Business-minded Rapid City Republican and son of World-War-2 refugees John Tsitrian joins his businessy friends in Sioux Falls in calling for the state to repeal its somewhat racist ban on giving non-English versions of the driver’s license test.
Tsitrian says his immigrant family benefited from learning English quickly through immersion 70 years ago, but that ideal (and I agree that swiftly adopting the native language of one’s new country is an ideal) isn’t practical today:
…we have to grapple with the fact that English immersion for immigrants will probably never be a fact of our state’s economic and cultural life again. Nostalgia for our historic character as a “melting pot” doesn’t get the job of building our economy done, as a lot of South Dakota enterprises are finding out. In Sioux Falls, the head of the local chapter of the Associated General Contractors tells the Argus Leader that immigrant labor is “hugely important” to the construction trade, a fact that anybody in the Black Hills who’s had a roof installed in recent years knows first hand. I’ve put up three roofs, two commercial and one residential, in the past four years and I’m pretty sure that each crew was close to 100% Spanish-speaking, with only the lead installer capable of communicating in a halting version of English on each job [John Tsitrian, “We Need a Multi-Lingual Workforce in South Dakota,” The Constant Commoner, 2017.09.05].
Ideally, every immigrant family would immerse itself in learning the language of its new homeland. Learning to speak English in America provides immigrants with more opportunity to participate in the economic, political, and cultural life of the community. But practically, even if many immigrants aren’t hitting the books and the language tapes, we still need them to lay our shingles, milk our cows, and drive our trucks.
The situation is akin to what public education faces. Ideally, parents would take care of breakfast. But practically, not all parents do. When kids show up at school hungry in the morning, we can gripe about how parents ought to do their job, and we may complain that school breakfast programs may accommodate further lazy parenting, but practically, we need to feed those kids so they can learn.
In a small way, providing driving exams in Spanish or other foreign languages takes the pressure off immigrants to study English. But as Tsitrian says, our immediate economic needs outweigh that concern.