On The Record with State Rep. RoseMarie Swanger | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

On The Record with State Rep. RoseMarie Swanger

There are two bills pending at the state level that would make English the official language of the commonwealth. One of those bills is sponsored by state Rep. RoseMarie Swanger, a Republican from Lebanon County. Her legislation, House Bill 361, would make English the only language for official business conducted by the state.

In your co-sponsorship memorandum for the legislation, you say that you think "it's important at this time to recognize the historically unifying role that English has played." Why now?

It's a mandate, or I should say a request from my constituents in my district. People think this is important here in Lebanon County and House District 102. I've had many contacts through email, telephone and people stopping in. It seems to be a very important issue to those I represent.

Have you heard from any Hispanic constituents?

Several years ago when I [first] introduced it ... I was on our local Spanish radio talk show and actually one of the commentators said he didn't agree but the other did. She said she [didn't] see how anyone who comes to this country not knowing the language can succeed to their fullest potential. I've been reading that a lot of Hispanics do actually support this because I think they realize that if you can't communicate here that you're not going to be able to get the best job and maybe vested to a life of poverty.

Are you worried about legal immigrants who haven't mastered the language missing out on important programs they are entitled to because of the language barrier?

I certainly am. I do want to make it clear when we talk about offering help to immigrants, I only am talking about legal immigrants. I am very firm on that we shouldn't be offering a lot of resources to anyone who breaks the law to get into the country. I certainly am willing to go out of my way, and we should go out of our way, to help legal immigrants who come to this country to learn and assimilate and succeed. My grandparents emigrated from Hungary first thing they did learn was to learn English.

Some opponents of the bills view this as an attempt to Americanize a culture. How do you respond to that?

I don't see it as trying to minimize their cultures -- quite goodness, no. I often refer to it as a tough love, baby. It's trying to encourage them to succeed. Certainly we're not saying they can't retain their culture ... My intent is not to stifle any of that.

This bill has been called discriminatory by some.

We have least 27 major languages spoken in Pennsylvania. I think it discriminatory to only print in a few of those languages. If we do it for Spanish and say, I don't know, let's just say we do it for Arabic or do it for Japanese and that's all we do, to me that's discriminatory because we're only choosing a few of the languages. If we ... just limited it to English, it's certainly nondiscriminatory because we're treating all the other cultures the same.

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