The lobbying of the u.s english movement since 1983: a campaign via the media in quest of national unity
par Victoria Riposseau
Université de Nantes - Maitrise IRT Anglais 2010
In this part, the focus of our analysis will be on American national identity and our task will be to determine to what extent U.S ENGLISH re-imagined American identity in the light of their different publications. To do so, we will first consider why the melting-pot has been presented as a national ideal?, and then we will explain to what extent U.S ENGLISH can be considered a new form of nativism called symbol nativism?. Finally, we will account for the way they have been playing with different conceptions of American identity in order to re-imagine American national identity before trying to decode what the support for this movement tells us about American national identity.
We understood in part two that U.S ENGLISH presented themselves as pro-immigrant but evidence have shown that it was only a cover hiding more extreme views on immigration. At this point of our analysis, it is necessary to ask why they have been elevating the concept of the melting-pot as a national ideal? even though this concept has been strongly criticized since the 1960s(Annex IV , l. 191).
First of all, before explaining the different criticisms that aroused from the concept of the melting-pot, one needs to define it and trace its origins in the U.S history. The melting-pot was a concept of assimilation in the United States first defined by Hector St. Jean Crèvecoeur in 1782. The melting-pot consisted in the melting? of immigrants into the American mold?. Acculturation was then seen as the only way to turn immigrants into nationals. Acculturation implied the renunciation of one's ethnic culture and language in order to embrace the American culture. When J. Crevecoeur first defined the concept of the melting-pot, immigrants to the United States were mainly Europeans who crossed the Pacific Ocean to reach the American coast. On this point, J. Crevecoeur wrote:
What, then, is the American, this new man? He is neither an European nor the descendant of an European; hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country. I could point out to you a family whose grandfather was an Englishman, whose wife was Dutch, whose son married a French woman, and whose present four sons have now four wives of different nations. He is an American... leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has
embraced, [the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds. He becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater. Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world]... (Annex IV, l.141-149).
The first illustration of this concept can be found in the famous play of 1908 from Israel Zangwill called The Melting-Pot. In his play, one can read:
Understand that America is God's Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and reforming! A fig for your feuds and vendettas! Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians -- into the Crucible with you all! God is making the American (Annex IV, l.160-165).
Both I. Zangwill and J. Crévecoeur considered that acculturation was at the heart of the concept of the melting-pot and that it was the only way to turn European immigrants into nationals. In America this concept is still ringing strong as the inscription on coins is still E Pluribus Unum?, meaning out of many, one?.
Criticisms of this concept appeared with the second and third wave of immigration to the United States. The nation had to incorporate more culturally heterogeneous people than in the past when this concept emerged for the first time and the melting-pot was then considered a myth and obsolete.
In the 1910s, Horace Kallen, wanting to promote cultural diversity and the right to be different, invented the concept of the salad-bowl. This concept consisted in thinking of America as a bowl? in which immigrants, the ingredients? are mixed but not melted? so that they keep their particular taste?, that is to say their culture, language, values, and customs107. For H. Kallen, unity did not have to be synonymous with homogeneity. Contrary to the melting-pot that promoted assimilation through acculturation, the salad-bowl promoted diversity and considered that integration was not incompatible with the preservation of immigrants' cultural heritage and values. The salad-bowl is a two-way process: on the one hand, immigrants integrate the American culture and on the other hand, the American culture is influenced and strengthened by the culture brought by the different immigrant groups. This concept gave rise to other similar concepts like the mosaic and the kaleidoscope in the late 1960s.
The melting-pot was strongly criticized in the 1960s by ethnic leaders who complained that it was the result of an Anglo-American? conspiracy to destroy their
107 CHAMETZKY, Jules. Beyond Melting Pots, Cultural Pluralism, Ethnicity: Or, Déjà Vu All over Again?, Vol. 16, No. 4, Winter 1989 - Winter 1990, pp. 3- 17, The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States (MELUS), JSTOR. Web. 4 March 2010. p. 6.
culture108. For instance, Antonia Hermandez, President and General Counsel of the Mexican American Legal Fund considered that:
Unity is the completed puzzle, diversity the pieces of the puzzle. And until we recognize every piece, we cannot have true unity. That's the debate that is going on today, or that is where the debate should be aimed. By acknowledging the contributions made to our country by Native Americans and by Hispanics, and Blacks and Asians, we're really strengthening our unity(Chandler and Ledru 114).
In this speech, A. Hermandez indirectly denounced old concepts such as the melting-pot considering that it failed to acknowledge immigrants' contribution to the American nation. Instead, she supported the view that each immigrant was a piece of the big puzzle? that was America and that immigrants made America rather than America turned immigrants into nationals.
Contrary to A. Hermandez, in their different publications U.S ENGLISH has always presented the melting-pot as a national ideal and considered that the melting-pot is still a valid concept allowing to justify for the way immigrants became Americans. Their constant use of the word assimilation? and the way they have been elevating the concept of the melting-pot referring to it with the use of positive adjectives such as great, as well as their appeal to the protection of this concept when they say that the whole notion of a melting-pot is threatened? (Annex XIX) and our melting-pot society is in danger of boiling over?(Annex XIV), reveal something about their conception of the American culture and history.
A reference to the myth of the melting-pot in publications to promote national language legislation is not surprising because assimilation consists in achieving unity through uniformity. An analysis of the role of myths in society is necessary to reveal the implications of the elevation of the melting-pot as a national ideal? by U.S ENGLISH.
According to the French philosopher, Roland Barthes, a myth is a culture's way of thinking about something, a way of conceptualizing or understanding the world around us. He argued that the main way myths work is to naturalize history?(Fiske 88-89). In other words, for Barthes, myth is not a false idea, it allows the understanding of some aspects of reality: it is a way of accounting for the history of a nation. For the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, myths act as anxiety reducers? (Fiske 121). In this light, the myth of the melting-pot can be considered the human justification of the way immigrants were incorporated into the American nation. It was a way to reassure people that immigrants were actually assimilating the American culture.
108 CHAMETZKY, Jules. Op. Cit. p.14.
Roland Barthes added that myths are the product of a social class that has achieved dominance by a particular history?(Fiske 121). In other words, it is to justify the hegemony of English and the British influence on the American culture that the myth of the melting-pot was first invented. Furthermore, the questioning of this myth caused by the rise of new concepts such as the salad-bowl can be considered a reconsideration of U.S history itself thus a reconsideration of the justification of the hegemony of English and British culture in the U.S.
We can consider that it was to protect the hegemony of the English language in the United States that in their different publications U.S ENGLISH has been elevating the melting-pot as a national ideal?. The promotion of the melting-pot as a valid and efficient way to integrate newcomers is a way to manipulate history. As for U.S ENGLISH, it was the English language that has made this great melting-pot work?, it seems natural to protect the unifying role of the historic language for the nation. It is important to note that U.S ENGLISH did not reject ethnic but cultural diversity. Their concern was not about the color or the race but really about the culture brought by the different immigrant groups to the American nation. As the study of their bumper sticker highlighted, U.S ENGLISH acknowledged the role played by immigrants in the building of the nation but refused to acknowledge the role played by non-English speaking immigrants.
By doing so, U.S ENGLISH re-imagined the history of the nation. On this point, we previously saw that U.S ENGLISH tended to manipulate history when they pretended that it was the first time in history that the nation suffered a linguistic division. Similarly, when retracing the history of the nation, Hayakawa overemphasized the tolerance and the inclusive character of the American nation. By explaining that despite the exclusion of the Chinese after 1882, the idea of immigration as a thousand noble currents all pouring into one? continued to haunt the American imagination?, once again Hayakawa was being historically inaccurate(Annex IV, l. 64-67). In this monograph, he has overemphasized the inclusive character of the nation towards Asian immigrants in order to show that things have changed and that the U.S is now a more tolerant and inclusive nation than it ever was. He tried to prove that as an immigrant from Japan, he himself was welcome and integrated into the American nation because the nation reconsidered its views on people of Asian origins. He wrote:
Despite the almost hundred years of anti-Oriental fervor that has marked the history of
California, despite the heightened distrust of the Japanese after Pearl Harbor that resulted
in their removal from the West Coast to desert camps for the duration of the war, despite
the agonies of the Pacific War that had left thousands upon thousands of California
families bereft of sons, brothers and husbands, it seemed that by 1976 anti-Japanese hostility had all but disappeared (Annex IV, L.100-105).
It is true that what characterized the United States since its creation is this gradual shift from exclusion to inclusion but in U.S history not only Chinese were once rejected. As we have seen, U.S ENGLISH tends to present itself as pro-American by always recalling American myths and symbols to promote their cause. Having succeeded in establishing a link between the nation and the movement in the public opinion, U.S ENGLISH reinterpreted U.S history. Downplaying some important aspects of U.S history was a strategy to give a tolerant and inclusive character to U.S ENGLISH. Similarly, overemphasizing immigrants' rejection of the American culture while presenting America as an inclusive and tolerant nation was part of their strategy to justify their cause and create fears of an immigrant political takeover in the nation.
Promoting the melting-pot as a national ideal? was the only way to promote the enactment of official language legislation without showing any anti-immigrant feelings. The melting-pot is the sole concept that implies acculturation of the immigrant through the loss of his native language and culture. U.S ENGLISH presented the melting-pot as the only way to forge unity from diversity? and this is how they justify their rejection of other concepts such as the salad-bowl (Annex I and IV). The melting-pot is then very useful when trying to make the immigrants transfer to the language of the majority, because contrary to the concept of the salad-bowl that allows immigrants to maintain and promote their ethnic identity, the melting-pot makes one's native tongue sinking into oblivion a condition for citizenship.
U.S ENGLISH justified the setting up of an official language in the U.S because immigrants were said to not assimilate American culture anymore. As we have seen, U.S ENGLISH has manipulated the past in order to justify their cause and in this light, one may then wonder whether the real question is on some immigrant's incapacity to assimilate the mainstream culture or on the unwillingness of some nationalists representing the dominant group, such as U.S ENGLISH, to enable assimilation. We may wonder if the protection of American culture was not a pretence to limit and control immigration in the U.S.
Despite the several critics that aroused from the concept of the melting-pot, U.S ENGLISH still uses it as a communication strategy to justify their cause and by doing so expose themselves to criticism. One may wonder if by rejecting new concepts like the salad-bowl and promoting the role of language in the nation, U.S ENGLISH did not seek to protect and preserve the hegemonic order of the nation.
In the next part, we will consider the proposal made in 1985 by Hayakawa to set up a
National English Language Foundation in the light of the identity-forming and identity-providing function of the school system in the American nation.
2. A 'National English Language Foundation' and the Role of School in the Identity-forming Process
As we studied in part one, U.S ENGLISH strongly rejects bilingual education on the basis that it does not encourage non-English speakers to learn the language of the majority. In this part we now will consider that schools may be the target of political campaigns such as the lobbying organization U.S ENGLISH. On this point, Diana Ravitch, historian of Education, explained that:
In our history, schools have been not only an institution in which to teach young people skills and knowledge, but an arena where interest groups fight to preserve their values, or to revise the judgment of history, or to bring fundamental social change109.
We will see that more than just declaring English the official language of the United States, U.S ENGLISH has been trying to dramatically change American identity by attempting to make the speaking of the English language indispensable in American identity in particular through the manipulation of school programs and the setting up of a National English Language Foundation in the nation.
In order to grasp the full implications of an English Language Amendment as proposed by U.S ENGLISH, we need to go back to their rejection of bilingual programs in schools in the light of the role of the school system in the identity-building process.
Schools can be said to have a huge integrative power in the United States. In his book, American Nationalism: An interpretative Essay, Hans Kohn who considered the American nation both a nation of nations and a nation among nations, quoted William Yandell Elliott. Elliott wrote about the strong unifying force of schools in America stating that this cohesion of a nation of many nations is largely due to the educational system of the US which has succeeded in integrating the produce of many lands into a basic sense of 'belonging'(Khon 168). For W. Y Elliott, it was the school system that inculcated a sense of belonging? to the children of immigrants as well as nationals. For sure, this sense of belonging has been inculcated by the teaching of the English language to the non-English speaking pupils. The English language being shared by all school children, it allows them to recognize each other
109 STEINBERG, Stephen, Race and Ethnicity in the US: issues and debates, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd ,2000. Print. p.267.
as being part of the wider community that is the American nation.
Similarly, in his book Nation and Nationalism, E. Gellner asserted that school through the transmission of a universal high culture? was an indispensable element to national integration and cohesion. He distinguished between two types of cultures: the school-transmitted and the folk-transmitted culture. For E. Gellner, the educational system guarantees social achievement because of the shared and standardized linguistic and cultural medium that it provides.
Furthermore, school is also a provider of civic identity as it is mainly there that children learn the rules and values of the society they live in. On this point, J.J Smolicz and M.J Secombe considered that school is the most effective instrument of achieving the cultural assimilation of ethnic children?(Smolicz & Secombe 52).
Joshua Fishman, American linguist who specialized in the sociology of language, said about American schools that they must be recognized as filling an important identity-forming and identity-providing function for millions of Americans?(Baker, Prys-Jones 562) . For instance, at school in the United States, every morning children pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States. This act imposed by the American school system is one among other compulsory civic duties that may function as an identity-provider for children. In other words, in America the school system plays an important role in the identity-forming process. On this point, H. Kohn considered that America had become almost a school of [foreign] nationality?(Kohn 161)
But the school-transmitted culture should not be incompatible with the folk-transmitted culture of children. As we saw in part one, ethnic minorities should have the right to maintain and promote their ethnic identity and language is a salient element when defining one's ethnicity. On this point, Samuel Betances wrote:
Not only these newcomers learn English, it might be good if we didn't move in too quickly and tell them to forget Spanish or Vietnamese or Chamorro, or Togalo. Maybe we can come of age and realize that we cannot, in the name of turning out good Americans limit the freedom of speech of those new to our shores and or tell people to forget what they know. In the name of education we cannot argue that it is better to know less than more. Bilingual eduction enriches our best hopes for a democratic society, making it safe for differences as well -powerful, practical reasons why we need it today even though such programs did not exist for yesterday's arrival (Baker, Prys-Jones 514).
By elevating the melting-pot as a national ideal?, it seems that in addition to what we demonstrated in part one, U.S ENGLISH has been rejecting bilingual education on the basis
that it challenges the hegemony of English and thus American identity which they consider being reliant on it. It then seems that their denunciation of the cost and pretended inefficiency of those programs was only a pretence to protect the hegemony of the English language in the United States.
U.S ENGLISH has then diverted language from its instrumental to its symbolic use. They have been trying to present their amendment as an empowerment of immigrants pretending that the learning of the English language would allow them to fulfill the American dream when in fact this was only a cover. In this part we will consider to what extent presenting language as a civic duty can be considered a diverted way to impose restrictions in immigration.
At this point of our analysis, we need to consider Hayakawa's proposal for a National English Language Foundation in the mid 1980s compared with our analysis of the American school system as an identity-provider.
First of all, we have to consider the reasons that drove Hayakawa in the late 1980s to make this proposal. In his monograph written in support for an English Language Amendment to the Constitution, he proposed a National English Language Amendment in reaction to the aggressive movement on the part of Hispanics to reject assimilation and to seek to maintain ... a foreign language within our borders? and also because of the energetic lobbying of the National Association for Bilingual Education and the congressional Hispanic Caucus? which was said to have diverted from its original purpose? the directives of the Lau decision(Annex IV, l.396; 401).
A parallel can be drawn between the reasons enunciated by Hayakawa in order to justify his proposal and the arguments used during the 1900s to impose the learning of the English language to all non-English speaking immigrants, also known as Americanization educational programs?. It seems that Hayakawa recreated the same conditions than those that led to the nativist impulse of the 1900s as he tried to create a widespread indignation over the fact that immigrants were rejecting assimilation. As we studied in part one, Theodore Roosevelt was worrying about the size of the German speaking community in the American nation when in 1917 he said that we have room for but one language and that is the English language?. As Hayakawa put the emphasis on the fact that what is at stake is our unity as a nation?, it seems that similarly to the Americanization? campaigns of 1900s, Hayakawa considered language ability a proof of one's commitment and loyalty to the American nation like Roosevelt did in 1917. Furthermore, U.S ENGLISH have always worried about the record immigration? or the unprecedented immigration? in the United States since the 1960s.
Similarly, the solution proposed by Hayakawa was not so different from the educational programs created in the 1900s to transfer immigrants into the English language as quickly as possible. At first glance, a National English Language Foundation as proposed by Hayakawa would not be entirely similar to the educational programs of the huge Americanization campaign of the 1900s. By making the instruction in the English language more available to all who need it?(Annex IV, l. 411). Haykawa presented this foundation as an option for those who want to learn English, not as the compulsory requirement of the 1900s. But a well-documented analysis of this proposal tends to prove otherwise. In fact in this monograph, Hayakawa explained that the pupils will have to pass a final English-language competency test? that will allow them to have a diploma certifying their ability to speak English(Annex IV, l.430). By stating that it would ease up the learning of the English language for those who need it?, Hayakawa indirectly imposed on all non-English speakers to take lessons from the National English Language Foundation? he was actually proposing. Indeed, as we saw in part one, Hayakawa wanted to make the speaking, writing and understanding of the English language compulsory to naturalization in the U.S. It was not without significance that Hayakawa proposed such English classes. In fact, as shown in our analysis, it is very likely that the diploma that immigrants would be given at the end of their curriculum would replace the English-requirement test of the naturalization process. In this light, this proposal would definitely not ease the assimilation of immigrants into the mainstream language but indirectly force them to do so.
Furthermore, Hayakawa explained that successful students would see their tuition fees refunded with their diploma. It implies that those who would not manage to pass the test would not get their money back and this might be a way to keep the poorest applicants from becoming naturalized U.S Citizens. Up to now, taking lessons in community colleges or school districts when wanting to learn English has always been free for immigrants. The Foundation proposed by Hayakawa would certainly make immigrants feel disheartened to learn English. The proposal is therefore completely opposed to U.S ENGLISH motto The Language of Equal Opportunity?. If immigrants would be charged to access the classes proposed by the Foundation, it is very likely that some would not have enough money to participate in the national program. The fact that the conditions of access to classes might be based on the financial situation of the applicant makes it unequal and arbitrary. Instead of encouraging immigrants to learn the language of the majority, this proposal would force them to transfer as soon as possible into English, and only the most fortunate would have the
possibility to take lessons and hopefully succeed in this new test.
In this light, we can conclude that similarly to the Americanization? campaign of the 1900s, Hayakawa has been trying to make the learning of the English language compulsory for any immigrant who wants to become an American even though he took great care in presenting things this way. It is very likely that the enactment of the English Language Amendment to the Constitution as proposed by Hayakawa would lead to selected immigration based on the language ability of the applicants. Their proposal for a National English Language Foundation is an element among others accounting for their anti-immigration feelings. By making the learning of the English language a civic duty, U.S ENGLISH has been diverting from the original aim of this amendment.
At this point of our analysis and in the light of the elements explained in part one and two as well as what we have just demonstrated, we will see to what extent U.S ENGLISH can be considered a new form of nativism.