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May 13, 2008

Sadness for My Beloved Home

Roy Meachum

            As we were told on yesterday’s Frederick News-Post front page, the Walkersville council plans at its next meeting (tomorrow) to take up the question of designating English as the town's official language.


Coming so soon after the strong vein of xenophobia displayed in the affair of a Muslim sect, obviously the community's demagogues want to emphasize foreigners are not welcome, whether or not they speak the nation's common tongue.


Virtually all of the rejected Islamic community speak English. At their core, the Ahmadiyya are business people; the price paid for their astonishing general success is learning to communicate freely and intelligently with their customers.


That's the old-fashioned way this country assimilated past waves of those who came in search of freedom and dignity.


Not without problems, many reflected in the current struggle epitomized by Walkersville.


Spokesmen, more volunteer than elected, try to write off the Muslims' rejection as a simple matter of their failure to meet the zoning rules. Puh-lease! Don't insult the public's intelligence.


On the other hand, this is a completely different problem.


Genuine and widespread fear exists that the basic Anglo-Saxon culture will be buried under layers of salsa. Unlike their predecessors, Latinos are poised to bump African-Americans aside as the top minority, with all that means. They are already flexing their political muscle. Los Angeles and other western cities already have Spanish-speaking mayors.


There is a real danger the capability of conversing in Spanish will be required for positions traditionally held by Anglos, as European-Americans are collectively called in this context. At risk are middle level jobs, especially those that deal with folks from Central and South America. Mexicans are North Americans, like U.S. voters; but them too.


While there have been strong objections from the NAACP and other groups, I have no problem with Sheriff “Chuck” Jenkins handing over to the feds any illegals caught committing an offense against the law, however trivial. In my view, their greater crime is stupidity.


How dumb to spend considerable money and energies avoiding authorities only to get arrested for another, unrelated reason. If memory serves, most of those deported were nabbed for speeding and drinking too much booze.


I'm genuinely sorry that women and children can get involved. But all adults know the risks.


Under the circumstances, I can't blame entirely Walkersville's temporary escape into taking an official position on language. But they should emulate the county's treatment. The commissioners decided English would be "an" official language.


Advocates who really want "official and only" designation for our common tongue are asking for intervention from Washington and lawyers. It's not a matter of the town's willingness to put money where its "mouth" is. But certainly Walkersville has better things to do with its share of taxes than fighting court battles that could wind up with the majesty of law squarely against them.


In this regard, they should follow Winchester Hall's example: Charles Jenkins' proposal to forbid any other languages officially was shot down unanimously by his fellow commissioners.


At the dawn of the republic, the English colonized this stretch of wilderness. They regarded with high suspicion attempts by the Scots and Scotch-Irish to communicate in their Gaelic. The later Irish suffered the same fate. Only after the Revolution were other Europeans encouraged to settle the vast continent.


Each major surge in immigration brought on frequently violent reactions. The Know-Nothing party and its allies arose to meet the threat of Irish Potato Famine refugees, who also happened to be Roman Catholics. Like the later Ku Klux Klan, the pre-Civil War party was tied together by anti-Papal sentiment.


The post-war Klan was not primarily organized against freed slaves but their Northern manipulators, called carpetbaggers. They were "foreigners" after all, and dedicated to the proposition of the destruction of the system that produced the Confederacy. They did not take kindly to the new wave of European immigrants, many with the same Papal faith. As the 20th century approached, they petered down but not out, not all the way.


The Roaring Twenties saw the Klan's return, bigger than ever. The execution of a pair of immigrants, Sacco and Vanzetti, set the tone for the new Bedsheet Brigade. It spread far and wide; its strength more north than south, in reaction to the non-English speakers that had been let through the Golden Door. They persecuted African Americans and Jews. But Catholics even more.


The present fear has little to do with religion; many of the new Latinos have left the church of their fathers. The problem now is sheer numbers; there are so many families South of the Border, and they all seem to be heading this way. For economic reasons, they are and much as the Asian tribes that flooded Europe, to get away from the Mongols.


We are in one of history's cycles at this moment and it cannot be reversed. It received a mighty boost from the falling birthrate among Americans, much as the decline of youthful blood caused the fall of the Roman Empire.


Nothing written here can change the inevitable, I have no such delusions. People will do what they must: demagogues espouse new hindrances that will not alter the flight of impoverished people.


Like the Goths, Franks and Magyars they will do whatever it takes to reach a place they regard not as paradise but much closer than where they were born and live.


My deep-seated sadness comes from efforts by the media and others to portray Frederick County as little more than a wing of the old Know-Nothing party.


We're better than that.

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