Official language concerns faculty

Jill Pearson

A controversial decision by Marshall County officials has some ISU faculty members concerned about Iowa’s attitude toward immigrants in the state.

Marshall County supervisors voted Sept. 26 to make English the official language for the county.

The decision came despite the area’s large Hispanic population and the start of an Iowa program to increase population diversity.

Rafael Rodriguez, director of Minority Student Affairs, attended an Oct. 16 diversity conference at Iowa State. The conference was one of Gov. Tom Vilsack’s three forums about diversity.

Rodriguez said the day was energizing in light of the Marshall County resolution.

“The resolution is an unfortunate knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “We have a governor promoting the need for more immigrants, and here we have a county passing legislation that has no meat to it.”

Rodriguez said the language barrier is a non-issue for many immigrants.

“All immigrants understand that in order to achieve a level of success in Iowa, they must learn English,” he said. “They don’t have to make a law.”

Tia Huggins, temporary instructor of foreign languages and literatures, also said she thinks the law is unnecessary and that it might contribute to a negative perception of Iowa.

“The law only means that official documents are printed only in English, which they already are, so that is ridiculous,” she said. “But the idea behind the law is that we don’t want to learn about immigrants, and we don’t want them to use their language.”

Huggins said 25 states have passed laws making English the official language, along with several other Iowa counties.

“To me it shows fear of Latinos, and that is sad,” she said.

Jose Amaya, assistant professor of English, was on the Iowa Committee on Diversity and was involved with the organization of the ISU conference.

He said he thinks the diversity program is a positive step for the state.

“The state government is handling the issue appropriately and with foresight,” Amaya said, adding that dialogues with immigrant communities would be a step forward.

While Amaya said the Marshall County decision should not be viewed as a racist action, he said Iowans need to remember how important Iowa’s immigrant population is to the state.

He said that as awareness of immigrants is increased, so is understanding.

“A common language can encourage unity if the community is willing to admit new members and mint new citizens,” he said.