Englewood believes that the health and safety of its residents is its primary concern. As a result, it has begun the process of making information accessible to all its residents. First, we insured the presence of a bilingual staff to man various municipal offices and City Hall. Recently, important fliers were issued in English as well as Spanish and posted on our city website. These flyers discuss essential safety matters such as health information, internet security, police and fire information, landlord/tenant regulations and the like.
In February of last year, a bill was introduced in Congress to establish English as the official language of the United States. This is the fourth time such a bill was introduced. Previous attempts have all failed, and as a result the United States does not have an official language. Proponents of this bill and similar actions argue on the basis of such lofty goals as national unity and segregation of our immigrant populace. Although the arguments sound patriotic, I believe such policies are contrary to the primary beliefs and core values of the founders of our nation. Leaders of our country need to facilitate broader communication and should embrace all cultures.
Proponents of the bill maintain that having one language allows for a closer unification of our nation. The old adage that we stand under “one flag, one culture, and one language” is not necessarily the best recipe for unity. They further argue that dependence upon foreign languages, as practiced by many immigrants, keeps immigrants in the lower financial strata of our society, adding that bilingual classes in school are merely a new form of segregation which is based on culture rather than color.
Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes serves ice cream to new residents during
the New Residents Day Celebration, an event he initiated.
I disagree, bilingualism should actually be encouraged. According to the United States Census Bureau, there are an estimated 44.3 million people of Hispanic origin in our nation. This number is growing significantly as one in every two people added to the United States population is Hispanic. Rather than exclude them and render them outcasts in an “English only” society—we should embrace them as fully equal members of our community. It is noteworthy that Congress only requires proficiency in the English language for those seeking United States citizenship, but not for those who seek to visit, study or remain here permanently as lawful residents.
Increasing the use of foreign languages in our nation allows us to open communications with those who don’t speak English. These millions should not be ignored. Over $220 billion of revenue was generated by Hispanic-owned businesses in 2002 alone. As of October 2005, 11 percent of all college students and 19 percent of elementary and high school students are Hispanic. One need only ride through a thriving metropolis to appreciate the myriad of cultures, religions and ethnicities in our midst.
The primary settlers of the Garden State were actually not English speakers but came from Sweden and Holland. To this day we have remnants of their influence. Even our county—Bergen County—bears the name “Bergen” from the Dutch word meaning “hill.” The English language itself is a composite of many words from a vast array of derivations.
I have had the tremendous opportunity to help continue the integration of other cultures which arrived so long ago. The best way to integrate new immigrants is to facilitate access, in their most comfortable language, to information and services.
Making sure that this message is heard by everyone is essential to our public safety. Tragically, during a fire in the summer of 2006, lives were lost as families “stacked” themselves into unfit housing. As landlords or tenants—our residents must be aware of proper regulations regarding safety. Our health and safety standards weigh heavily on those individuals who are in need of vaccinations—they will know the proper regulations regarding disease, pet-licensing, and other matters important to the health and safety of all our families.
Increasing our foreign language communications through technology will help brighten the future for immigrants and citizens of longer standing. Integrating foreign languages into our American culture will be of real benefit to everyone involved. After all, one of the cultural liberties which America affords is the privilege to retain one’s language and cultural heritage.
Michael Wildes is a Former Federal Prosecutor; immigration lawyer; and the Mayor of Englewood. Mr. Wildes is also Chair of the Immigration Task Force of the New Jersey League of Municipalities and was appointed by New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine in 2007 to sit as a member of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Immigration.