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The Next America 2012 / THE NEXT AMERICA

Language as America's Glue

photo of Doris Nhan
July 27, 2012

Few people disagree that the English language and the “melting pot” culture is indicative of American identity. But the language wars that have escalated in our schools, communities, state legislatures and courts are telling a different story; one that focuses on whether these new--and ever more prevalent--cultures and languages are threatening or bolstering English, and the nation’s future.

In the cover story for the summer issue of The Next America, writer Terry Greene Sterling looks at the swirling culture of Anaheim, Calif., a town heavily populated with immigrants working, learning and living alongside one another.

In Anaheim, Calif., the strong immigrant-based population has created a town that’s diverse in people, culture, and language. In just one shopping center, you could expect to find storefronts owned by Koreans, Vietnamese, Hispanics and more. But ask anyone who lives there and they’ll be first to tell you that English is the dominant language here.(Kevin Roche)

Felipe Sepulveda Jr. is a good example of the American dream: As a small child, his family immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico. Sepulveda, pictured at top with his family, started kindergarten in an American school knowing no English. Now, at 18, he’s getting ready to go to Harvard University.(Kevin Roche)

Sepulveda credits his success story to his family, but also the hard work of his teachers within the Anaheim school district. At Anaheim High School, where 60 percent of its student body are former or current English learners, it’s vital for teachers work together to develop a strong curriculum to teach academic English skills.(Kevin Roche)


Anaheim also participates in a federal program, Gear Up, that helps immigrant parents learn how to advocate for their students in the school system. “English is survival,” said one student at a recent Gear Up meeting. “It’s also understanding. Without it, we would not be connected.”(Kevin Roche)

With so many cultures and languages coming together, it’s becoming clear English learners need to possess the critical thinking skills needed for academic success--and their futures. “We are fighting for the heart and soul of our country,” said Brian Gilliam, an Anaheim High School teacher. “If these kids disengage from education, it’s game over.”(Photo via Newscom)

Sepulveda appreciates that he’s bilingual. He says that Spanish is his “gift,” and a reminder of his roots. But English, as his dominant language, is what makes him feel American.(Jack Kurtz/

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