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  • Official English in Bogota, New Jersey?

    In July, 2006, Steve Lonegan, the mayor of Bogota, New Jersey (pop. 7,344), called for a boycott of McDonalds over a Spanish-language billboard that the company put up in his town. The mayor feels that a Spanish billboard  one that McDonalds also put up in other towns in New York and New Jersey  discourages assimilation and signals the hamburger giants support ofillegal immigration. When his boycott didnt work --  the billboard remains and hamburgers continue to be sold -- Lonegan put a measure on the November ballot to make his town English-only.

    It’s not clear whether Bogota, New Jersey, was named after the much older Spanish town in Colombia, South America, but when asked by FoxNews for the reasoning behind his official English referendum, Bogota’s mayor explained that such concepts as the American dream, democracy, and free trade have no equivalent in any other language. Because of this, he insists, our nation’s most important documents, which in his estimation include not just the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution but also Ronald Reagan’s speech, “Take down that wall Mr. Gorbachev,” can’t be translated into any other language.

    By this reasoning, had Gorbachev not understood some English, the Berlin Wall would be with us today, and Soviet Union along with it.

    But just as sure as the Wall came down, American Hispanics are switching to English even faster than they are buying McDonald’s hamburgers. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, about 19% of Bogota’s residents speak Spanish, but 78% of the town’s 1,395 Spanish speakers also speak English either well or very well. That leaves about 3.5 percent of Spanish-speaking Bogotans with little or no English. While this scare-figure was enough to trigger the mayor’s high-profile protests, he expresses no concern at all over the fact that fully one-third of the town’s 120 Italian speakers can’t speak English either.

    Spanish speakers, who outnumber Italians in this tiny New Jersey borough ten to one, seem to be assimilating ten times faster. And despite the fact that Spanish speakers represent the largest number of newcomers to the United States each year, their linguistic assimilation is proceeding rapidly not just in small-town New Jersey but everywhere else as well.

    Even if Bogota goes English-only in November, not much will change there. The mayor will continue to speak English. Immigrants will continue to learn English. And hamburgers will continue to sell.

cprender@illinois.edu Aug 25, 2006 8:03 am
I checked with my still Jersey dwelling sister on the pronunciation of Bogota, NJ, and it is, indeed, "Ba-GO-da," which the Fox news anchor mispronounced.  As a result, I thought all of this was happening South of the Border.

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