When politicians, would-be or actual, demand the ability to speak English as a condition of living in the United States, they not only belittle a growing population in our community, but they also ignore our history of immigration and the tapestry of diverse cultures and languages that has made our country strong.
Whether you believe that such political statements are rooted in racism or simply demonstrate a lack of cultural sensitivity is irrelevant. What matters is that until our community recognizes the tremendous benefits of linguistic diversity — along with the rich history of Latino Americans — we cannot claim to have achieved civil rights equity and a more socially just community.
These issues, of course, are directly related to our schools. When schools encourage linguistically diverse students to shed their native languages, they are implicitly telling students that their culture, their family and their background have no value here. They overtly silence young learners and further marginalize them — to the point where these young people feel stigmatized by the community. Schools with an English-only approach are continuing to create a monolingual society in a multilingual global economy merely by equating speaking English with material success.
The truth is, however, that we are a nation of many languages — and we are stronger for it. In order to honor and leverage our linguistic diversity, schools across the country are implementing dual language programs that intermingle native English speakers and native speakers of other languages in order to support bilingualism. Examples include Los Angeles' Vietnamese/English program at DeMille Elementary and Baltimore's own Archbishop Borders' Spanish/English program.
At a time when we are all engaged — or should be — in conversations related to racial tensions and struggles in our city, we should not overlook the importance of our Latino American neighbors, and their specific needs and challenges because of linguistic differences and the diversity of their experiences and backgrounds.
Loyola University Maryland's Center for Innovation in Urban Education is honored to support the Enoch Pratt Free Library in our collaborative event series, Latino Americans: El Futuro de Baltimore, with the next even scheduled for Nov. 10. We'll be showing part two of the film "Latino Americans," which presents their history in the U.S. from 1965 to 2000, detailing the prejudice they have encountered within school and society, their role in the Civil Rights Movement and their hopes for the future.
According to Forbes, Baltimore ranks third nationally for cities in which Latino families are thriving economically: They have the second highest median household income nationally ($59,940) and almost half (47.5 percent) have invested in home ownership. Hopes for Baltimore as a city intertwines with the economic hopes of our Latino neighbors.
In his homily — delivered in Spanish — at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., Pope Francis encouraged all of us with the phrase, "Siempre adelante!" As a community, as a nation, let's seek new opportunities to build common ground, to strengthen our ties by recognizing and embracing difference, including those of language, and to move "always forward" together.
Mark Lewis is an assistant professor of literacy education at Loyola University Maryland. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.