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Life is certainly full of ironies, and in Puerto Rico we constantly witness a procession of them. Such is the case, for example, of some Puerto Ricans renouncing their U.S. citizenship (insisting on a Puerto Rican citizenship that has no juridical value), while thousands of people from other countries, many of whom risk their lives to reach U.S. soil, become U.S. citizens every year. And this is so because, despite all its flaws, the U.S. offers its citizens the best the world can devise, making U.S. citizenship the most coveted in the world today.

U.S. citizenship embodies the natural heritage of a nation that in fact is the most democratic, powerful and generous in the world, one which offers its citizens a way of life unknown in many so-called independent and sovereign nations. It is a way of life that offers its citizens freedom to pray as they wish, to think as free people who have the strength to work, minds to plan, hearts to love and who enjoy freedom of expression, as was the case of the October 1st march in San Juan of those who oppose the sale of the Puerto Rico Telephone Company. These are all part of the glorious legacy of the United States, as I have often highlighted in this space.

There is another case of irony in Puerto Rico. While some political sectors, charged with a false sense of nationalism and a pervasive anti-U.S. sentiment, fight to deprive our children of the opportunity to learn English in our public schools, immigrant Mexican families in Los Angeles, Calif., are desperate to have their children learn English and are fighting the authorities to let their children do so in public schools. In a recent article in the New York Times, Reverend Alice Callaghan, an Episcopal minister and director of a family community center in Los Angeles, revealed that in 1985 a poor Mexican family came to Los Angeles to work in the garment district’s sweatshop. In 1996, they pulled their three children out of school for nearly two weeks until the school agreed to let them take classes in English rather than Spanish.

According to Rev. Callaghan, "seventy other poor immigrant families joined this school boycott in February 1996, insisting that their children be allowed out of the city’s bilingual program, which did not teach English to children from Spanish-speaking homes until they learned how to read and write in Spanish. In the end, the parents prevailed. Yet, throughout California and elsewhere in the country, many Hispanic parents are worried that bilingual education programs are keeping their children from learning English. These children live in Spanish-speaking homes, play in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods and study in Spanish-speaking classrooms. Most parents who participated in the school boycott last year toil in garment district sweatshops, others wait on tables, clean downtown offices or sell fruit or tamales on street corners. All struggle on an average monthly income of $800. Education is their only hope for a better future for their children. The first step is learning English."

The above confirms the following remarks of our great patriot, José Celso Barbosa, on the importance of teaching children, especially poor children, while in primary grades:

  • "It would be a crime to deprive poor children of learning English while in primary grades in our schools. Most of them don’t have the means to continue secondary grades and would never have the opportunity to learn English. This would signify taking away from the youth of the middle class and the children of the workers a way to defend themselves in life’s struggle. It means depriving Puerto Ricans of going to the mainland United States to seek a better way of life."
  • It is also pertinent to mention what the late Sen. Dennis Chávez (D-New Mexico) said about the importance of learning English:

  • "It is not necessary to speak English for the purpose of breathing the free air of the Americas. But in order to live effectively under the American flag and to participate with some hope of material success in the social and economic life of the United States, it is absolutely necessary to speak English and to speak it well. I would be unable to fulfill the obligations of my position if the only means of expression at my command were the Spanish of my native New Mexico. It is not my wish that the people of Puerto Rico live on the fringe of our political, social and economic life. I desire with all my heart that the people of the island take a direct and active part in every movement which might have to do with better aspects of our American civilization without sacrificing an iota of the great values of a Hispanic civilization, including the Spanish language. But in order to bring about these conditions, it is necessary that Puerto Ricans learn English, and the best time to learn it, as well as any other language, is during the early years of childhood, as has been demonstrated throughout history."
  • I said it before and say it again. Let’s be on the alert and ready to neutralize the chronic, strident, nationalistic rhetoric against the teaching of English in Puerto Rico of those self-proclaimed champions of our culture and self-appointed guardian angels of our island.


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