OP-ED: What the pope's language and message mean for Latinos


During Pope Francis' travels in the United States, his public appearances will be a rebuke to the English-only crowd.

Most of his speeches and Masses will be in Spanish, and there is nothing wrong with the pope or anybody else speaking in another language in this country.

English is not the official language of the United States. However, there have always been politicians who've used English as a political issue.

In 1780, John Adams tried to establish an official academy devoted to English, but it was rejected at the time as "undemocratic." Benjamin Franklin feared Germans would overrun the United States and said they were too "stupid" to learn English. But most of the framers of the Constitution saw an official language as a threat to civil liberties.

Many languages were spoken on this land before this nation was even founded. Spanish has been spoken in what is today the United States longer than English. The Spanish colonization of the New World, from Chesapeake Bay to South America, was well established before the English arrived.

And let's not forget there were hundreds of Native American languages spoken here first. By 1664, there were more than a dozen different languages spoken on the island of Manhattan.

We have always been a multilingual nation.

More than 60 million Americans speak a language other than English at home. But of those 60 million, 75 percent also speak English "very well" or "well."

Knowing more than one language not only helps one culturally and professionally but may also help the brain in old age. A recent study found that bilingualism may delay Alzheimer's by as much as four years.

But no matter what language he is speaking, the pope has an important message for Hispanics and other Americans. He wants us to help immigrants, to work against poverty and to end intolerance. Latinos, who make up more than one-third of Catholics in the United States, are eager to embrace the pope's redemptive message.

The pope reminds us that we should have the same compassion for those coming from south of the border as those who come from places like Syria. Many Mexicans and Central Americans are also are fleeing a war — a drug war that threatens their lives and livelihoods.

Just as the pope asked churches in Europe to help Syrians, I hope he will ask churches here to help immigrants and all of those in need. He has been travelling the world reminding churches that they stand for social justice and the oppressed.

The pope should also remind all Americans to speak out against racial intolerance and bigotry of all forms. And it would be great if he had some words for Donald Trump.

The pope has said that to serve means to take care of the fragile in our society. Let's remember that — no matter what language the message is delivered in.

— Teresa Puente teaches at Columbia College Chicago and is a senior facilitator with The Op-ed Project. She writes the Chicanisma blog and wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine.