance will probably be repealed this week. The sky won't fall. The earth won't quake. And the Metro commission won't start conducting its meetings in Spanish.

Yet many will call it a sad day when the law is scrapped. Some warn that its repeal will legitimize ethnic separatism, dual languages dividing dual cultures. But if the English-only law was (as supporters insist) meant to unify Dade, it was a flop.

The ordinance was passed overwhelmingly in 1980 as native entrenchment against a tidal wave of foreign-speaking immigrants: All government meetings and publications were to be in English. So there!

Well, guess what happened in the next 12 years. Hispanics became a majority in Dade. The county's politics, culture and economy transformedand plenty of folks didn't like it. Thousands packed up and left for Lake City or Ocala. They're still leaving, and it's understandable. Watching one's hometown change so radically is tough, confusing and often painful. Getting out is one solution.

Not all who stayed have adjusted easily. Some of us crackers won't ever get used to hearing Spanish at McDonald's. How come them people don't learn to speak American? In moments of impatience, I've had similar grouchy thoughts.

Then I remember all the money this newspaper spent trying to get some Spanish into my skull, with minimal results. Someone as linguistically stunted as myself is in no position to lecture anybody about learning a second tongue.

The message of the English-only law is that those who come to this country should adopt our language. That sounds fair, but the reality of mass immigration is another story ...

Today, 57 percent of Dade residents speak something other than English at home. All those people are touched by government and need to be well-informed. As a practical matter, it would be irresponsibleno, idioticto neglect the thousands who haven't yet learned English, or can't. Societies that exclude people pay a terrible price, as we know firsthand.

Judging from the hysteria, some seem to think abolishing English-only is equivalent to imposing Spanish-only. That's absurd. The official language of Dade will always be English. We don't need a law saying so.

The ordinance is a relic of Anglo defiance that offends many Hispanics, bilingual or not. Citizens of Dade United says it's simply intended to save taxpayers money. Yet there's no mistaking the resentment from CODU's Enos Schera, who told the New York Times: "They have already established another Cuba inside Dade County, and now they are forcing Spanish down our throats."

Nobody's forcing Spanish down mine, nor would I force English down theirs. You can't. Assimilation happens at its own paceand, believe it or not, it is happening here.

Bob Joffe, a well-known pollster, writes that "Spanish is dying among Hispanic voters" in Dade. What he means is that bilingualism is rising significantly. More than half of foreign-born Hispanic voters surveyed said they didn't care if they were interviewed in English or Spanish.

Such increasing fluency suggests that, 20 years from now, language won't be such a burning issue. Let's hope not, because it's the least of our troubles. Runaway growth, runaway crime, the water crisis, government wasteyou want something heavy to worry about, take your pick.

Find people who can solve those problems, and it won't matter if they speak English, Spanish or Mandarin Chinese. We'll find an interpreter. It's not the language that counts, it's the ideas.


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