Misappropriating “American”


by The Glen Echo Editorial Board

The Census Bureau reports that there are at least 350 languages spoken in the United States, but according to a Cliffside Park High School teacher, we should all be speaking “American.”

In a video recorded by a student, the English teacher was heard saying that “the men and women are fighting. They are not fighting for your right to speak Spanish, they are fighting for your right to speak American.”

The teacher made the statement because she heard a couple students speaking Spanish while substituting for a different class and wanted them to speak English instead.

Hispanics make up Cliffside Park’s second largest ethnicity group, so the comment hit home for a lot of the students.

Retaliation from the students was apparent, with many protesting in the form of a walkout. Some of the students brought flags to represent their backgrounds; flags of Puerto Rico, Brazil and the Dominican Republic were seen.

Despite what the Cliffside Park teacher said about speaking American, there is no official language in the United States.

With the amount of recognized languages spoken in America how can one person constitute what languages can and can’t be spoken in the classroom?

Moreover, there is no law prohibiting students, or anyone for that matter, from speaking another language in the classroom or any other public space. Instead, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals from discrimination based upon national origin and race.

The act further protects individuals from language discrimination since the language one speaks can be related back to their national origin, as well.

The fate of the teacher has yet to be decided but many of the students want the teacher to face consequences, just as some students who participated in the walkout are facing punishments.

Thirty-seven students were given detention and two were given suspensions. The reasons for the disciplinary actions were not released.

The students’ anger is justified, especially considering the world we live in today where there have been multiple other accounts of people harassing their coworkers, classmates, students and total strangers for speaking a foreign language in classrooms, workplaces and other public spaces.

Just last year a Hispanic woman shopping at JCPenny was told to speak English by another customer.

“It’s okay speak English, you’re in America. If you don’t know it, learn it,” the customer said.

Regardless of what some people believe, America is a “melting pot.” People from cultures all around the world come together to make this country what it is.

Forcing others to speak a certain language forces them to lose a part of themselves and in turn a part of America is lost too.