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Naturalized citizens becoming American Presidents

Posted by Pauline on 10/04/04 at 17:06 (160969)

This was an interesting topic on CNN today and probably one that would be considered too political to discuss here, but the first thing that crossed my mind as people discussed it was : Would we someday be hearing the State of the Union address given in the native language of our newly elected naturalized citizens, when they became President of the U.S., and then translated into English. Anything is possible.

Re: Naturalized citizens becoming American Presidents

R C on 10/05/04 at 10:24 (160996)

I believe that English is not in any legal way the official language of the U.S. government. So, technically, the winner of the upcoming election would be free to deliver the State of the Union in Swahili, if he wanted to.

I was taught in school that the Founding Fathers wanted to require the President to be U.S.-born in order to prevent foreign royalty from become elected and somehow entrenched. One could argue that this is no longer an issue (either because some naturalized citizens might make fine presidents, or because we have our own 'royalty' here in America).

Re: Naturalized citizens becoming American Presidents

Ken on 10/05/04 at 11:10 (160997)

Interesting topic Pauline. Would it really matter since Americans seem hell bend on giving up all Founding Fathers ideals anyway.

Re: Naturalized citizens becoming American Presidents

john h on 10/05/04 at 11:47 (161002)

Fortunately not in my life time Pauline. California now has more non white residents than white and would appear at some point Spanish speaking peoples will have the vote to control the California government so it appears inevitable they will have a Spanish speaking Governor and a dominate Spanish speaking government there.

We are many decades away from changing the Constitution to allow for a foreign born President. Pure speculation but I would say not in this century. My thought is part of what makes a nation and makes it strong is a common language. You look at the Balkans and other multi language countries and you see lots of problems even today. Our language just happens to be English but could have easily been Spanish or French. I contiune to think to gain citizenship one should be able to speak English to some extent. Probably most of my friends in the 40's and 50's were children of Italian immigrants all of whom learned to speak English though it may have been broken. My friends all spoke fluent Italian and fluent English. I always thought it unfair in high school as they always aced the foreigh language requirement while I struggled. Did you know that English is the international language of flying? If you are going to be an international pilot you will need to learn English. Flight controlers in Europe and some of the far east nations speak really bad English and when I first started flying internationallly I thought they were speaking in a foreign tongue. It really took some time to learn what they were saying and as a pilot it is really important to know PRECISELY what they are telling you. All altitudes and distances are given in meters. ..

Re: Naturalized citizens becoming American Presidents

Pauline on 10/05/04 at 13:02 (161009)

I have friends whos husbands came to the states from Mexico to work for the big three auto companies. The husbands spoke English when they arrived, but many of their wifes even though college educated did not.
None of their children spoke English and the firs year in an American school for them was really rough. Their parents worried because their grades dropped dramatically.

None of their classes were given in Spanish so they had to jump into English quickly. The kids picked it up rapidly. The wives on the other hand continued to speak in Spanish although the did take some English classes. Today several have returned to Mexico. Others still remain here, but what was so interesting I thought was that the high school students who graduated in the states went back to Mexico to attend a University there. I thought they would surely stay here and attend an American University. Wrong. The kids wanted to go home and they did every chance they got including spending their summers in Mexico before returning back to the states for the school year.

I would sure feel bad if English becomes the second language in the states although I think it's possible for that to happen given the dynamics of our changing culture and that for the most part Americans would seemingly prefer to be politically correct than to hang on to American traditions, English being one of them.

Someday I do envision a dominately Spanish speaking congress. Their culture I think does a great job focusing on the family and family matters. They tend to unite with each other rather than divide and that I think makes them strong. A group that most Americans greatly underestimate who can and will ultimately move their agenda for America now their homeland too, forward.

Re: Naturalized citizens becoming American Presidents

Buck T. on 10/05/04 at 15:08 (161015)

Maybe its the message that counts and not the language.

Sincerely, Buck T.

PS: My wife's first language is French, my fathers first language is German and I'm learning Spanish.

Re: Naturalized citizens becoming American Presidents

Pauline on 10/05/04 at 16:32 (161018)

You know Buck, I'm not sure how important maintaining English as our first language will be to Americans, but maybe if and when it does change might regret it because it will divide this country even more.

I think we've seen that happen in parts of Canada already. I wonder just how many Americans could quickly adapt and learn a new language and give up their life long native tongue.

I'm not certain that I want to hear a state of the union address spoken in a different tongue with subtitles for its natural born citizens. If any country were to go to this, I do think it would be America first well before France, German or Italy. Most countries like their traditions, I think Americans like to change them hoping to be seen in a better political light.

Maybe we should just try being better Americans then we wouldn't need to change the language spoken here.

Re: Naturalized citizens becoming American Presidents

Kathy G on 10/05/04 at 16:36 (161019)

Not really a topic I should address, in that I'm against political discussion on this board, but I can't just ignore this. I feel very strongly that the US should adopt English as its official language. I realize that it's a difficult language to learn but if it were our official tongue, the schools would have to add a special course, for immigrants, to their curriculum.

This was one of the campaign issues that an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for US President, the late Senator Paul Tsongas from Massachusetts, ran on back in 1992. I know I've said I'm a bleeding heart liberal and this is a conservative stance, but as John said, the language of aviation is English. It is also the language of international business.

It has nothing to do with prejudices on my part; I just think it would be much less confusing if the US had an official language like other countries do.

I know what I've said has nothing to do with naturalized citizens becoming president but as far as that goes, seeing as I've started yapping, I don't think it will happen for a long, long time because it would require an amendment to the Constitution.

Then again, note that I said that Paul Tsongas was an UN-succesful candidate. I have a habit of backing those kinds of candidates and issues! :)

Re: Naturalized citizens becoming American Presidents

Suzanne D. on 10/05/04 at 17:28 (161026)

I don't know what the standards are across the nation, Kathy, but I do know that in our school system, any child with English as a second language qualifies for services from ESL teachers in the district. They come to our schools to serve any children whom we refer.

I have had two children recently to receive services - a brother and sister whose parents came from Laos. The children only speak English (other than a few words or phrases of their parents' native language), but since English is the second language of the parents, and the children hear both spoken at home, they have received special instruction from the ESL teachers. The brother is in middle school now and has graduated from the program. His little sister is the one about whom I have written before who had to have a bone marrow transplant and missed more than a year of regular school, receiving home instruction twice a week when she was able. She is also in special ed (not because of the language issue), and the parents have the right to an interpreter if they do not understand what is said to them in meetings about their child.

For five years we had special week-long programs called intersessions during some of our school breaks. I taught during these weeks at two different schools in another part of our county. Once, I had two Mexican boys whose father was a migrant worker. They were 10 and 12 years old but hadn't been in the country very long, so they were placed with my first and second graders. At first I was concerned about the arrangement (and I only knew two days before the classes began that I would be teaching them), but I soon grew to really appreciate these boys and their eagerness to learn as well as their good manners. I tried to not 'insult' them with stories and so forth which would be below their interest level, but I found that was not really a problem. The last day I brought popcorn as a snack, and I remember they sat politely while all the other children began to eat. I looked at them and said, 'You may eat; it's for you', and then they ate.

I didn't hear much about this topic when I first began teaching 25 years ago, but now it is a big issue.

Suzanne :)

Re: Naturalized citizens becoming American Presidents

Terri on 10/05/04 at 21:33 (161036)

You wrote:
'I wonder just how many Americans could quickly adapt and learn a new language and give up their life long native tongue.'

They all have already...they're called American Indians.

Personally, I don't ever see us changing to another language. America is known as a melting pot nation, always has been and always will be. You have to have common denominators available for all these cultures to be able to merge together and one of the strongest is language. Even though many immigrants, including most of our own ancestors, may choose to live and speak with people of their same culture and traditions there comes a time when you have to go outside of that comfort zone and interact with others. As John stated, the international language, not only for flying but also for banking, trade and transportation (which I work in)is English.

I believe the main reason for this is the higher education available in English-speaking nations such as the UK and the US. Many royal families in the Mideast and African nations regularly send their sons to universities such as Eton in the UK and to Princeton and Harvard in the US. Most of the people I deal with on a daily basis throughout Europe often speak English with a British accent. They've been educated in the UK or tutored by a British citizen. They call this 'speaking English' and our language is considered by them to be 'American'. In Japan, they are required to learn to read and write English, but never practice speaking or listening to it. This presents a huge challenge when a Japanese citizen is transferred to work in the US or elsewhere overseas. I've worked for Japanese, German and French-owned companies over the past 25 years. All personnel worldwide must know how to speak, read and write English.

I live in Columbus, OH and recently there was a tragic fire that killed 8 Mexican nationals, 5 of which were children under the age of 6. Arson is the cause and the investigation is still ongoing. In order to help ease the gap they felt existed between the cultures our local newspaper decided to run an article outlining the cause and investigation written in Spanish. Public outcry was enormous! How dare they publish another language in our newspaper??!! Never mind it was done with good intentions to explain the situation to a large segment of our town where rumors and suspicions were running rampant....the people revolted! If something that small could cause such a ruckus I surely can't see our language changing without another civil war taking place.

Re: Naturalized citizens becoming American Presidents

Pauline on 10/06/04 at 07:50 (161039)

You're correct. I think their name has even changed and they are now referred to as 'the People of First Nations' I don't know if this was by their choice of that of the American Politically Correct Government. I hope it was their decision since it appears the Government has made many for them through the years.

One person's story:

Carol M. Hodgson

My best friend, Rose, was the most fun in the world. I looked forward each day to meeting her in the school hallway just before the bell rang. She often wore a barely-suppressed grin, or covered her mouth with her hand. I would spend recess trying to get her tell me what the joke was. Usually, she had managed undetected to plant a stone on Sister's chair or sneak an extra crust of bread from the supper hall. Rose, head bobbing, dark eyes twinkling, would finally share her secret transgression with me, causing us both to burst into uncontrollable giggles, and occasionally drawing the attention of a stony-faced nun who, disturbed by our laughter, would shoo us to move on.

The Catholic Mission loomed at the far end of the only road cutting through Fort Providence, Northwest Territories. In l954, I entered my first year of school there as the only 'white kid'. My father spent his days predicting weather and tapping it in Morse Code, down to a military base in Hay River. My mother cooked, knitted, sewed my clothes and preserved berries. I, being a spirited 5 year old, knew that we lived in an exciting place, accessible only by barge or float plane and snowed under nine months of the year.

The Mission school was the place for me to go to and hang out with other children.I didn't question the locked iron doors, the bars on the windows, the unreasonable rules imposed by the nuns. I didn't find it unusual that my playmates were several hundred native children who lived at the school rather than with their families. It was my only experience of school and I had no need to question.

The day I arrived at school and didn't see Rose, I thought she must be ill. The recess bell finally rang and, in the impish manner I had learned from my friend, I quietly slid down the forbidding corridors that led to the dormitory. The nun who was changing the beds glared at me as though I wasn't meant to exist. I lowered my eyes to my shoes, knowing the necessary rules to avoid having to stand in the corner or get the strap.

'What are you doing here?' she barked.

I heard the squeak of her black boots, the jangle of her crucifix and the angry swish of her robes as she came closer.

'Looking for Rose, Sister. I thought she was sick.' 'She's not here. Now get back to class!'

I scurried back to the coatroom and pulled on my parka and touque.

She must be outside, I thought, struggling to push open the heavy back door.

Children filled the snowy yard, screaming, laughing, building snow forts and pulling each other around on little pieces of cardboard. It was freezing today and the nuns gathered close to the building, warming their hands over the fire barrel. I stood on the high stone steps, searching everywhere for Rose's red jacket. Finally I spotted her in the farthest corner, standing with her face to the fence, no friends around.


I shouted as loudly as I could, running down the steps and slogging through the deepest part of the snow where the other children had not gone. When I reached her, I tugged on her sleeve.

'Come on, Rose! Recess is almost over!'

She kept her back to me, warming her hands under her jacket. Impatiently, I tugged again, sure that the bell would ring at any moment and we would have no time to play.

Now she turned, her face drawn with pain and fury. She held up her red, swollen hands and I knew then that she hadn't been warming them, but holding, protecting them as best she could, from the searing pain. I saw the tears, which had frozen on her beautiful cheeks.

'When I go home I'm going to talk Indian!', she whispered fiercely.

The bell rang and neither one of us moved. Cold needled into our faces and I stood,watching Rose breathe rapid frosty puffs into the bleak northern air. I didn't know what to do for my friend. When I looked back, I saw the other children were almost all inside.

'Rose, we have to go.'

She nodded, wiping her face in her sleeve. We couldn't hold hands like we usually did. Instead, I touched her shoulder as we walked toward the stone steps, where two nuns stood like sentries, waiting for us.

Rose and I never talked about what had happened to her. We still sat together everyday and traded the ribbons in our hair. We built forts and pulled each other around in the snow on pieces of cardboard. Rose talked longingly of eating her granny's toasted bannock and romping in the woods with her younger sisters, who hadn't yet arrived at the Mission school.

Our family left Fort Providence two years later. In the time I knew her, Rose never did get to go home.

Copyright Carol M. Hodgson, March 2000 All Rights Reserved

[Note from Sonja Keohane: After reading this, I asked Carol for an explanation of what had been done to Rose's hands. This was her response:

Rose was strapped for speaking her language. This is a common practice in schools all over the place at the time. Her open hands were hit with a large thick leather strap, many times. I received the strap on several occasions, although not as harshly as Rose did in my story. I did see many native children whose hands were strapped so long and hard that they were blistered for days, as though they had been burned with fire.]


Comments to the author, Carol M. Hodgson, would be appreciated.


Return to Let all that is Indian within you die! The Reservation School system 1870-1928

Re: Naturalized citizens becoming American Presidents

Ed Davis, DPM on 10/09/04 at 10:39 (161208)

The story of Daniel Webster comes to mind. Mr. Webster supposedly was alarmed at the variability of language usage of just English and felt motivated to write his famous dictionary to try to help form a 'unifed' language. My dad spoke 7 languages but we spoke English, for the most part, at home. Having one language as the 'official' language has value in unifying people coming here from diverse cultures and facilitates communication. It is possible to have one 'official' langage while using other languages for reasons of cultural identity, education and being able to communicate across borders since the internet makes it fairly easy to do so.