“Spanish Sì, English No!”

Among the pressing moral questions facing American Catholics in this election year, surely the top of the hot-button list is immigration by Hispanics. And for good reason: thus far, there has been no real “Catholic” position on that vexing issue. In the hopes of breaking some new ground, I submit for consideration this modest proposal: that we North American churchgoers do everything in our power to discourage illegal Hispanic immigrants from learning English.

This may sound counterintuitive when other voices say just the opposite. But isn’t there a serious moral case to be made that the well-meaning pushers of our native tongue are wrong? Preventing more Hispanics from learning English is both consistent with American political theology, and also a useful deterrent to potential social problems.

In the first place, English was the language of Jesus. If He had wanted it understood by short, barely literate, poor people engaged in manual labor, all He had to do was say so. That He did not tells us something important about His plan for us Catholics in North America – namely, that we do not want our churches corrupted by people so desperate that they cross deserts and risk death to empty our garbage cans and man our meat packing factories. Nor do we want our language corrupted by Latinate influences, which could do to our American minds what Third World diseases could do to our bodies.

Second, and even more important: if Hispanics learn English, they will understand what their fiercest American detractors have been saying about them. And the consequences of that revelation could be dire. In fact, if they came to understand the contempt and loathing of certain Anglos, Hispanics might even stop doing what they come here to do: join the American military, babysit American children, pluck American chickens, and clean American toilets.

Granted, some of them might already have an inkling of this thanks to Fox News and CNN. On any given night, hordes of furtive dark-skinned people dart across the screen as Bill O’Reilly and Lou Dobbs and friends holler that America is under Mexican attack. But in this case, a picture – or even a great many intentionally inflammatory pictures – is not quite worth a thousand words. To understand just how deep anti-Hispanic sentiment runs in some American veins, you really must be able to read – especially some of the conservative press.

A conservative pundit recently complained that The Washington Post ran a bleeding-heart piece about illegal immigrants dying in detention for lack of medical care. “Sob stories,” the pundit derisively called these tales of lonely deaths in foreign confinement, full of “overripe language” (and “planted” by an “advocacy group”). His point is a sound one, of course – why should the needless deaths in custody of mute penniless strangers bother any of us? After all, it’s not as if there’s anything in the Bible about caring for prisoners. At the same time, we don’t want Hispanics themselves to see such unflinching truth about the real depth of our indifference.

Third, and most serious, if they learn English, then Hispanics will be able not only to understand, but also to talk to the rest of us. And if that happens, they will be able to tell us Anglos about something that none of us seemed interested in at the time, but that potentially menaces our current religious way of life: i.e., the homily given in Spanish by Pope Benedict, after the English one, at his Mass in D.C.’s Nationals Stadium in April.

What did the Pope say to all those Spanish speakers, many certainly without green cards? He told them not to let pessimism and problems overwhelm them. He said that the Lord is calling Hispanics to continue contributing to the future of the Church in the United States, and that through them and their evangelization here, copious fruits of peace would result. And toward the very end he said: La Iglesia espera mucho de ustedes, (“The Church expects much of you”) – this, to people whose native tongue has rendered them incapable of pronouncing the “J” in our Lord’s first name!

That these poorer and darker people might have something to teach those of us who are richer and whiter; that our religiosity could possibly be improved by exposure to these strangers; that the Church herself feels empathy for the sad and weak and troubled in a foreign country where many despise them so: Where on earth would Benedict or any other priest get ideas like those for a homily? It’s a commonplace that Catholics don’t know the Bible. But we expect better of the pope!

In sum, and weighing all the likely results of a dedicated effort to prevent the Hispanics among us from learning English, there is much to gain from such an enlightened policy. Of course, when the Great Wall is finally built to the south, it will mean that all the graffiti on the Mexican side will be Spanish-only. But it’s not like there’s anything these people would write that we northern Christians would need to read; and anyway, we won’t be able to see it.

Mary Eberstadt is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and author most recently of The Loser Letters, serialized online every Friday at nationalreview.com.
Mary Eberstadt

Mary Eberstadt is a Senior Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute. Her new book, Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics, has just been published Templeton Press.