Language Rights and the Equality of Nationalities

May 22, 2006

On May 18, the Senate voted to direct the federal government to "preserve and enhance the role of English as the national language of the United States of America."

The Senate resolution further declares that no one has "a right, entitlement or claim to have the government of the United States or any of its officials or representatives act, communicate, perform or provide services or provide materials in any language other than English." The Senate also voted that immigrants seeking to qualify for citizenship must demonstrate English proficiency and understanding of American history and government.

The Senate resolution still does not have the force of law, but its provisions are widely supported in the House of Representatives, which could pass a similar resolution, and by George Bush. In his May 15 speech, Bush said that our "common identity as Americans" includes "an ability to speak and write the English language." Bush also insists on legislation to mandate that immigrants learn English.

The attempt of the Senate and Bush to impose English as the "national language" is a brutal attack not only on millions of immigrants but also on the oppressed minority nationalities in the U.S.

The fact is that English is not the only language in the U.S.

Historically people spoke Native American languages, as well as Spanish, long before English was heard on the territory which comprises the present-day U.S.

Through force of arms, the Anglo-dominated state grabbed the land of the indigenous peoples, of the Mexican people in the southwest, the Puerto Rican people, the Hawaiian people, etc. These peoples were deprived of their national independence and forced under the thumb of the capitalist state which, for centuries, has tried to erase the peoples' national identities by suppressing their languages, their cultures, and their human rights. Similarly, the capitalist state has tried to force immigrants to give up their national identities and languages.

But the Mexican, Puerto Rican, Native, Hawaiian and other peoples have continued to assert their national identity and rights, including their language rights. The fact that today many languages flourish in the U.S. is a testament to the vitality of the oppressed nationalities as well as the multi-national character of our country.

In sum: the U.S. is a country with many nationalities. To deny the language rights of non-English speaking peoples - to declare English as the "national language" - means legislating the superiority of one nationality and the oppression and degradation of other nationalities. It means denying the equality of peoples.

Every nationality has the equal, inalienable right to its language and culture. The government must guarantee the right of every person to fully participate in all the common affairs of society on the basis of their mother tongue.