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Eric Castro

English 28

Professor Batty

01 May 2018

Why does America remain monolingual?

Many experts, psychologists and neuropsychologists, have demonstrated that

bilingualism has great benefits in human beings. Moreover, the Science Magazine and The New

York Times writer Y. Bhattacharjee wrote in his article “Why Bilinguals Are Smarter”, not only

show bilingual children outstanding social skills but they also are smarter. He reports the

findings of neuropsychologist Tamar Gollan of the University of California, San Diego, where

bilingual people were much less disposed to dementia and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

than monolinguals (Bhattacharjee). Many of us may find obvious practical advantages to

speaking more than one language, such as benefits in business, tourism, or just simply

broadening your employability. Thus, Americans should be thinking like former president

Barack Obama when he suggested in 2008 that "You should be thinking about... how can your

child become bilingual. We should have every child speaking more than one language"

(Grosjean). Contrary, for young immigrants, who are in the stage of discovering who they are,

and are negotiating an ethnic identity in the host country (Arel 21), being bilingual may

negatively affect their sense of self identity, which can happen when their original culture is

denigrated when they immerse in a monolingual, xenophobic, and racist host society.
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Although every year thousands of immigrants arrive to the U.S. most of them speaking

another language than English, the U.S. is a stubbornly monolingual society. Of course, many

will probably disagree with this statement because the presence of foreign language speakers

makes the U.S. appears multilingual. Nevertheless, according to the Modern Language

Association, English is only spoken by 80.38% of people over 5 years old (MLA) confirming

that this country is mainly monolingual. Furthermore, there is a clear intention to keep the status

quo of English only in America when we observe that thirty-one states have embraced English as

their official language, 27 of these 31 since the 1980s. (Liu). And if this is not enough, there is a

tendency in the U.S. to reduce the number of foreign language speakers, like what happened with

Italian, German and Polish languages. Regarding Spanish, the most spoken language after

English, it is projected that it will reproduce the same pattern of decline (Lopez) instead of being

embraced by the American society for its own benefit.

In addition, while it is true that historically speaking, the U.S. is a society formed by

immigrants of many origins, inexplicably, the U.S. is mainly a xenophobic society. In fact, the

current U.S. administration since the first week in office took very aggressive measurements

against foreign people. As a matter of fact, it is still trying to ban travelers from some Muslim

countries (Williams), has terminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA,

program that benefited young immigrants in higher education, and is trying to isolate the country

from its neighbors building a wall at the U.S.-Mexican border. Perhaps, more worryingly is that

school policies harm bilingual children when they naturally try to use their foreign maternal

language. As it happens, when schools embrace approaches that explicitly make minority

languages invisible, they give a strong message to the minds of those children that their maternal

language is “backward, useless, of low status” (Salome 75), something that it is not only against
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their more elemental rights but also deliberately cruel. Now, ask yourself, what would you feel

if you move to another country where a different language is spoken and your children’s teacher

hit them every time they speak your own language? In truth, there are too many real stories of

physical punishment in schools in the Southern U.S. because Hispanics children spoke in

Spanish. Gloria Anzaldúa would tell “I remember being caught speaking Spanish at recess – that

was good for three licks on the knuckles with a sharp ruler” (Anzaldúa, 1). Those Spanish

speaking children struggle with their self-identity development as Richard Rodriguez recalls, “I

grew up victim to a disabling confusion” (Rodríguez 5). It seems to be that the cause of all these

social abnormalities are based in a false sense of superiority that certain Americans have against

immigrants. Erroneously, this subordination is wrongly supported on immigration status, culture,

language, phenotype, accent and surname (Yosso 72) and I, as an immigrant, may tell that

xenophobic events happen, such as the episode experienced by Carla, the character from How

The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez, when “the boys pelted Carla with stones.

Aiming them at her feet so there would be no bruises [and shouted] Go back to where you came

from, you dirty spic” (Alvarez 153).

Unfortunately, America is still a racist society. “Racism overtly shaped U.S. social

institutions at the beginning of the twentieth century and continues, although more subtly, to

impact U.S. institutions of socialization in the beginning of the twenty-first century” (Yosso 70).

Consequently, it is undeniable that the U.S. is founded over the burden of a heinous racism

exemplified by the American slavery and later for racial segregation, as T. Yosso explains

clearly, “Race and racism are central, endemic, permanent and a fundamental part of defining

and explaining how U.S. society functions” (73). At the same time, I recognize that many

Americans will say that there are many improvements with the racial issues, and others may even
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deny its existence, it also true that everyday news show us that racial discrimination is still

hurting our society. For example, just days ago, April 12, 2018, two young African American

were victims of stereotyping and racial bias that ended in their arrest, when a Starbucks manager

accused them for trespassing when the young men asked to use the restroom and were told it was

for paying customers only (Vera).

In conclusion, the problem is not being bilingual per se, by contrary, being bilingual in

the world is a characteristic that brings social, economic, intellectual, even health benefits.

However, for immigrants in the U.S., being bilingual disturbs one’s sense of self identity because

they have moved to a dysfunctional society that tries to remain monolingual, its government

focus in xenophobic political measures, and its population suffers of chronic racism that keep

their communities disengaged, making the United States of America a divided country instead of

being a nation that ponders how American children may become culturally enriched knowing

several languages and perhaps, and more importantly, how to eliminate xenophobia and racism,

once and for all.


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Works Cited

Alvarez, Julia. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Plume, 2003.

Anzaldua, Gloria. Borderlands / La Frontera. Aunt Lute Books, 1987.

Arel, Sari. Ethnic identity in children of immigrants: identity pathways, academic outcomes, and

the mediating effect of parents and peers. PhD thesis, University of Michigan, 2014. 17

Mar. 2012, https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/108780/sarel_1.pdf?

sequence=1. Accessed 23 April 2018.

Bhattacharjee, Yudhijit. “The Benefits of Bilingualism.” Times, The New York Times, 17 Mar.

2012, www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/opinion/sunday/the-benefits-of-bilingualism.html.

Accessed 18 April 2018.

Grosjean, Francois. “Bilinguals in the United States: Who Are the Millions of Bilinguals in the

US?” Psychology Today, 20 May 2012, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/life-

bilingual/201205/bilinguals-in-the-united-states. Accessed 18 April 2018.

Liu, Amy, and Anand Edward Sokhey. “When and Why do U.S. States Make English Their

Official Language?” The Washington Post, 19 Jun. 2014,

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2014/06/18/when-and-why-do-u-

s-states-make-english-their-official-language/?utm_term=.0c0ec13c5cb0. Accessed 20

April 2018.

Lopez, Mark, and Ana Gonzales-Barrera. “What is the Future of Spanish in the United States?”

Pew Research Center, 5 Sep. 2013, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-


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tank/2013/09/05/what-is-the-future-of-spanish-in-the-united-states/. Accessed 20 April

2018. Accessed 21 April 2018.

MLA. “Most spoken languages in the entire US in 2010”. Found MLA Language Map Data

Center, 30 Apr. 2018, https://apps.mla.org/map_data

Rodriguez, Richard. Hunger of Memory: the Education of Richard Rodriguez: an

Autobiography. Bantam Books, 1982.

Salomone, Rosemary C. True American. Harvard University Press, 2010.

Vera, Amir. “Starbucks isn’t the Only Chain That’s Faced Claims of Racial Bias” CNN, 20 Apr.

2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/20/us/racial-incidents-at-restaurants-and-

starbucks/index.html. Accessed 23 April 2018.

Williams, Joe. “Trump Travel Ban Returns to U.S. Supreme Court” NBC News, 24 Apr. 2018,

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/trump-travel-ban-returns-u-s-supreme-

court-n868366. Accessed 21 April 2018.

Yosso, Tara. “Whose Culture Has Capital? A Critical Race Theory Discussion of Community

Cultural Wealth.” Race Ethnicity and Education, vol. 8, no.1, 2005, pp. 69-91.