Imperialism of one sort or another has been occurring for centuries around the world. In the U. S. a specific form of imperialism is in full effect but is less noticeable than the normative physical imperialism. Linguistic imperialism occurs when a dominant group imposes their language on another, and within the United States this imperialism has been occurring through English. English is the language set up by the American society to be the dominant official language.
America is supposed to be the melting pot of different languages and cultures but there is a specific connection between English speakers and dominance over non-English speakers. From this relationship a hierarchy develops in which those who are the representative English speaker in America (Caucasian), are more privileged and more recognized in society than non-English speakers normally of color. Bilingual Education brings this topic to light because it is a governmental supported idea that basically forces non-English speakers to learn English.
As children grow out of bilingual education they seem to have two choices; move away from their own culture and assimilate, or retain their culture but don‘t be recognized by society. Of course these choices aren’t always so clear-cut and often the results are varied, but a conflict remains. This topic is explored in Americo Parede’s novel George Washington Gomez, when the question is raised, is it possible for a non-white non-English speaking person to become educated in America without losing their ethnic identity.
The main character in this book Gualinto explores what it means to be Mexican-American and what that term means to him after being educated. Also my own experiences of the effects of linguistic imperialism and bilingual education in the California school system have lent to this paper. Ultimately all this information asks the question: Does the dominant white power structure and bilingual education in the U. S. allow non-English speakers, normally of color, to retain their cultural identity?
The migration of the English to America and the eventual formation of the colonies led to the construction of whiteness as an ideology of privilege and dominance. Literature from this period shows how whiteness became the representative skin color of the new Americas and subsequently how the new nation embraced this ideology. This developing country was a very conducive stage for literature of all genres to shape and influence the population, because people like the Puritans felt they needed to show distinctly how they were separate from others in order to define themselves.
This soon led the white population “…. to justify the exclusion from full participation in their sanctioned community those who were not like them, whether because of religious, national, or racial differences” (Babb 58). Early writers like William Bradford used words like savage and brutish to describe the Native Americans (Babb 61). In calling them savage and brutish he exudes the sentiment that the people he is writing this for (white colonials) are non-savage and non-brutish. Another example is Cotton Mather’s The Negro Christianized.
In this book he argues that while it is very important for slaves to be baptized it is equally important to maintain social order by baptizing them into subservience (Babb 65). The Life and Captivity of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson is an example of the captivity narrative, which was also a very influential genre. In telling how she was captured by Native Americans she never recognizes them as human beings only describes them as savages, heathen and “hell-hounds”. These literary examples are among many that create a hierarchy privileging the white English-speaking people, and they set the stage for linguistic imperialism in the United States.
In the United States and around the world language is an essential tool for societies to communicate on many different levels. In America literature, other publications, television, radio and the internet are all mainly in English and only occasionally have different language options. Non-English speakers in the United States are constantly pressured to learn English and undergo Americanization. This process calls for newcomers to the U. S. to adopt American values and learn English.
These standards for becoming “American” aren’t negative but as represented by the above media it is arguable that the ideal “American” is white. In the early 20th century immigrants, like Mary Antin, came to the U. S. and described how they learned to be American through saturation and church. These immigrants were spoken to by upper class English speaking whites and, “when whites are the only personifications of privilege, social mobility, economic security, and cultural refinement, experiences and products that appear race-neutral are implicitly racialized” (Babb 124).
Most immigrants come to America for the chance of upward mobility, and seeing these rich white people made the immigrants aspire to learn English and be like them. This turn of the century immigration is similar to immigration today, one hundred years later. Even before an immigrant leaves their native country they are probably affected by American influences. When many immigrants arrive in a place like New York or Los Angeles (U. S. Dept. Justice) they are met with huge billboards in English, advertising something. They then learn that in order to become upwardly mobile in the U. S. hey must learn English and be able to read the billboards and the many other mediums represented in the English language. The point at which these people want to be upwardly mobile in America is when linguistic imperialism begins.
No one forces Americanization on immigrants but in order for them to retain almost any amount of wealth ability to speak English is essential. The question is then asked if immigrants acquire a new language and become Americanized do have to they lose their culture? From a random sample from an online employment agency, a company felt that employees should have, “… nterpersonal and English language skills sufficient to interact effectively with staff, clients and vendors“ (Employersonline).
This and many other examples show how important English is in obtaining non-blue collar jobs. In the Los Angeles area a majority of blue-collar workers are Hispanic, while a majority of the higher paying jobs are held by whites. These blue-collar workers can rise out of the lower paying jobs by mastering English, but the color of their skin remains a significant factor in this situation as well.
By mastering English, however, the blue-collar workers or immigrants are preparing to participate in American capitalism more thoroughly than they were before. In doing so they may begin to feel that English is more important than their own language, and subsequently, American culture more important than their own. Of course this is not always the case but the English language represents a very enticing possibility of upward mobility. If they feel this sentiment, as many immigrants do, then they will want their children to become fluent in English and be a part of U. S. society.
Bilingual education contends directly with this idea because it is an institutionalized American program designed to make non-English speakers into English speaking citizens. Even when immigrants decide not to learn English or aspire to upper class jobs, they see what speaking English and becoming Americanized can do for an individual. These parents want the best for their children so they do not object when their children are placed in bilingual classrooms. Opponents of bilingual education, like Ron Unz, believe that it is unnecessary for schools to accommodate non-English speakers with native language classes.
He feels that the U. S. should get immigrants speaking English as fast and as young as possible, and in order to be a united nation ethnic assimilation is important. Bilingual education advocates feel that students can learn to speak English and be American without losing their family traditions. Anything is possible but considering the aforementioned information it is hard to believe this. Bilingual education is designed by the U. S. government to help non-English speakers learn English and learn some basic skills for being an American.
There are different bilingual programs, including immersion plans, where non-English speakers are taught English without using their native language. They are taught under the idea of sink or swim, and this is the type of program that people like Ron Unz believes in. In Texas in the 1950s submersion programs led to failure of nearly half of the Hispanic population of this generation to graduate from high school. Most bilingual educators came to the conclusion that maintenance programs provided the best means for citizens to become bilingual and bicultural (Mclaren 153).
Maintenance programs provide opportunity to study in their native language even after they have achieved proficiency in English. The prevailing opinion in the U. S. , like Unz, is that students should learn English and their own language should not be used. The immersion program definitely seems to be harsh, and it facilitates extreme assimilation to U. S. ideals. Maintenance programs seem a much better idea, but since the U. S. is so single-minded it is not likely it will be implemented very soon. What is most likely to happen is that present bilingual programs, like partial immersion or transitional, will remain.
These programs either teach English one hour a day or once students attain a certain level of proficiency in English, they are taught only in English. Either way, these programs do not challenge white dominant society; they try to fit these kids into it without their understanding. It is perpetuating white hegemonic ideals in America. In our view, multicultural education can be transformed in a satisfactory way only if it adopts a fundamental stance against capitalist relations of exploitation and addresses the process of imperialism, the social relations of production, and the construction of white privilege.
Here we take the position that systematic racism is an ideology and set of social and cultural practices that grew out of slavery in which the act of discrimination created categories and criteriologies of difference and hierarchical systems of classification that served to universalize and naturalize imperialist aggression and dominant social relations of exploitation (Mclaren 26). The blue collar workers who decided to does not learn English is being exploited while the one who does is losing their traditions.
So Mclaren argues that the only way to properly teach bilingual education is to inform students of the situation in which capitalist America exploits non-English speakers. It seems to be most important, however, to teach them that learning English can be a valuable asset but retaining their own traditions and learning English is an invaluable advantage. The prime goal of bilingual education must be the obtainment of good teachers who recognize this situation and inform the students of the country they are growing up in.
This is an ideal situation but it has obviously not happened in the past. George Washington Gomez is a novel that contends directly with the educational system in the U. S. from grade school through college. This book tells the story of Gualinto Gomez who is the son of a Mexican mother and half-white half-Mexican father murdered by white people. Gualinto’s mother and uncle raise him under the directions of his father that he is not to know how he died so he won’t learn to hate and cause violence.
As he grows up his guardians constantly tell him that one day he will be a great leader to his people and lead them towards a better life. He believes this and through grade school and high school he is very resistant to anything he experiences in school or otherwise that undermines his Mexican heritage. Unlike his many Hispanic classmates, Gualinto graduates and decides to go to college. The reader is set up to believe that Gualinto becomes maybe a lawyer or politician to help his people. When he returns to his hometown, however, he is now in the Army as a border security agent.
He is basically a spy on his own people. When he returns he comments, “Mexicans will always be Mexicans. A few of them, like some of those would be politicos, could make something of themselves if they would just do like I did. Get out of this filthy Delta, as far away as they can, and get rid of their Mexican Greaser attitudes” (Paredes 300). This exhibits a fictional account of how the university system or American ideology can turn a person of color into someone who despises their own race. What then Paredes asks is to be done about this situation?
Gualinto was in a bilingual education program and he seemed even through high school to feel that his culture was important and white America was something to resist. Did the prospect of money make Gualinto forget his people or was he just whitewashed? These are all questions that basically lead to the conclusion that because of the dominant white power structure in the U. S. it is extremely difficult for a person not of U. S. origin to have any kind of social mobility without losing their cultural heritage. I went to school in Oxnard California where about 70% of my high school was Hispanic.
In elementary I witnessed bilingual education in other classrooms and in middle school saw how these same students began to be segregated. They were not taught in a different classroom but they were placed in slower and standard programs. In high school I was in mostly honors and college preparatory classes and these classes were about 90% white. It has taken many years to question why this was so. With the exception of a few, Hispanic students were placed into standard programs in all subjects. I believe it is because of one or two reasons.
The bilingual education I witnessed was ineffective and didn’t teach the students properly for them to be able to interact and participate at the high school level. I also think that maybe they decided that the English they were forced to learn was something that discounted their culture, and they saw any adherence to the educational system as a sacrifice of their culture. Either way, non-chalant attitudes about grades and teachers caused them to remain in standard classes throughout high school and receive poor grades. Brown Pride” t-shirts were a norm so maybe they didn’t want to assimilate and they knew about people like Gualinto.
Or should the American public think that these students are ignorant, inherently unmotivated, and undeserving of higher education or upward mobility? Because non-publicly (in order to save face) this seems to be the public opinion. The dominant white power structure and bilingual education present a very difficult situation for any immigrant who strives to achieve the American Dream of upward mobility and retain their cultural identity. The English language and linguistic imperialism attribute to this situation.
While bilingual education is a way to assimilate non-English speakers into American culture, English and its place in the white dominant society, creates a possibility of forgetting ones culture or even self hatred. Like Gualinto many students find that the only real way to become upwardly mobile is to completely forget their heritage and become utterly American even if that means becoming “whitewashed”. Educators and enlightened minds alike will need to observe data and strive diligently toward a nation not dominated by white elitists but by open-minded educated people intent on the basic tenement of U. S. Democracy: Equality.