The 1990 Census revealed a previously unheard of trend - the existence of a substantial number of native-born Americans over the age of five who did not speak English “very well.” The 2000 Census reported that this trend is accelerating. Of the 21.3 million Americans who do not speak English “very well,” 5.6 million were born in the United States. This is a 40 percent increase in ten years.
The data clearly shows that the American assimilation process is not working. A recent poll in Miami had 83 percent of Hispanics agreeing that it is “easy to get along day in and day out without speaking English well/at all.” This comes at a time when immigration to the U.S. is at an all time high and shows no sign of slowing down.
Many people think that the problems of multilingualism are relegated to cities such as Los Angeles, Miami, San Antonio and Phoenix. However, these same problems are arriving in Middle America and threaten to create linguistic ghettoes where they did not exist before.
Like many urban centers, Hartford, Connecticut, is undergoing a major demographic transition. Unfortunately, the capital of Connecticut is also undergoing a process which could lead to severe linguistic isolation between the city and the rest of the state. The New York Times reports that Hispanics account for over 40 percent of the population of Hartford, and that the city is becoming “Latinized.” Last year, Eddie Perez became Hartford’s first Hispanic mayor. The city web page is bilingual and after-hours callers to the mayor’s office are greeted first by a message in Spanish. Half of Hartford’s Hispanic business owners do not speak English. According to Freddy Ortiz, who owns a bakery in the city, “In the bank, they speak Spanish; at the hospital, they speak Spanish; my bakery suppliers are starting to speak Spanish. Even at the post office, they are Americans, but they speak Spanish.”
The 2000 Census reports that almost half (46.3 percent) of Hartford’s Hispanic population speaks English “less than very well.” Almost a quarter speak English “not very well” or “not at all.” As the city moves its essential services to Spanish, there will soon be no necessity to learn English. Even Mayor Perez notes that, “We’ve become a Latin city, so to speak. It’s a sign of things to come.”
The rest of Connecticut is overwhelmingly English speaking and this could create a situation where Hartford residents are increasingly isolated from other citizens of the Constitution state. Politicians in Connecticut must act quickly and decisively to prevent a linguistic ghetto from forming in their state capital. Two separate bills are currently pending in the state legislature that would declare English the official language of Connecticut and require that government business be conducted in English. This would bring back the incentive for immigrants and new arrivals to learn the common language of the state.
If the trend toward foreign language enclaves is not soon halted, the United States will have a serious problem on its hands. We need look no further than our neighbor to the north, Canada, to see the potential problems that can arise from the lack of a common language. Rather than trying to placate the Hispanic community by increasing bilingual government services and speaking Spanish on the campaign trail, politicians should be trying to help every citizen learn English. Does the governor of Connecticut realize that almost half of the Hispanics in his capital city cannot speak English very well?
Cities like Miami and Hartford are clearly on a path to linguistic isolation. This hurts everyone but it hurts immigrants most of all. The inability to integrate economically, academically and socially into our society has stranded too many Hispanics in low-wage menial jobs. In order to preserve unity and increase opportunities for everyone, we must get the assimilation process working again. All states should declare English their official language and also make it easier for newcomers to learn English.