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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Words can make a major difference

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A Little League coach in Massachusetts was told a few weeks ago to only speak English with his team on the field. An opposing coach was concerned the foreign language might give the Hispanic team an advantage in communicating strategy. Within a few days higher-up Little League officials backed the Hispanic team.

Reflect on this, while realizing the Hispanic influence is so heavy in Massachusetts that one town lost its daily newspaper a few years ago because most of the Americans moved and immigrants who replaced them don't speak English.

And you thought we had a heavy Hispanic population?

I'd guess all of us have been in stores or other places in Shelbyville and heard people around us speaking Spanish. Of course we've sometimes wondered if they were talking about ... us.

Maybe that uncertainty's behind several requests for a Shelbyville city ordinance requiring bilingual signs on businesses. Some people can't tolerate not knowing what those Spanish-only signs mean.

The motives behind requests for bilingualism should be the determining factor. Are they serious inquiries about those businesses from potential American customers? Or is it prejudice against those who are ... different?

There's sometimes a thin line between disagreement on the presence of illegal -- emphasis on illegal -- immigrants, especially if they take jobs Americans would do -- emphasis on would do -- and outright hatred and contempt. That line doesn't need to be crossed here.

As far as knowing what's on signs, I can't help but wonder about what non-English speakers can and can't comprehend. Example: road signs. Stop signs, or at least their shape and color, are universal worldwide.

But what about the flashing messages on interstates?

A few years ago one near Nashville warned of an oil slick. Someone who couldn't read that sign could speed straight into disaster. That's one reason Tennessee driver's licenses shouldn't be handed out like free candy to those who can't read English.

Meanwhile, Hispanics in some locations are feeling the heat.

"About 30 children, some as young as three months old, were left behind in Arkadelphia, Ark., after immigration agents arrested their parents in a poultry plant raid and took them away for deportation," the Associated Press reported a few weeks ago.

"Federal agents arrested 119 people after auditing the records of Petit Jean Poultry Inc. The raid was triggered after a former plant worker said in February that she supplied others with fake identification cards."

Someone should have made sure those children were taken care of before hauling away their parents. But you rarely hear of industries being raided. Interesting move.

And in Brookhaven, N.Y., city officials have begun clearing overcrowded houses, citing health and safety violations.

"Many local officials have punted, saying this is a federal issue and we can't do anything about it," Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy told the Associated Press. "Well, there are some things you can do. Crack down on those contractors, crack down on illegal housing and create a better relationship with immigration officials."

There are no easy answers on immigration issues. But laws on the books should be enforced. It helps when immigrants, legal or not, learn the language of their adopted country. And, if someone is in the country legally, and living lawfully, stay off their backs.

One final, unrelated thought: If everyone in Tennessee went armed, life around some calmness-challenged UT football players would be really interesting...

David Melson is copy editor and covers police beat for the Times-Gazette.

David Melson
On the Loose