January 11, 2005

Finstad Responds To Coleman

Brad Finstad replied today to Nick Coleman's amazingly stupid (even for Coleman) column:

Not anti-immgrant

Just as Nick Coleman states in a recent column that he hates to pick on young lawmakers, I hate to pick on veteran columnists who haven't completely studied the details of proposed legislation before making criticism ("Stern reminder for all at Capitol," Jan. 5).

In this case, Coleman blasted legislation that I'm sponsoring regarding immigrants and took the criticism to the level of a personal attack.

My bill would require immigrants to make an attempt at learning English after one year if they receive welfare benefits. To me, this is not an unreasonable request. In my opinion, if you are settling in Minnesota and utilizing government welfare assistance, attempting to learn the language could help you become an even more productive citizen.

Coleman was correct about one thing: Many German immigrants settled in southwestern Minnesota, and few of them spoke English. He fails to point out that these immigrants didn't receive welfare benefits to create New Ulm and the other towns in the area.

We have thousands of immigrants in Minnesota who work hard, earn a living and don't speak English. I applaud them. They are part of what makes Minnesota such a good state in which to live. They are living the American dream, just as our ancestors did.

My bill would help non-English-speaking immigrants who aren't as successful become more marketable in the state's economic system, and realize dreams of their own.

Rep. Brad Finstad, New Ulm, Minn.

I think I can safely hand the victory over to Finstad on this one. I wonder if Coleman will respond. Probably not.

Now, in an attempt to boost Web traffic, I'll post a name that's been in the news lately: Laure Manaudou. Laure Manaudou. Laure Manaudou. Laure Manaudou. Laure Manaudou.

Posted by Ryan at January 11, 2005 12:54 PM

The samples of Coleman's writing that you've posted on your blog have been execrable and his immigration/welfare piece seemed scattered and badly conceived—as a piece of writing.

As a piece of theory, however, Coleman has a point, and Finstad's response doesn't settle it. Finstad's assertion that immigrants on welfare should "learn the language" ignores the fact that there is no "the language". English is not the official language of the United States. The U.S. has the fifth largest Spanish speaking population in the world. More than a third of the population of the state of California doesn't speak English as their first language. Three hundred thousand of Hawaii's 1.13 million people speak some language other than English as their first language. Nationally the average runs to about 17%. And we have a commonwealth (colony) where the vast majority of the population speaks Spanish as their first (and often only) language.

Ethically, the United States has always had the problem that we're a nation of immigrants. It's difficult to insist on respect for local customs and practice when the country was founded by people who invaded, committed genocide, and made it illegal for the natives to speak their own language. Which brings up the other issue—the U.S. has a history of violent Anglo-centricism that has made a lot of people kind of twitchy about these issue. Understandably so in many cases.

As far as this crap about "the Germans weren't on welfare"— that's not relevant either. The Federal government foots most of the bill for welfare through bloc grants and, like, I said, the United States doesn't have an official language. Trying to cop some attitude that it's only polite for immigrants to learn the language of the people who are footing their bill is utterly disingenuous.

None of this is to say that there aren't good reasons for people who live in the United States to acquire some fluency in English. It's always useful to know how the majority works. In another couple of decades, it'll be similarly useful (and to some extent it already is) for Anglophones to learn Spanish; when that time comes I'm certainly not going to stand around bitching about how I "shouldn't have to" learn Spanish because the U.S. has no official language.

But that's my choice. Making the acquisition of English a condition for public aid to a group that is one of the poorest subsections of the nation is at least ethnocentric and may reasonably be viewed by people on the receiving end as racist and malicious.

Posted by: Joshua at January 11, 2005 03:23 PM

I've stated before, Joshua, that I don't think it's wise to require the learning of English to earn welfare benefits, for many of the reasons you stated here. I think Finstad wins this debate with Coleman, however, because Coleman deliberately skewed the language of the legislation, and one wonders if he actually even read it. Coleman made it seem as if immigrants had to learn English in a year, whereas the legislation simply calls for them to start learning English in a year, which, though still bad policy, is far less difficult to do. And, again, I really don't think this has much of a chance of passing, and it's just Finstad playing politics to his extremely white New Ulm base. If you stack Coleman's column up against Finstad's response, I just think Finstad comes out on top.

Posted by: Ryan at January 11, 2005 03:58 PM

If you stack Coleman's column up against Finstad's response, I just think Finstad comes out on top.

As a communicator, maybe. But they're both ignoring the facts, glossing over inconvenient reality, and playing to people's prejudices. I'm not sure there is a "top" in that kind of thing.

Posted by: Joshua at January 11, 2005 04:34 PM
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