This is America, Speak … Whatever You Want
Saturday was a good day to be a Philadelphian. A great day. Collectively, maybe one of the best days.
After a not-too-shabby introduction by Mayor Nutter calling for LGBT rights, Pope Francis took the podium at Independence Hall with a speech that the place was built to host. At times speaking in Spanish – and drawing cheers from the crowd – the man of the hour seemed to hip-check Donald Trump. “I ask you not to forget that, like those who came here before you, you bring many gifts to your new nation,” he said. “You should never be ashamed of your traditions. Do not forget the lessons you learned from your elders, which are something you can bring to enrich the life of this American land.”
That’s right. A politician and a leader of the Catholic church got together and said a real thing. And this real thing felt good, maybe even holy. It was weird, it was wonderful, it was the essence of Saturday in Philadelphia.
And yet, it was within the same state that Rep. Daryl Metcalfe is promoting a bill to make English the “official” language of Pennsylvania. And within the same week that he cut the mic of Leslie Acosta – a bilingual immigrant as well as the General Assembly’s first/only Latina lawmaker – who was arguing that the bill is unconstitutional.
Before we go any further, let the record show that I love this country from sea to rising sea. Even if someone else would have me (which they wouldn’t – I’m obnoxiously American from my fake-blonde hair to my real-butter hips), I’d stay firmly put. A Northeast native, I use my passport begrudgingly and have never once threatened to pack my bags – come 2016, I’d rather call Trump “Mr. President” than myself Canadian. From what I can tell, I’m allergic to Europe. Every day I wake up grateful that I, to absolutely no credit of my own, was lucky enough to enter this world on US soil. America, fuck yeah.
This is precisely why Metcalfe’s bill makes me queasy. Why every time I see one of those God-awful “This is America, speak English” signs my eye starts to twitch. (It’s a slogan that’s not worthy of a rebuttal, but I can’t leave it hanging out there without one, so humor me for a minute: Calling upon your fellow citizens to speak an imported language is, although funny, not exactly helping your argument. The only place “American” is a language is in Sarah Palin’s head.)
I know Metcalfe would disagree with me, but there is nothing less American than ignoring reality and declaring an official language.
This country is exceptional precisely because we don’t desperately cling to old traditions and tired monarchies that no longer serve us. We’re tough, we’re nimble, we’re open to change. The best idea wins here, not the best last name, and that has served us pretty well thus far. It’s why our food is great, our music is great, our sports are great. It’s why we could kick France’s ass if shit got real on the international schoolyard.
Language should serve the community, not the other way around. From government meetings to street signs, it should encourage participation in this big experiment we call home, not isolate those who arrive a little later to the game. Whether that language be English or Spanish or – hang on to your Bud Lights, Pennsyltucky – Arabic, it should bring more people into the fold, more ideas to the melting pot. If this eventually means that English falls by the wayside and my grandchildren speak fluent Mandarin, so be it – the tribe has spoken, albeit not in a way I can understand.
This isn’t some hot take on patriotism. This is as American as apple pie served on Kate Upton’s boobs, despite what Metcalfe and his cronies – including, God help us, white nationalist Robert Vandervoort – would like us to believe as they wave a flag in one hand and grab up power with the other.
Like a lot of confrontational people, I don’t think Metcalfe is actually angry. I think he’s afraid. Afraid that without an official declaration of specialness, his status will slip from its unquestioned position at the top. Afraid that he will lose relevancy as English loses prominence. Just imagine how he would feel if someone tried to outlaw his goddamn language.
I hate to be the one to tell you this, Mr. Metcalfe, but it’s 2015, and that backwoodsy good ol’ boys game is just about up. Try as you might, there are simply too many mics to cut. In the words of Pope Francis – or maybe it was Johnny Utah – vaya con dios, bro.
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