Months ago, a home repairman made a comment so politically incorrect that I am still wrestling with its meaning (details later). However, his remark is why I read with great interest the Immigrant Literacy: Self-Assessment vs. Reality report posted last week by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) — a conservative-leaning nonprofit think-tank advocating lower levels of immigration.
The report was attributed to Jason Richwine. His study was linked on the Drudge Report, and its key findings were headlined on numerous conservative media outlets, but ignored by the mainstream media.
Key findings were “41% of immigrants score at or below the lowest level of English literacy, a level variously described as “below basic” or “functional illiteracy.”
“Hispanic immigrants struggle the most with English literacy. Their average score falls at the 8th percentile, and 63% are below basic.”
But the report’s headline-maker was “67% of Hispanic immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for 15 or more years are functionally illiterate.” Moreover, “the children of Hispanic immigrants scored at the 34th percentile of the English literacy test with 22% scoring below basic.”
One of the reasons the mainstream media ignored the report was because Richwine injected political incorrectness such as:
When the United States accepts low-skill immigration it chooses to accept a multi-generational skills deficit, with all of the socioeconomic challenges that come along with it.
These “socioeconomic challenges” tend to become magnified when 54 million Hispanics comprise 17% of our population. This demographic fact, coupled with the report’s finding that across generations Hispanics are struggling with English fluency, negatively impacting their potential for higher income must never be discussed openly in polite political circles.
With those thoughts in mind, here are the circumstances surrounding the politically incorrect comment uttered to me by a repairman working at our condo. The man was Caucasian and about 40 years of age. As he looked out the windows, he noticed that our 300 unit high-rise building was undergoing a massive painting and concrete restoration project. Upon seeing the Hispanic workmen painting and patching while standing on a 25-foot aluminum platform dangling about 300 feet above the ground, my repairman lamented compassionately, “Those are our new slaves.”
Taken aback by his blunt remark, I replied, “They are getting paid, and no one is forcing them to work.” End of discussion. I paid him, and he left. But his words stayed with me.
Subsequently, month after month, from the window of my home office, I casually observed these hard-working men literally hanging off our building. As condo owners, my husband and I were assessed $2,800 for the extensive project, so I was increasingly interested in its progress.
Then one day the aluminum platform was hanging directly in front of my window, and I saw the crew close-up as they stepped onto our balcony. The men looked between 20 and 35 years of age and were chatting away in Spanish. I asked them if they needed anything, but they ignored me since I assume they did not speak English. Still, I thought about them constantly after my repairman’s inartful remark. I wondered about their journey to America, their future economic prospects as they aged, and was especially curious about their wages for such dangerous high-platform work.
After close to a year, the restoration is finished and our building looks good as new. But daily, upon seeing groups of Hispanic workmen engaged in such necessary tasks as landscaping, painting, restoring and building high-rises, or doing roadwork in the hot Florida sun, I can’t shake that extreme “new slaves” remark. I ask myself, why are all the workers Hispanic? This is not just a function of living in Florida because when we lived in Alexandria, Via., it was the same.
Furthermore, when groups of young Hispanic women arrive in our building to clean condos I think of that repairman’s remark. Ditto for when I stay in a hotel and see what is usually a Hispanic housekeeping staff. Unfair and untrue as it is, his remark is seared into my brain. And, because of that comment, I pay my Hispanic housecleaner more than the going rate. Do I suffer from white guilt? Maybe.
Now let’s circle back to Richwine’s study — specifically, socioeconomic/political concerns over whether millions of Hispanic immigrants and their children will ever become upwardly mobile unless they learn to speak English fluently as did previous generations of immigrants.
Therefore, is it time for a bold new national initiative that would motivate and inspire all non-English speakers to learn English? An investment in such a program would pay big dividends since the alternative is a permanent and massive underclass largely subsidized by the federal government.
After all, Richwine in his study wrote:
The importance of English literacy cannot be overstated. Without language proficiency, immigrant families will find it difficult to succeed in the mainstream of American society, and high rates of English illiteracy may be a sign of poor immigrant assimilation. Policymakers should take note.
Meanwhile, these days, connecting English proficiency to successful assimilation is politically incorrect and culturally insensitive. Conversely, failing to learn the mother tongue could be thought of as a form of bondage that suppresses wages and decreases economic prospects for millions of immigrants “slaving away” at menial back-breaking jobs.
Finally, for reasons similar to why Richwine’s CIS study was ignored by the mainstream media, a national “speak English” initiative to empower immigrants is likely to never gain traction. Why? Because elected leaders of both parties fear political blowback, especially from the Hispanic community which, ironically, due to its growing size and influence, has the most to gain while, ironically, having the most to lose.
Cross-posted at BizPac Reviw