EDITORIAL: Pa.: Now speaking English

York Dispatch

We recently assigned a reporter to dig into York's history and research an 1815 murder that banned the York Fair for 38 years.

Imagine our surprise when he returned to the office to report the only records found at the York County Heritage Trust were from a yellowed copy of Der Wahra Republicaner, published in German.

Apparently nobody told them, "Hey, this is York County, not Berlin. Speak English."

Ask anyone at the South Central Pennsylvania Genealogical Society — or even consult the demographics logged by U.S. Census data — and you'll learn that very few of us who live here now can trace our roots to the indigenous people who once lived along the Susquehanna or to any other native tribes that were terminated when other people arrived with more modern weaponry.

When York was young, so many people spoke German that the only lasting account of a grisly stabbing that killed a man and slayed the fair for decades was recorded in a language most of us no longer speak.

The York Dispatch was founded in 1876 as The Evening Dispatch, written in English. The York Daily Record's predecessor was Die York Gazette, and the paper published a weekly German edition until 1891.

Boy, it sure took some people a long time to learn English, didn't it? Even about 20 years ago, many Yorkers had grandparents and great-grandparents who still spoke their native tongue — and it wasn't English.

But we tend to forget that, don't we? And we think our own status as the progeny of German, Irish or other immigrants is somehow more American or more clean and acceptable than that of the modern immigrants who settle here, many of whom speak Spanish for however many generations it takes for their kids to assimilate at school.

There's probably no distasteful stereotype we could assign to them that some other person didn't assign to our own immigrant ancestors.

But this double standard isn't a new concept to the United States, to Pennsylvania and certainly not to York.

So we weren't surprised by a small wave of disgruntled Yorkers who responded to our recent publication of two religion-based Spanish essays — written by a York County priest and a young professional Ecuadorian woman whose mastery of the English language might surpass the level of a lifelong Yorker — in response to the papal Mass delivered in Spanish in Philadelphia.

One grammatically incorrect, syntax-challenged reader questioned whether we realize York County is not Mexico.

We do.

Spanish is also spoken in countries such as Argentina, the birthplace of this pope, who is the man the Catholic church has selected as the successor to the Apostle Peter.

Her letter contained the sort of jingoistic nonstarters that are coloring the national debate and distracting a couple of York County state representatives whose time would be better served brainstorming on the state budget.

Reps. Stan Saylor and Kate Klunk, both Republicans, have co-sponsored a bill to make English the official state language of Pennsylvania, as if it weren't already.

The bill reads, "The Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall make no policies expressing a preference for any language other than English or diminishing or ignoring the unifying role of English as designated in this act."

We'll translate that for you: This bill would change absolutely nothing, but it will sound good to tell tea party voters they co-sponsored it.

English is already the preferred language of Pennsylvania. Business here is already conducted in English, and preference is not given to any other language.

This legislation is just the sort of counterproductive idling we might expect from a Legislature that seems incapable of real progress on real issues.