'Baron's Guide to Americas English-only Towns and Cities' is the perfect gift for your favorite tea-partier
Tiny Jackson, New York (pop. 1,718), has one thing that its big neighbor, New York City, three hours to the south, lacks: English is its official language. A new law passed in Jackson last month requires that all town business be conducted in English -- not that there is much business in Jackson, which has no schools, markets, gas stations, or places of worship.
Nor does English seem to be in immediate danger in Jackson. According to the 2000 Census, 97.2% of its residents are monolingual white anglophones. The town is not without diversity: inhabitants include a small number of African Americans, three Native Americans, eight Asians, and nineteen Hispanics. Only eleven of the Hispanics speak Spanish, and none of the Asians speaks Chinese. There are also three speakers of Tagalog and six German-speaking residents, but Jackson's new official language law will put a stop to all of that.
Jackson is far from alone in declaring English official. Joining the list of America's English-Only towns and cities, last March, Prescott, Arizona (pop. 30,000, with 2,200 Spanish speakers), tore down a 2010 Census banner strung across one of its main streets because that banner was in Spanish. Although funds for the banner were supplied by the U.S. Census Bureau as part of its campaign to count everyone in the country, documented or illegal, Prescott officials pulled down the sign because Arizona's official English law bans state and local governments from doing business in any language other than English, plus they didn't want illegals counted among the town's residents, even though Prescott receives $12,000 from the federal government for everyone counted by the Census.
Arizona's first English-only law, passed in 1986, forbade the use of any language other than English by a public official, from the governor down to municipal sewer workers. After it was ruled unconstitutional the state passed a less-restrictive law, in 2006, that provides that official actions, like the Census banner, "shall be conducted in English" and prohibits discrimination against anyone for using English, though it's not clear that a banner constitutes an official government action, and there are no recorded instances of anyone ever being discriminated against for using English.
Prescott officials tore down the Spanish-language Census banner but allowed this English banner, hanging a few streets away, to remain, even though it contains two Spanish words.
Prescott's prohibition of Spanish-language Census signs is consistent with one of the founding principles of the state. When the New Mexico Territory became part of the United States after the Mexican War, it was initially to be divided into northern and southern sections, much like North and South Carolina (the Dakota Territory would later be split in a similar fashion to create the states of North and South Dakota). But those plans changed, and when division came, the New Mexico Territory was split East to West instead, a move that may have been calculated in part to isolate most of the area's Spanish speakers in New Mexico, leaving the bulk of its English speakers west of the line in Arizona.
As part of its historical move to keep Arizona white (well, white and those who choose to tan in the hot Arizona sun), the Arizona legislature just passed a controversial new law requiring the police to check the papers of anyone who simply looks like they might be illegal (that is, those who are not tan-by-choice). That anti-immigrant measure is already having a chilling effect on travel to the state. Last week, officials at Highland Park High School, in Illinois, canceled a girls' basketball team trip to a tournament in Arizona out of fear that visiting athletes could be arrested and deported if they didn't have proper identification with them.
Some state and local governments -- San Francisco is one prominent example -- have torn up contracts with Arizona businesses to protest the law. Opponents of the law are boycotting Arizona products, while the law's fans are buying up Arizoniana right and left. Well, mostly right: a number of out-of-state conservative groups announced that they'll be bringing carloads of AriZona Iced Tea to Arizona's many antigovernment tea parties, not realizing that the state's namesake "sun-brewed" beverage originated in Brooklyn and is now made on Long Island.
Arizona's English-only and stop-and-deport laws have just been joined by another statute, HB 2281, which bans ethnic studies programs in public schools on the grounds that such programs preach the overthrow of the government and disparage the state's anglo majority. The law prohibits any programs that "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals," and requires that pupils "not be taught to resent or hate other races or classes of people."
The bill targets Latina/Latino and African American Studies programs, but it would also ban the many emerging Tea Party Studies programs, since these programs brew hate and resentment. Tea Party programs challenge the legitimacy of the last presidential election on racial and ethnic grounds; they deny the government's power to tax, and advocate government overthrow; and they call for the removal of public officials elected by the state's anglo majority. Supporters of Tea Party Studies, like Sen. John McCain and Sarah Palin, have asked, why ban a program that so clearly embodies the new spirit of Arizona?
Seeking to remedy this oversight in the ethnic studies law, another bill garnering support in the state senate (SB 404) would actually require Tea Party Studies to be offered as an alternative to Constitutional Law in Arizona's schools. The proposed statute teaches that Arizona's laws are intelligently designed, while federal law evolved through a random and chaotic legislative and judicial process that is clearly more theory than fact.
Indeed, the whole Arizona-is-for-real-Americans thing is promising to spin totally out of control. A radical right wing group is calling for Arizona and New Mexico to change places, since Arizona should be to the right of New Mexico geographically as well as politically, not to its left. In turn, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a suit challenging the original division of the New Mexico Territory and seeking to fuse the two states back into a single entity in a last-ditch effort to restore both balance and sanity to the region.
Will restoring the original New Mexico Territory end the madness that is Arizona?
As Arizona politics lurches into what promises to be a long, hot summer, English speakers and nonanglophones alike thinking about visiting the state or even moving there should remember, when considering the emerging political climate, that the heat in Arizona is a dry heat. But as a meteorologist once told me, the heat in your oven is a dry heat, too, but that doesn't mean you want to stick your head in it.