Thanksgiving week found us traveling through the Arizona desert. My dad had been wanting to take a trip to the Grand Canyon. At 83, he needed our help to make the journey. We had never seen the canyon, so this seemed like a good family trip.
We flew into Phoenix and rented a car for the drive up north. Arizona is about twice the size of Mississippi, population wise. Two-thirds of that population live in the Phoenix area. Needless to say, the places in between are populated by cacti and a few cows, not much else.
Arizona is at the forefront of the immigration debate. It shares a border with Mexico and, at one time, was actually part of the other country. Nowadays, retirees and old Arizona families find themselves inundated by people who have crossed the border for a better life. While a little more than 16 percent of the U.S. population is Hispanic, that percentage is about 30 percent in Arizona. Here in Mississippi, our Hispanic population has doubled to 2 percent. We rank number 40 in this area.
Here in Mississippi, I see signs in both English and Spanish. I saw the same in Arizona. The bilingual signs are so common that it doesn’t even register with me anymore. And while I heard a lot of Spanish around me, I wasn’t required to speak this foreign tongue at any point on the trip. Every person we encountered spoke in perfect English to us (except the German lady in the park who thought my over-friendly husband was rude).
So, why are we so concerned about protecting the status of our language? English is the language of business. Even my international students who travel from China to Clinton, Miss., are here to improve their English skills. Thank goodness I don’t have to learn Mandarin to get ahead. But they have to learn English to do the same.
Every immigrant knows the importance of mastering the English language. Those who don’t will not improve their lot. Passing a law making English the official language of Mississippi will not change that. And the very people who are intent on such a law are the same ones crying foul if the government tries to dictate anything to them.
So keep those bilingual signs posted. They help our Hispanic neighbors to transition to English. And keep that official English law off the books. It’s not necessary. Besides, our legislature has more important things to do.