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
U.S ENGLISH has not always been presenting immigration as a success story as the analysis of their 2008 advertising campaign will show in this part. This advertisement was entitled Immigrants who don't want to learn English can really clean up in America? and staged a man of supposed Hispanic or Latin origins sweeping. In order to decode the message U.S ENGLISH wanted to send through this advertising campaign, we need to analyze the different techniques used in the making of this advertisement (Annex XVIII).
First of all, the picture showing a man sweeping directly reminds of the traditional
91 Full list of the Advisory Board of U.S ENGLISH available at < http://www.us-english.org/view/309>
image of the immigrant from earlier generations performing unskilled and low-paid jobs in America. Indeed, the first wave of immigrants of the 1880s and the second wave of immigrants of the 1900s mainly from Southern and Eastern Europe, East Asia and Mexico were a response for a demand of laborers who could perform heavy physical and thus low paid jobs. This old fashioned image of the immigrant performing low paid and menial jobs is reminded by the movement to pretend that nothing has changed since the 1880s: there has been no advancement in the status of immigrants in the United States. Actually, as we have seen, the MacCarren-Walter Act of 1952 and the Hart-Celler Act of 1965 gave preference to immigrants with technical or professional job expertise as well as for family reunification purposes.
Then, we need to focus on the visual effects used in the making of this advertisement. U.S ENGLISH choses to use a high-angle shot, placing the camera above eye-level in order to look down on the subject, which consequently appears insignificant, weak, and helpless. Furthermore, the man seemed to be envious of the viewer as he was looking up to him. It gives the movement an almighty position on that man. In this advertisement the cleaner was presented as the victim of his low status and it tells a lot about the views of the movement on immigration. U.S ENGLISH used those visual techniques to put pressure on immigrants event though this advertisement was not only addressed to them but also to any other American reading the newspaper in which this add was published.
As we have seen, advertising is a way to create strong mental imprints in the viewer's mind through the use of pictures with a strong visual impact. This advertisement can have a double effect on the receiver: it may invite him to stigmatize that kind? of immigrants, themselves presented as being only half-American? because of their lack of English proficiency. Or, on the contrary, since the viewer can actually feel the immigrant`s helplessness due to the close-up which allows the viewer to get "into the head" of the character, this can actually invite him to take pity on the immigrant pictured thus encouraging him to act and change the way things are, for instance by joining U.S ENGLISH.
Not only the picture but also the message of this advertisement caught the viewer's attention. One can read: immigrants who don't learn English can really clean up in America?. In this sentence immigrants who do not learn English were seen as only worth doing the cleaning job? like the man pictured in this advertisement. There is black humor? in the advertisement if we consider that to clean up? means to make money. The use of the present time gave an eternal truth characteristic to the message: U.S ENGLISH wanted the viewer to believe that what is written on this advertisement is true. They are suggesting that immigrants
came to America because they wanted to make money, but there is a double entendre because it also suggests that they can only get cleaning jobs. Symbolically, immigrants are accused of being responsible for their low position in the society.
This kind of immigration was seen as unwanted because it did not illustrate the American Dream as the dream of a promise land of freedom and opportunity. In 1931 in his book The Epic of America ,James Trustow Adams wrote:
American dream of a better, richer, and happier life for all our citizens of every rank, which is the greatest contribution we have made to the thought and welfare of the world. That dream or hope has been present from the start. Ever since we became an independent nation, each generation has seen an uprising of ordinary Americans to save that dream from the forces which appeared to be overwhelming it. 92
The idea of the Promise Land, present in Adams' definition of the American Dream considered America as an asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty?.93 The revolutionary idea of this concept lied in the fact that anybody could fulfill this dream for a better, successful and prosperous life in the United States. In the light of this definition, U.S ENGLISH presented the man staged in this advertisement with no chance to fulfill the American Dream because of his incapacity to speak the English language.
But the man in the advertisement is working, so he is fully integrated in the American society as he participates in the American economy. Working is a form of integration but the movement focused on language as being the only tool for advancement in America, the way to benefit from the many economic opportunities this land has to offer?. The link between language proficiency and social mobility can also be found in their motto the language of equal opportunity?: English is described as instrumental tool for advancement, social mobility and progress as we saw in part one. Immigrants with little or no knowledge of English are rejected by U.S ENGLISH because of their low position on the socio-economic ladder.
At this point of our analysis, it is necessary to keep in mind that those menial jobs performed by the immigrants are essential to the US economy: if nobody accepted to perform those jobs the economy of the whole country would collapse. Immigration allows the country to have a stable and dynamic economy. There cannot only be lawyers, architects, doctors, successful businessmen or any other high position in a society. U.S ENGLISH has been encouraging skilled immigrants or at least immigrants with knowledge of the English
92 CULLEN, Jim. The American Dream: a short history that shaped a nation, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962. Google Book Search. Web. 7 March 2010. p.4.
93 PAINE, Thomas. Common Sense: Addressed to the inhabitants of America, 1776, ICON Group International Inc (2005). Google Book Search. Web. 6 Feb. 2010. p. 22.
language before coming to the United States but it seems that they have a low esteem for those who perform menial, unskilled or low payed jobs.
This advertisement expressed a form of racism because it stages the helplessness of a man of Hispanic origins. In this advertisement, immigrants were stigmatized and doomed to have a low position in society. The underlying meaning of this advertisement is that unskilled workers of foreign origins are not welcomed or even rejected. A deep analysis of this advertisement points out that there is a clear cut contrast between the views the movement claims to have on immigration on their website and in their 2008 advertising campaign.
It is interesting to compare the message of this advertisement with the one conveyed by their advertising campaign of 1995 (Annex XIII). In their advertising campaign of 1995, U.S ENGLISH used the image of the good and willing immigrant to promote their cause and to introduce the organization. This advertisement staged a man of Hispanic origins exactly like their 2008 advertising campaign and was entitled to make it in America, you need to learn my language? (Annex XIII). In this advertisement, the movement once again used the role borrowing technique? of Leech explained when accounting for the communication strategies of the movement. This advertisement staged a man, Fernando Mateo, immigrant from the Dominican Republic, testifying of his own success story thanks to the learning of the English language. He said: the secret to any immigrant's success is to learn English before anything else. I know, I speak from experience? (Annex XIII). Later on, he is described as a highly successful carpet businessman in New York City? who had a Points of Light? from the White House for his voluntary work with non-violent first offenders. The use of this testimony allowed U.S ENGLISH to illustrate their motto which is The Language of Equal Opportunity?.
A mass communication theory elaborated by Albert Bandura specified that massmedia messages give audience members an opportunity to identify with attractive characters that demonstrate behavior, engage emotions, and allow mental rehearsal and modeling of new behavior. The behavior of models in the mass media also offers vicarious reinforcement to motivate audience members' adoption of the behavior?94. In the light of this concept known as the social learning theory?, we can conclude that U.S ENGLISH tried to set an example for the other immigrants of the nation by telling the success story of this carpet businessman.
There is a clear-cut contrast between those two advertising campaign published by the movement. On the one hand, they have been projecting an ideal embodied by the image of the
94 SURESH, Kalyani, Theories of Communication?, 2003, Professional Educational Organization International, Web. 3 Apr. 2010. n.p.
successful immigrant who fulfilled the American Dream and, on the other hand, they have been breaking up the promise made to immigrants by pointing at an immigrant at the other end of the social ladder. The dichotomy between those two faces of immigration projected by the movement reveals a certain contradiction in the rhetoric of U.S ENGLISH. From the contrast between the good alien success story embodiment of the American Dream presented in the monograph and the advertising campaign of 1995 and the underlying half-citizenship allocated to some immigrants in the United States by the movement in the advertisement of 2008, we can conclude that the pro-immigration image of the movement was clearly a cover hiding a profound disregard towards for certain type of immigrants, namely foreign language speakers.
In the light of this analysis, we may wonder whether the movement aimed at social control or at social integration and whether or not an English Language Amendment can be considered as a cover for immigration restrictions.