Saturday, December 15, 2007

A local front in the battle over illegal immigration

I've weighed in a couple of times on this issue, but have been wary of saying too much. After all, I myself am an immigrant to the United States, albeit a legal one, and I arrived already equipped with a full command of the English language (those who know might dispute that).

That said................I don't think that it's too much to ask immigrants to the United States to speak English. This country was built on a shared culture, the primary unifying element of which is the common language. When this country absorbed millions of German, Italian, Russian, Jewish, Polish, Ukrainian (etc., etc.) immigrants, they weren't offered services in their native languages. It was a "sink or swim" crash course in learning the local culture, and the think is, they did it. Even if parents couldn't speak English all that well, they learned enough to get by. In my mind, this forced assimilation created a shared bond that turned everyone into AMERICANS. Now, it seems as though there is an attitude that focusses on individual cultures at the expense of a national one. That's not healthy for the nation's future, in my view.

The local angle on this is that the owner of one of Philadelphia's most famous Cheesesteak shops, Geno's, posted a sign which asked those who were ordering food to do so in English: The sign was not rude, and it was agreed by all that not one single person had ever been denied service if they were unable to do so in English. Nonetheless, some were "offended" by the sign (and we now live unfortunately in a time where PC mandates that no one should ever be offended), and a complaint was filed with the local human relations commission. The stakes are quite high, as Geno's could be fined heavily or even lose its business license: There was a quote from one of the commissioners which made me do a double-take. He commented that the sign reminded him of the signs he used to see in the segregated southern states when he grew up (you think that he's tipping his hand as to which way he's going to vote?).

Look, I know that I'm not a "visible minority", so I can't pretend that I understand what they feel., but to me that comment seems patently absurd, especially given the stipulation that no one was ever denied service (or given preferential service) at Geno's. This rhetoric is inflammatory and unhelpful. Joey Vento, the owner of Geno's, has said that anything less than a complete exoneration will lead him to shut his business down. I can't say that I blame him.....................

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