Calling NYT`s Freedman! How About The Rest Of The Dominican Story?
Two weeks ago, I
wrote skeptically about Samuel Freedman`s New York
"Dominicans Take Their Place as an American Success
Story," which boomed the successes of a small
Hostos Community College English as a Second Language
According to Freedman, after graduating the students
parlayed their classroom accomplishments into solid jobs.
But an earlier report by Dr. Hernandez,
Dominicans in the US: A Socioeconomic Profile, 2000,
left me dubious about the overall level of English
fluency among Dominicans, as well as
other illegal immigrants.
Now it turns out that my doubts were well-founded.
I am always fascinated when I read reports of peers
who have succeeded in teaching English to non-English
I have found that only one variable matters:
When a student comes to class every day and
applies himself to the hard job of learning, and when
that student takes advantage of the multiple daily
opportunities that present themselves to
practice English, then by the end of the semester
progress is measurable.
But not much of that is going on.
Two other recent stories by New York Times
reporter Nina Bernstein about
statistics collected by Joseph Salvo, director of the
population division of the City Planning Department, Proficiency
in English Decreases Over a Decade, January 19th, and
"Record Immigration is Changing the Face of New York`s
Neighborhoods," January 24th, reveal
that the tiny handful of Hostos students do deserve a tip
of the hat.
Because, based on Salvo`s analysis, they are among the
very few foreign-born New York residents who have
learned English in the last decade.
Among Salvo`s shocking findings (even for hard-boiled
immigration experts like VDARE.COM readers) are:
- Non-English speaking adults increased 30% from 1990
to 2000 to more than 1.5 million.
- One in four adults do not speak English. There is,
according to the report, "no sign of a decline"
in the foreseeable future.
- Half of the 1.5 million residents who do not speak
English live in homes where no one speaks English.
- One quarter of the 1.5 million non-English speakers
live in households where only a child speaks English.
- Nearly 750,000 non-English speakers do not have a
high-school education. Many are illiterate in their own
- Immigrant groups with the highest number of births—Dominicans,
Chinese—have the highest percentage of non-English
(Salvo`s report will be released
in a 265-page book entitled
The Newest New Yorkers 2000: Immigrant New York in the
One of the conclusions Bernstein
draws—somewhat surprisingly for a
New York Times reporter— is that:
migrations before 1965, most newcomers spoke European
languages. But what is striking about the current
generation of immigrants is the vast range of tongues
they use on the city`s streets, adding difficulties in
education, business and the minutiae of daily life and
making the need for English as a common language all the
More predictably, Salvo`s report
calls for an increase in the numbers of classes and
programs to teach English.
Even New York Mayor Michael
Bloomberg, an immigration enthusiast with few equals,
looked at the demographics in multicultural, multiethnic
Far Rockaway and said,
"What`s going on down there?"
Programs and classes might be a
fine starting point. But, as I noted above, my
own experience leads me to a different conclusion.
The desire to learn must come from within.
So it is counter-productive when
individuals with influence, like CUNY`s Dr. Hernandez,
say, "The fashionable thing is to talk about
assimilation but I don`t speak about that stuff." [Writing
a Field Guide to Dominican New York" NYT,
Assimilation begins with
learning English. And is exactly what Hernandez
Contrast Hernandez` attitude with
the pre-1965 immigrants, who came to America with a
passion to assimilate.
One remarkable example:
Billy Wilder who arrived in Los Angeles from Austria
penniless and without knowing a word of English.
Wilder`s story was retold in
Aljean Harmetz`s 1992 book
"Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of
Casablanca—Bogart, Bergman and World War II."
"When he reached Los
Angeles, Wilder avoided the restaurants and living rooms
where refugees met to drink coffee, eat pastry and speak
German. Instead, he lay on his bed and listened to the
radio. Each day, he learned twenty new English words. It
was years before he was willing to speak German again."
The difference is English.
Only a few will match Academy
Award winner Wilder`s success.
But more opportunities
await all who master English – even if their
self-appointed leaders don`t like it.
Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English at the Lodi
Adult School, has been writing a weekly newspaper column
since 1988. This column is exclusive to VDARE.COM.