Recently, our attention to the millions of illegal immigrants now living here have caused President Obama and the U.S. Congress to propose a plan for these aliens to become U.S. citizens, just like any other naturalized citizen who legally entered the country obeying U.S. Customs regulations. The fact that we have a considerable number of Spanish-Americans and Mexicans not paying their fair share of taxation to contribute to national government programs is abusive to our other citizens, let alone not being legally able to vote in our democracy.
It is not the main issue that any of these individuals are part of a minority and speak a different language from American English, but that the rules of the U.S. Customs requires immigrants entering the United States to learn to write and speak English to become familiar with democratic government and history and principles of the United States of America to become a full fledge American citizen capable of voting and paying taxes.
Being a descendant of PA Dutch parents that spoke their Palatine German dialect since early American times, I fully understand the ethnocentric reasons why Latin Americans continue to enjoy their native language in the 21st Century and practice their previous cooking habits and customs. In fact, Professor William T. Parsons of Ursinus College wrote a 1985 college text called “PA Germans: A Persistent Minority,” where he reviews the love of our Palantine German ethnicity, a long lasting 300-year-old immigrant nationalism that these foreigners who persisted in speaking and writing a German dialect were not considered aliens by William Penn’s English speaking immigrant cousins. Furthermore, ones who merged with them to survive on the bloody American frontier fighting native Indians, but all these Pilgrims were more concerned about living a Christian life, than recognizing ethnic differences among themselves.
Thereby, these “Pennsylvania Dutch,” as they were called by their 17th century English colonists, became very successful farmers exporting grain and pig iron in the port of Philadelphia, Penn’s City of Brotherly Love. And with the Amish and Plain Dietsch, developed an early American utopian society.
Eventually, PA Dutch farmers in the colonial years sent their youth to work on farms in New Jersey, so they would acquire the English language. By being bilingual, the Deitsch farmers could trade their goods better in the markets of early Philadelphia. Unlike the current millions of illegal immigrants, the Congress and President are considering to grant modern citizenship to update Spanish and Mexican ethnic immigrants today.
Many illegals are dependent on low paying migratory farming jobs in United States agriculture, whereas the farming skills of native PA Germans were once superior to most other ethnic farmers, allowing Dutchman the potential of becoming prosperous agra-business individuals in our nation. This a much better and safer alternative for them than falling into a cash and carry illegal underground drug trade, which is prevalent in many third world countries today.
The problem/backlash facing President Obama and Congress is granting so many illegal aliens amnesty and citizenship, after so many of these illegals have circumvented U.S. laws to gain entrance to our nation, as opposed to the genuine freedom and religious law-abiding naturalized citizens before them. Their amnesty should include paying any back taxes purposely eluded and to learn to speak and read English, and learn about the American democracy and history, so they can rightfully take their place alongside U.S. citizens to enjoy our civilized society.
Learning English and our rich history and democracy to become part of our civilized nation is a small condition to be asked for and achieved for “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” for one and their future generations. I certainly am appreciative of my ancestors and the hard work, ingenuity, and sacrifices they made in coming to America.
Richard L.T. Orth is assistant director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.