In honor of National Foreign Language Week, Pine Bush High School in New York state arranged to have the Pledge of Allegiance recited in a different language every day of the week. On the morning of March 18, after the pledge was recited in Arabic, many students, parents and town residents were outraged. They decried the pledge being recited in a language other than English. The widespread contempt toward the recital reveals a xenophobic sentiment that is still deeply entrenched in
In a CNN poll, two-thirds of white Americans expressed a belief that immigrants should sacrifice major aspects of their cultures in order to “blend in.” Immigration rhetoric that prioritizes assimilation over the integration of cultural differences diminishes the value of diversity. This rhetoric manifests itself in expressions of intolerance, like what occurred in Pine Bush High School. Following the controversial morning announcements at the school, many people commented that English is the United States’ only language, despite the fact that there is no official language, and more than 300 languages are spoken in the United States. Approximately 13 percent of Americans speak Spanish at home, and Arabic is the fastest-growing language in the country. Multiculturalism is increasingly becoming a defining trait of the United States, and those who cannot come to terms with it are stuck in a regressive bubble.
As a result of the outrage, the school issued a public apology to those who found the pledge “disrespectful.” In addition, the recitals planned for the rest of the week — Japanese, Italian, French and Spanish — were canceled. That the school saw a need to revoke an admirable display of cultural tolerance reflects the disappointing state of conversation surrounding this topic today. It is problematic to call reading the pledge in a foreign language unpatriotic. For immigrants, it signifies a dichotomy between their American identity and their ethnic
heritage — a dichotomy that should not have to exist. Being American and also being French, Japanese or any other nationality is not
Following the incident, New York State Department of Education spokesperson Dennis Tompkins affirmed that there is no restriction on the language in which the pledge is recited. This message, while heading in the right direction, resonates weakly in the public sphere. The department, as well as other New York politicians, could have taken a much stronger stance and used this moment to teach a valuable lesson on the importance of multiculturalism. It is a shame that the events of Pine Bush were met with silence, especially from the higher-ups from a state as diverse as New York. Citizens and politicians alike should embrace, rather than resent, the fact that the United States is a diverse entity.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 30 print edition. Email Zahra Haque at email@example.com.