Beyond the ‘Burg: City trying to make English official

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September 23, 2008

2:33 AM

University of Maryland—College Park’s Latino Student Union will protest a city councilman’s initiative to make English the city’s official language at a meeting this week, according to The Diamondback, U.Md.’s student newspaper.

Councilman Jack Perry suggested an amendment to the city’s charter that says it “shall make no law or policy which diminishes or ignores the role of English as the common language of the city.”

The United States does not have an official language, but many states, including Virginia, have adopted English as the official language. Maryland, however, has not.

In College Park, the movement’s proponents believe making English the city’s official language will encourage immigrants to learn the language and become more involved in the community.

“In the United States, promoting English is a positive reinforcement for the most important skill an immigrant can have,” Rob Toonkel, a spokesman for a pro-English advocacy group, told The Diamondback.

Toonkel believes College Park will save money by eliminating translation services, which are paid for with taxpayer dollars, and will create a more capable work force because immigrants will be forced to learn English to complete everyday tasks.

“Then [immigrants] can tell their boss, ‘I have a better job. I’m not going to clean the floor; I’m going to go be a teller at the bank,’” Toonkel said. “If one is not proficient in English, one is establishing themselves a glass ceiling.”

Ana González, a Colombian immigrant, thinks getting rid of translation services will incapacitate people who are already struggling to survive.

“People with very few resources, who don’t have much money, can’t pay for English classes and, therefore, can’t learn it very quickly,” González told The Diamondback in Spanish. Neither González nor her husband, a medical advisor to the World Health Organization, speak English.

Another member of College Park’s city council, Patrick Wojahn, has recommended another resolution that recommends “seeking to incorporate members with limited English proficiency as full members of the community.”

The Latino Student Union President Manny Ruiz and members of CASA de Maryland fully support Wojahn’s efforts.

“That’s exactly what we should be doing,” Ruiz said.

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