Ohio's English-Only Bill: No Problem, No Solution
Ohio House Bill 477, currently under consideration, would apply to any "public body" -- basically any government entity, state or local -- requiring that "the English language shall be used for each meeting of a public body and for each official action of any state agency or political subdivision, including each record prepared, meeting held, policy issued, or other action taken under color of law."
Given that we don't currently have a problem with, say, the Ravenna City Council publishing its minutes in Slovenian, the law is directed at translation services to immigrants. The law would limit, somewhat, the ability of government agencies to make translations of official documents available to those who need them. But then the law includes a number of exceptions that cover nearly any circumstance under which an agency might want to provide translations. Among them:
(3) Protect or promote the public health, safety, or welfare;
(4) Protect the rights of parties and witnesses in a civil or criminal action or proceeding in a court or in an administrative proceeding;
(5) Provide instruction in foreign language courses;
(6) Provide instruction designed to aid students with limited English language proficiency so they can make a timely transition to use of the English language in the public schools;
(7) Promote international commerce, trade, or tourism;
(9) Engage in informal and nonbinding translations or communications.
So the bill actually changes very little. I happen to sit on the Board of Directors of a nonprofit that works with immigrants and refugees, primarily from Asia. I corresponded with our Director who assured me that an overabundance of translation is not currently Ohio's problem. H.B. 477 might make some fewer translations available, but since Ohio does not currently provide all the translations needed to "protect or promote public health, safety and welfare" probably not by much..
477 is a solution in search of a problem. Generally this means the problem being addressed is getting people reelected and that certainly seems the case here. The bill plays on fears -- fears of a polyglot, Balkanized America, and corollary fears of people who don't look and sound like us, whoever "us" is.
We've had this debate here pretty much forever. From the NINA1 signs in eighteenth century business windows to the closing the door to Jewish immigration during the war that doomed thousands to die in gas chambers, we've always heard dark warnings about those other people who would come here and change American culture. In the end, those people came and changed our culture for the better.
It's somewhat ironic that the Balkans serve as a benchmark for the badness of cultural diversity. The breakup of Yugoslavia was a messy and bloody affair, but not, in the main, because of the actions of cultural minorities. The majority Serbs shed most of the blood in pursuit of a Greater -- and "purer" Serbia.
In other words, difference isn't the problem; intolerance is.
We've had this debate here pretty much forever. From the NINA1 signs in Nineteenth Century business windows to closing the Jewish quotas2 of the Twentieth Century, we've always heard dark warnings about those people who would come here and change American culture. In the end, they came and they changed our culture for the better.
Using the Balkans as a benchmark for the badness of cultural diversity underscores the wrongheadedness of the argument. The breakup of Yugoslavia was a messy and bloody affair, but not, in the main, because of actions of cultural minorities. The majority Serbs shed most of the blood in pursuit of a Greater -- and "purer" -- Serbia.
In other words, difference is not the problem. Intolerance is.
1"No Irish Need Apply."
2which by the way doomed untold thousands to die in gas chambers as they were maintained during World War II.
Original post is here.