Randy Forbes: Baseball, language, and American unity

randy forbes“Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America better learn baseball.”  The late cultural historian Jacques Barzun penned these words in a tribute to the great American pastime. He marveled over the way baseball became a sport deeply engrained in our national landscape, both in the love of the game and in how it symbolizes values unique to our nation. I was reminded of this during the World Series last month. Baseball truly is a cultural touch point that brings our nation together.

There are moments and traditions that have unified our country throughout the course of our history: baseball, the American flag, Sunday church services, barbecues, honoring our veterans, our national anthem, fireworks on the Fourth of July, and county fairs, to name a few. You can probably think of several others. Some of these moments– like baseball and barbecue – are more trivial; others – like our American flag – are more significant. But these cultural touch points serve a crucial purpose in the way they connect our diverse nation.

One of our nation’s strengths is our ability to bring together people across many background, cultures, customs, and beliefs. Our common principles of freedom, individual rights, opportunity, and the rule of law attract people to our nation. They make our nation strong. But our cultural touch points serve as the threads that connect us as a people.

The English language is one of them. The ability to communicate in one standard language is a thread that unifies our workforce, our schools, our official functions, and government ceremonies. Nations all over the world build meaning and purpose from a unifying element. Here in America, our language builds unity among citizens. It creates a sense of national pride. It contributes to our common purpose.

Many people are surprised when they learn that even though many states, including Virginia, have adopted English as their official language, the English language has not been adopted as the official language of the United States as a whole. In fact, the U.S. is one of a relatively few countries around the world that does not have an official language.

For years, there has been a debate as to whether or not English should be one of the things that unites our nation by requiring official functions of the United States be conducted in English. I believe it should be. Our language is a communication currency. One of the quickest ways for people to assimilate in our society is to speak the language of our nation.

Not too long ago, I cosponsored the English Language Unity Act (H.R. 997). The legislation declares English as the official language of the United States and establishes three simple requirements. First, it would require all official functions of the United States to be conducted in English. Second, it would establish a uniform language requirement for naturalization. And finally, it would place an obligation on representatives of the federal government to encourage individuals to learn English.

This bill is not to say that immigrants to our country should abandon their native roots. It is important for immigrant families to teach their children where they came from and encourage knowledge of their native language. It’s also equally important for young Americans to study and learn to value the language and culture of other nations, so that they can become well-read, informed citizens, as well as gain an appreciation for other countries and cultures. Rather, the purpose of this bill is simply to encourage all residents to become proficient in English.

Making English the official language of the United States is a commonsense step. The heart and mind of America is expressed in our common, unifying language. To recognize this cultural thread is to remain e pluribus unum—out of many, one.

Randy Forbes represents the Fourth District of Virginia in Congress.


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