Friday, January 23, 2009

Nashville Rejects Hard-line English Ordinance



immigrants volunteerIn "English Only unites seemingly unlikely allies," Nashville's City Paper reports:

It's not every day that Nashville's business leaders rub elbows with progressive activists. Hispanic and Kurdish teenagers aren't always found mingling with Nashville's most influential movers and shakers of local politics.

But a surprising cross-section of Nashville demographic groups and political orientations crowded together in a Loews Vanderbilt Hotel event room Thursday to celebrate a shared victory. Far from an unholy alliance, this group celebrated together the defeat of the English Only ballot initiative. Volunteers said Nashville is a better place for having grappled with English Only.

Indeed, volunteers from the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) took to the streets to talk to voters about just what the English-only ordinance would have meant to their communities in Nashville.

TIRRC's website talks about why eliminating translations of government documents would be such a terrible idea:

When an English-only amendment passed in Arizona, school districts were prohibited from translating important announcements to parents, and the Office of Tourism was prohibited from publishing promotional brochures in French, German, and Japanese. When English-only passed in California, city officials in Monterey Park began removing foreign language books from public libraries. When English-only passed in Florida, state agencies began to receive increased discrimination complaints, as many interpreted the law to be a license to repress foreign languages.

If Nashville passes an English-only amendment to the Metro Charter, no one fully understands the impact it will have on services or the harm it will cause the immigrant community. We do know that Nashville would be the largest city in the nation to approve such intolerance, forever tarnishing our reputation as a friendly, inclusive, and welcoming city.

TIRRC has helped form a broad and diverse coalition committed to defeating English-only called Nashville for All of Us. Thousands of individuals and dozens of groups have already spoken up about the need to defeat English-only-also known as Amendment #1-and a further assault on our Metro Charter-Amendment #2. You can find out more at

Congratulations to the staff and volunteers at TIRRC, who worked tirelessly to bring immigrant and refugee community members together to ensure that those most affected by English-only turned out and voted.

By voting down the English-only proposition yesterday, Nashville rejected extremism and unrealistic solutions on immigration. It has shown its best values as a welcoming city instead of giving into its worst instincts.

Posted: 01-23-09 By Paco Fabian


"Voters are not duped anymore," said Maria Rodriquez of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. "They know when they see bad policy that is going to be costly and that's not progressive. I guess brown can stick around in Nashville."

At a time when other cities and states are instituting anti-immigrant measures, the people of Nashville spoke for diversity and inclusion.

It’s likely that the election of Barack Obama underscored the argument of the opponents of the English First measure was “mean-spirited” – as Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen said – and not worthy of a city that values and promotes its diversity.

The day after the landmark vote in Nashville, ProEnglish with its Liberty Bell logo still had a running banner proclaiming that “Official English is sweeping the nation.”

ProEnglish, the organization involved in the Nashville campaign, is part of a closely linked network of “official English” and anti-immigration organizations that are based in the Washington, DC area and are involved in local and national campaigns to restrict immigration and to institute English as the official and only language for government business.(See TransBorder Profile: ProEnglish)

A central figure of these groups is John Tanton, who was a founding director of ProEnglish and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Among the other groups in which Tanton, a former president in the 1970s of Zero Population Growth, are English First, Immigration Reform Law Institute, and Numbers USA. As the principals of these groups readily acknowledge, the movements to restrict immigration and to restrict the use of languages other than English are closely connected organizationally and ideologically.

If the Nashville vote is any indication, the issue of the increasing presence of other languages in the country may be losing its emotional and ideological hold on Americans. Both at a national and local level, diversity not uniformity has a new power in American politics.

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