Language should be common thread for diverse U.S.

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, September 4, 2001

Like a bear scratching an itch against a tree, I sidled againstthe corner of a column at the post office, trying to get a littlerelief from a sore back.

Behind me was a lengthening line of patrons waiting to pick uppackages, get stamps or conduct other post office business.

Before me were the postal clerk and a Hispanic man trying tobreak through a language barrier so his registered letter could besent. The clerk maintained her smile, but a hint of frustrationshowed through as she sought to make sure postal regulations werefollowed.

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When language failed, she mimicked the process of folding andclosing the envelope. Later, she had to resort to pointing tovarious labels and other items in trying to figure out what the manwas requesting.

The letter eventually reached the mail box, but not without afew headaches for both parties.

Lately this week, I’ve been getting another pain watching thecoverage of the Rolando Paulino All-Stars team’s success in therecent Little League World Series.

The team from the Bronx, N.Y., finished third; however, theranking is in jeopardy following a controversy over whether theteam’s star pitcher Danny Almonte is 12, the legal age to play, or14, which would make him too old. The age controversy is anothersubject.

My problem is that about the only English language I’ve heardthroughout the matter has come from reporters asking questions andNew York officials praising the team’s success. The questions andthe accolades have had to be translated for coaches and players atthe center of attention.

On a morning TV show, the pitcher’s father — through atranslator — was denying questions about his son’s age. And duringthe team’s victory parade through the Bronx, spectators were seenwaving Dominican Republican flags while celebrating a team thatwould have represented the United States in the title game.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Hypothetically, do you think a team of American kidsrepresenting Santo Domingo and waving U.S. flags would becelebrated as national heroes in the Dominican Republic? Pardon mewhile I laugh.

There’s nothing wrong with foreign citizens’ being proud oftheir family heritage and nationalities. But, this isn’t their “oldcountry.”

For whatever reasons, they’re in the United States. It’s pasttime for them to accept U.S. responsibilities as well as all therights they sought when coming here.

As evidenced by my post office incident and the Little Leagueteam celebration silliness, the first responsibility should be tospeak and understand English at least well enough to conduct simplebusiness transactions and to attend school.

A New York school spokeswoman told the Associated Press thatAlmonte wasn’t even enrolled in school since coming to the U.S.with his father!

A sports news report said the boy had been shielded fromquestions about the age controversy. Gee, I wonder why? Could it bethe only English he understands is fastball or curveball?

Language can be a unifying force for citizens. Yet unificationefforts are undermined in the U.S. by such wrong-headed notions asdual-language education in some classrooms and by census forms thatcome in virtually every language under the sun.

Do not get me wrong, there are benefits of culturaldiversity.

In fact, the fabric of American culture has been woven over theyears with the contributions of many cultures. Now, though,insistence upon English as the official language is the threadneeded to hold it together.

Write to Matthew Coleman at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven, Miss.39601, or send email to