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BY COLUMNISTS

| Joe Charlebois | Guest Columnist | Harry M. Covert | Norman M. Covert | Ken Kellar | Patricia A. Kelly | Edward Lulie III | Tom McLaughlin | Patricia Price | Cindy A. Rose | Richard B. Weldon Jr. |

DOCUMENTS


The Tentacle


June 7, 2004

It's Bunk! It's Crap! No, it's Multiculturalism!

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

The multicultural debate raging in Maryland has manifested itself on the national political scene.

Governor Robert Ehrlich was a featured guest on the Fox News Channel's Heartland with John Kasich recently. I just happened to flip on the tube to see and hear our Governor explain his personal beliefs about our culture, its origins, and our people.

He spoke simply, directly, and fairly eloquently. His explanation about his radio interview and the subsequent news coverage was illuminating and instructive.

I was quoted in The Frederick News Post as suggesting that the remarks about multicultural "crap" and "bunk" were poorly chosen and not necessarily something I would say.

The point made by those words, however, is something that needed to be said. I have absolutely no problem with an opinion leader at any level being direct and specific on any issue, whether I agree with them or not.

Our ability to hold community-based dialogue on any issue is often driven by an opinion leader who surfaces the question. The really dangerous leaders are the ones who shy away from open and honest discussion, particularly those who hide behind the "I'm right because I said so" curtain.

Why are we afraid to confront the question of how we deal with an increasing immigrant population? Why is it that anyone who suggests broadening the debate from how we accommodate them to whether or not we've become accommodating is treated like a bad guy?

I'm not afraid of that debate. I don't think anyone should be. Seems to me we're just sticking our heads in the sand if we can't even discuss the issue without raising alarms and generating fear and concern.

Both sides of the debate share the blame. The conservatives use the fear of a diluted population to scare unsophisticated citizens. They have mastered the art of the scary vision of a future overrun with foreign residents, with street signs in Oklahoma written in another language.

The liberals take a different, but no less reprehensible, approach. They have successfully created the image that anyone, anywhere, that questions the legitimacy of a person, even if their status is illegal, is by nature an evil person.

To ignore that a problem exists means that the problem will get much worse before it gets better. My favorite argument about why we should not restrict or limit programs serving illegal immigrants is that they do jobs Americans don't want.

So, let me get this straight. People pour across our border illegally to take $5 per hour landscaping or custodial jobs because we can't get enough teenagers to fill those same jobs. This is oversimplification at its worst. The fact is that people break the law to enter this country to work AND to take advantage of the benefits extended to them once they do.

How do I know this? Just look at the explosion in demand for Spanish language social service workers, client intake, and pamphlets. The Social Service delivery system in Maryland is suffering under the weight of adapting its programs to serve a rapidly changing client base.

These changes all cost money, and we all pay for these services through taxes. Is it fair or equitable to expect tax paying, law abiding citizens to underwrite the social burden of people who choose to break federal laws when entering the country? Is it fair or equitable to charge everyone else for programs and services that only serve a very limited population?

This speaks nothing to the cost of schooling the children of illegal and legal immigrants. English as a Second Language (ESOL) courses are the fastest growing classes, which means we need to add staff and space to meet the need.

Staff and space needs driven by the pace of residential growth were already a huge issue, now we have to overlay the language barrier.

This is the framework within which we need to have a community-wide discussion. I am not suggesting we neglect these people or their children, far from it. I am recommending that we confront the problem directly, evaluating and prioritizing our options.

When Governor Ehrlich suggests that the approach taken in some circles (higher ed, mass media) towards diffusing our history and heritage through multicultural recognition is wrong, he refers to his own family history and millions of others.

Our nation is truly an immigrant nation, with the best of our arts, sciences, and industry coming from our diverse backgrounds and experiences. The principal difference between my great grandparents and today's immigrant generation is that our forbearers felt a need, almost an obsession, to inculcate into the American culture and experience.

These hard working people viewed themselves as lacking if they failed to instruct their children in the English language, or missed opportunities to share the sights and sounds of their new home.

They carefully and lovingly retained their own family traditions and culture, and passed these things on to their children and grandchildren. English-Americans, Irish-Americans, German-Americans, Polish-Americans, and African-Americans were how they wanted to be known.

The American appellation was as important to them as was retaining their country-of-origin designation. This is one of the major and important differences I see with the modern wave of immigration, legal and otherwise.

We have no obligation to sacrifice our way of life to accommodate the interests of others, especially illegal immigrants. We should work as hard as we can to make a legal immigrant feel welcomed, and they should be provided with the basic tools they need to get by.

Placing any form of preference for foreign culture over our American experience will lead to a diminution of the values that have allowed this nation to thrive. The burden rests upon those who choose to come here to figure out how to incorporate themselves into this great patchwork quilt we call America.



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