According to the Houston Chronicle, the Friendswood, Texas, city council may soon pass a law requiring that “every person in Friendswood is entitled to be able to communicate with City Council or city employees in English, to receive information from or contribute information to city employees in English, and to be notified of official orders in English.”
The key word here is entitled. Anyone in Friendswood should be able to walk into City Hall and find out the name of the mayor, in English. Or call up the local police station to report a burglary, in English. Or learn whether a fence they’re building conforms to zoning requirements, in English.
As its name implies, Friendswood was founded by Quakers and for much of its history it was a quiet farming settlement with a population under 1,000. But now Friendswood is a bedroom community for Houston, with a median income of $117,000 and a commitment to “traditional values,” one of which seems to require legal status for English.
Friendswood is a town with “an affluent resident base of well-educated, high-income families,” 48% of them working in executive, professional, and managerial positions. These good people would be insulted if a town employee addressed them in any language but English. Not that that is likely to happen.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 92% of Friendswood’s residents speak only English. Of the 8% who use other languages, 88% also speak English either well or very well. That leaves only 270 of the town’s 26,255 adult residents who speak English poorly or not at all. It’s unlikely that any of these nonanglophones work for the city, which means that Friendswood’s citizens don’t really have to worry about communicating with their government in English.
So if almost everybody speaks it, and the paltry few who don’t are learning it as fast as they can, why is Friendswood bothering to make English the town’s official language? It’s obviously got nothing to do with communication, since speaking English doesn’t seem to be a Friendswood problem.
One city councilman characterizes the proposed English-only law as a way to stand up for America, but others feel that it paints a definitely unfriendly picture of a town whose population is 34 times what it was in 1960 and is not done growing.
Making English official is a way of building an invisible border fence around the town, of making Friendswood into a gated community with language as the gate. It signals would-be homeowners that to live in Friendswood, they’d better not be tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Instead, they’ll need an income at or above the median, and they’ll have to pay their taxes in English. And it’s a way of standing up for America, the land of free speech, so long as that speech is in English.