Immigrants and the Importance of English

Traci Hong

Traci Hong heads the immigration program at the Asian American Justice Center in Washington, D.C. Asian American Justice Center hide caption

itoggle caption Asian American Justice Center

Traci Hong understands the frustrations and ambitions of immigrants. Hong, an immigration advocate who herself emigrated as a child from South Korea, says proposals to make English the official language are misguided.

Hong, the head of the immigration program at the Asian American Justice Center, was 10 years old when her family came to the United States.

NPR Series: Crossing East

She spoke no English when her family arrived, and her parents insisted that only Korean be spoken at home. "They had a lot of faith in me, I guess, that when I went to school I would pick up English," Hong says. "And this way I would be completely bilingual. And they were absolutely right."

She says she's infuriated by proposals to make English the official language. "Immigrants, most of all, know exactly how important English is, not only to survive but to succeed in this country. Unless and until you've had a fear in the pit of your stomach [when] all you're trying to do is to go into the local McDonald's and order a burger, you have no idea how important English is."

The situations immigrants find themselves in are often complex, Hong says.

"We have U.S. citizens who are married to undocumented immigrants who have U.S. citizen children," she says. "Whether we like it or not, these folks are here. They're already very well-integrated into the community. So now the question is, what do we do about that?"

About the Series

In a series of conversations, we tackle some of the broad, underlying themes in the immigration debate, including assimilation, the use of language and the meaning of citizenship. We'll talk with comedian Carlos Mencia, author John Updike, Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos and others.

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