Even old New York was once Nieuw Amsterdam. The Nieuw Amsterdam City Council, with Mayor Mijk Bloemberg (standing, third from right)
Coming off a Fourth of July patriotic high, on July 12th the town board of tiny Homer Township, Illinois (pop. 25,069), made English its official language. Meanwhile 900 miles to the east, the Nieuw Amsterdam City Council (motto: "there are 8 million stories in the naakt stad") may soon opt for official Dutch.
No one has ever asked for Homer Township’s few government services in any language other than English. But to ensure that parking, zoning, building codes, and the annual announcement of official trick-or-treat hours stay English-only, board members decided it was time to act. And even though the township has no illegal immigrant problem, the board also decided to ban illegal immigration. Through its actions, the board made clear that speaking a language other than English inside city limits will now be prima facie (sic) grounds for deportation.
In contrast to the all-English, all-the-time atmosphere of tranquil Homer Township, Nieuw Amsterdam officials grumble about the constant requests for services in languages other than Dutch. Native Americans, who sold Mannahatta to the first Dutch settlers, want to be able to bank in Algonkian or Mohican, though they have no objection to the use of Dutch in their casinos.
Peter Minuit of the Dutch West India Company buys Mannahatta from the Canarsie Indians for 60 guilders -- $24 – in 1626. Because the housing bubble burst in 2008, even with inflation Mannahatta would only bring about $74 today.
A bigger problem for Nieuw Amsterdam are the Swedish immigrants who live in New Jersey but work in the city and demand Swedish signage on the bridges and tunnels and smorgasbord in the ferry snack bars. The Scots-Irish community agitates for translators in the city’s hospital ERs. The Germans up from Pennsylvania for dinner and a show want menus and programs printed in German.
But the worst, according to Nieuw Amsterdam mayor Mijk Bloemberg, are the English immigrants, who cluster together in run-down parts of the city, don't value education, and have little in the way of a work ethic. Bloemberg complains, “Many of them are here illegally, or they were deported from their homeland for criminal activity.” He adds, “They come here and right away they’re ‘guests of the city,’ demanding English-speaking advocaten and gevangenbewaarders (they call them ‘lawyers’ and ‘jailers’ in their low argot), not to mention English translators in the rechtszaalen ('courts').”
Not only that, but the English settlers want to send their children to bilingual schools, which supporters of official Dutch label as unsound educational policy and as unpatriotic. “Students in the bilingual programs wind up illiterate in both Dutch and English,” says Nieuw Amsterdam Schools Chancellor Joel Kleijn. “The drop-out rate for anglophone students is unacceptably high, and disproportionate numbers of English-speaking students score in the lower percentiles of the Staats Achievement Tests.”
Supporters of official Dutch argue that they intend no discrimination against immigrants. "If you go to Rome, you speak Roman," complains Nieuw Amsterdam television commentator Glynne Bjekk. "If you live in London, you speak English. But here in the nieuw wereld, English is an immigrant language. So it makes sense that if you're living here, demanding jobs and schools and health care and housing, which are privileges and not basic human rights, then you should at least give up English and speak Dutch!"
However Nieuw Amsterdam decides to deal with its multilingual population, Homer Township will keep pushing for official English – though as the Economist points out, the English of the Board’s official English resolution might not be the English that the township would like to see taught in its schools. Here are some examples:
- Homer Township Board recognizes that there most likely no serious problem with illegal immigration, in the Township . . . . [missing verb]
- Traditionally becoming a citizen required speaking English, accepting the United States as their Country, and assimilating into the population. . . . [missing punctuation; missing or unclear subject or pronoun reference]
- The Homer Township Board, supports actions to enforce existing immigration law . . . and acknowledge that English the dominant language of Homer Township. [gratuitous punctuation; inconsistent subject-verb agreement; missing verb]
- Whereas, children who are not residents in our school districts and attending our schools, contribute to overcrowding, and increase our Tax burden. [lack of parallel structure; missing verb; incomplete sentence]
- Where as, there is a cost for government in having multiple languages, the Homer Township Board adopts English as the official language of Homer Township, in accordance with all Federal and State Laws. [whereas should be written solid, as before; and although English is the official language of Illinois, the United States has no official language. In addition, both Illinois and federal laws allow both municipalities and individuals to use English or any other language of their choice in most situations, so the last part of the whereas makes no sense]
If English is in danger in Homer Township, the danger comes not from the 3,000 or so Hispanics in the area, most of whom speak English well enough or are learning it quickly, or from the 140 speakers of Dutch in Will County, where Homer is located, but from township residents like the members of the board, who have spoken English since birth. Considering the problems that Homer’s officials have in drafting coherent prose, they’d do well to drop their official English requirement and insist instead that township residents take a writing class before holding municipal office.
Fun Fact: According to the Census, there are 4,670 Dutch speakers among the 8 million residents of the five boroughs of what was once Nieuw Amsterdam.