Ruben Navarrette And The Truth About "Language Lies"
July 16, 2004, 05:00 AM
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After more than 15 years of column writing, I know the ground rules.

My job is to collect facts and then offer my opinion of what those facts mean.

Above all, I must be certain that my facts are correct. Whether you agree or disagree with my conclusions is of no interest to me.

I cannot make up facts. And I cannot mislead my audience by isolating one fact or anecdote out of a body of evidence to suggest that it represents the whole picture.

This is my rather teacherish introduction to my subject: Ruben Navarrette [email him], one of a number of professional token Hispanics who now adorn the American media. I think his columns fall way short.

Navarrette gets away with playing loose with the truth because as a Hispanic voice he is considered by his editors and syndicate to be, if you will, a "star."

He gets huge leeway that he doesn`t deserve.

My friend and VDARE.COM colleague James Fulford brought Navarrette back onto my radar screen when he linked to Navarrette`s May 26th column " A day without Mexicans is like—Oh, My God!"

Navarrette wrote in support of a short-lived film that made the preposterous claim that the United States economy would fall apart if it were not for Mexican labor.

This particular Navarrette passage jumped out at me:

"Of course, these Americans are also too proud to do the low-paying and less-than-desirable jobs themselves.

"Like picking apples. A few months ago, I toured orchards in Washington State. One grower said that he tried hiring Americans to pick his apple crop and that, one year, he tried to hire a crew of high-school seniors. It was a total disaster, he said.

"In the first place, most of the young people he approached didn`t want to spend their days tugging on branches atop 12-foot ladders. Many of those who did came to work late, wanted to leave early and complained the whole time in between.

"They even cost him money by bruising the fruit. They threw it around, tossed it into the bins like they were shooting three-pointers.

"Mexican workers weren`t like that, the grower insisted. They worked hard and treated the fruit with care. Most of all, they didn`t gripe or act like they were doing the employer the favor. They were just grateful to have a job."

Oh yeah? Suspecting that readers were only getting a very selective story, and noting the conspicuous absence of any cited names, I e-mailed Navarrette to ask him to tell me who he spoke to. I wanted to interview the grower, too.

I never expected to hear from Navarrette. And I didn`t.

But we need to know more—a lot more.  I would have asked the grower questions about wages, working conditions, how long he stuck with the American workers—and how he could have hired high-school seniors anyway, since apples are picked in the early fall when school is in session. (That`s the teacher in me again.)

Navarrette was back at half-truths again in his June 17th syndicated column, Speaking Spanish for fun and profit, he wrote:

"They`re what you might call `language lies.` They`re the little assumptions that Americans harbor about foreigners and what language they speak.

"Here are two of my favorites: That Latinos aren`t learning English fast enough, and that the only reason we translate things into Spanish is to accommodate non-English speakers."

What does Navarrette cite to support his theory that "plenty of Latinos are embracing English?" His evidence: a Pew Hispanic Center survey [PDF] that found that 31% of Hispanics get all their news from English-language mediums, 44% alternate between English and Spanish and 24% rely solely on Spanish.

But even these Pew Hispanic Center figures translate into 68% of Hispanic households—i.e. more than two-thirds—that depend at least partially on Spanish language stations for their news. 

A more accurate source for measuring the nation`s language crisis is the U.S. Bureau of the Census.  According to the Census report "Language Use and English Speaking Ability: 2000," the number and percentage of people who speak a language other than English at home grew to 18% and 47 million between 1990 and 2000.

Since 1980, the number of homes where English is not the primary language has doubled.

Eleven million Californians, or two out of five residents, do not speak English in their home; in 1990, the total was 8.7 million.  One out of nine Californians understand little or no English. 

Texas ranks second behind California, with over 5.4 million people who do not speak English at home, followed by New York (4.4 million) and Florida (3 million).

Across the country, the statistics are overwhelming: the portion of residents who speak English poorly or not at all grew nearly sixty percent since 1990.  Several states—Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah—saw their English-deficient populations triple.  Missouri`s grew nearly five fold. 

Spanish, as Navarrette knows and the Census confirms, is the largest of non-English language groups. Of 28.1 million Spanish speakers, only half reported to the Census that they spoke English "very well." Almost 30% either did not speak English "at all" or "not very well."

Looking at the Census data, I see two time bombs that Navarrette doesn`t care to address:

The population of illegals from Mexico and Latin America continues to soar, increasing the non-English speaking bloc;

Because the non-English speaking bloc is continuously renewed, the assimilative mechanism is being overwhelmed and the children of immigrants are growing up in foreign-language enclaves.

Apparently, Navarrette is unaware that even the most determined Latino advocacy groups fret about the poor English skills of illegal immigrants.

I spoke with K.C. McAlpin, Executive Director of ProEnglish, who told me:

"La Raza and other Hispanic lobbyists complain about the lack of English fluency among Mexicans. They`re concerned that poor English skills hurt their own ability to make the argument that mass immigration is good for the country."

McAlpin identified the biggest problem for Navarrette and other ethnic identity journalists—their agenda isn`t supportable by concrete evidence.  

That`s why Navarrette tries to make the claim that the economy would go in the tank without Mexicans on the basis of a single interview with an anonymous apple grower.

And only by ignoring the Census Bureau data and instead pointing to a "survey" about television viewing habits can Navarrette try to convince his readers that Latinos are learning English.

For Navarrette to close his sale, he`ll have to dig deeper. And there`s the rub.

If Navarrette ever gets around to doing his homework, he`ll learn—but will never admit—that we`ve been right all along.

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.