This is an excerpt of a column I wrote Aug. 11 for Dome Magazine. 


When I was a kid growing up in the Detroit area, the idea that immigrants should be required to speak “good English” would have amounted to commentary that was equal parts quizzical and comical.

The ethnic melting pot of Detroit’s east side and in neighboring Macomb County existed as a place where multi-generational immigrant families often lived under one roof, and conversations at the dinner table rang out in a clattering cacophony of language from both the “old country” and the new homeland. Proper diction and pronunciation were not a requirement.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, neighborhoods and schools and churches and factories were populated by Italians, Poles, and Irish. Add into this mix the German families who had a longer lineage in the tri-county area and it was clearly a time when “broken English” served as a common form of communication.

The discovery that your friend’s grandmother spoke haltingly, with a heavy accent, was about as eventful as learning that the friend was left-handed. These aging, foreign-born immigrants were not legal or illegal, they arrived near the turn of the 20th Century to the land of the hyphenated American. Their progeny played a leading role in creating the American middle class.

The pattern was clear: The newly immigrated never mastered the language; their children were bilingual, learning English in school like every other kid, while communicating at home with their parents mostly in the native tongue; and the next generation struggled to converse with their grandparents at all because of a distinct language barrier.

So, immersed in my old-school version of a multicultural background, I now experience growing agitation as simmering anti-immigrant biases about a supposed lack of assimilation among immigrants boils over in 21st Century America. WASP-ish sentimentalities aimed at turning back the clock and creating an “official” English language at the state and local level have culminated in President Trump’s new proposal to cut U.S. legal immigration in half and limit U.S. entry mostly to those who speak English.

Yet, all of these English-only proposals center on a myth.

Continue reading here.


Photo: WXYZ-TV screenshot