Dave Roeser's English-only measure for Lino Lakes wins green light

Lino Lakes City Councilman Dave Roeser's first-in-the-state English-only measure got a nearly unanimous thumb's up at last night's council meeting. But even though Roeser and his allies were adamant that their action was based on budget concerns, it's clear that the measure is a solution in search of a problem, and that it has opened another front in the culture wars.

Roeser has argued that Lino Lakes can't afford, doesn't need and therefore should not allow, official government documents and actions to be translated into languages other than English. Census figures suggest he has a point. In 2008, 17,425 out of the 18,985 people living there were categorized as white. Fewer than 200 people are of Hispanic or Latino heritage. And so few people there speak a language other than English at home that the Census Bureau didn't even bother counting them.

Indeed, Lino Lakes officials told MPR that their city has never spent money on translating documents because no one has ever asked them to.

And Roeser himself told MPR that what really irks him is having to put up with the oh-so-awful chore of seeing other languages on other cities' documents, websites and the like.

So when an indignant Mayor Jeff Reinert tells KARE, "This whole subject is being hi-jacked by people who want to call it racist," you can understand why some folks think he and Roeser ought to look in the mirror.

The English-only crowd in Lino Lakes has tapped into some deep, misplaced resentments, as one ancestor of Swedish immigrants quoted via the Star Tribune, made pretty clear last night:

"My grandparents came from Sweden," said resident Carl Palmquist. "I remember the stories, where they used to say it was hard for them to learn English. But they did, and they practiced it in the home, they practiced it at work and they learned English. ... I'm tired of going to restaurants and hearing these new families speaking their native tongue to their kids. There doesn't seem to be any teaching of English to kids in their families."

That's hardly a new opinion. See: Franklin, Benjamin; and Buchanan, Pat. And research has consistently shown it has no basis in reality.

For example, the Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research finds that English is almost universally accepted by the children and grandchildren of the immigrants who have come to the U.S. in large numbers since the 1960s. By the third generation -- the grandchildren of immigrants -- bilingualism is maintained only by minorities of almost all groups.

The very high immigration level of the 1990s does not appear to have weakened the forces of linguistic assimilation. Mexicans, by far the largest immigrant group, provide a compelling example. In 1990, 64 percent of third-generation Mexican-American children spoke only English at home; in 2000, the equivalent figure had risen to 71 percent.

Thus, they are not destroying the English language; they're learning English faster than ever before. And opponents of the Lino Lakes measure weren't buying the budget talk last night.

"It's evident to me that the budget had nothing to do with this vote," Lino Laker Rob Scarlett told KARE. "It was a political decision I don't understand. It certainly has nothing to do with the community we live in and everything to do with politics at a different level."

He told the station he lives on land originally settled by Germans who spoke only German for decades. It was a point echoed by Dora Garza Salazar-Rolfzen, who said she joined a church quilting group in Saint Bonifacious where the ladies spoke German.

"I think this is just another law that is going to force people who don't like people of color like me to continue not to like me," Pablo Tapia said. "So I'm sorry, I don't support this resolution, and I think it should be abolished."

Reinert stood his ground. He said anyone who had the temerity to suggest that the resolution was based on anything other than budget considerations ought to be ashamed of themselves.

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