PERSPECTIVEnALL GONE IN SEARCH OF AMERICAnby Thomas FlemingnWhat does it mean to be an American? Major debatesnover legislation and proposed constitutional amendmentsnraise the question. Without stretching a point toonmuch, it is easy to see the American identity as thenunderlying question on the immigration issue, the EqualnRights Amendment, and perhaps even in the debate overnabortion. It comes out very clear in discussion of thenEnglish Language Amendment sponsored last year bynSenator Huddleston of Kentucky and supported by U.S.nEnglish, a group headed by former Senator and linguist S.I.nHayakawa.nThe amendment would make explicit a fact of lifenobvious to anyone that does not live in Miami or Laredo:nthe language of England has become the tongue of then41 CHRONICLES OF CULTUREnnnUnited States. Opposition to the amendment comes largelynfrom the Hispanic community and the professional “rights”nlobby. The Christian Century is sharp enough to detect “ansuspicious odor of anti-Hispanic prejudice” in this latestneffort to keep a crust from forming on the melting pot.nMuch of the controversy centers around bilingual education.nCurrent studies estimate there are more than 3.5nmillion children who “need” some education to be given inntheir native language if they are to make an orderly progressnthrough school. An article in USA Today goes further inncalling for “continuing attention to the child’s heritage andnculture” as a means of “stimulating both comprehensionnand motivation.” The opponents of the English LanguagenAmendment apparently see nothing strange in the fact thatntwo of the strongest critics of bilingualism are Sam Hayakawanand Richard Rodriguez. In his autobiography Hungernand Memory, Rodriguez argues that bilingualism constitutesna rejection of the American heritage as a “disease.”nThe amendment would probably win the support of anlarge number of Americans. I suspect many of them will benquick to say something like: Love it or leave it. If you’renunwilling to accept the United States as an English languagencountry, you don’t have to come here. On ansomewhat higher level, George Will argues that our “Anglonculture” is more than a matter of language: it includes “thenpolitical arrangements bequeathed by the men of July 4,n1776.”nThere are those (Will is not one of them) who see thenDeclaration of 1776 as a sufficient condition for Americannunity and natural rights as a secular creed of faith replacingnreligious orthodoxy. In their eyes, America has never beenna nation, but only an opportunity to pursue happiness, andnthey are prepared to grind under their heel any peculiaritynof the American inheritance which conflicts with theirnideals. Our particularly British notions of self-reliance andncivil liberty—the real basis of our independence fromnBritain—were forced to give ground to the central Europeanndoctrines of state socialism espoused by many immigrantnintellectuals who learned to formulate their alien creeds innthe language of Jefferson and Paine. America may be thenonly country in history in which the newest arrivals felt freento pronounce on the national character. As a mercenarynofficer told General Dick Taylor, the son of PresidentnZachary Taylor, “We will teach you what it means to be annAmerican.”nMost immigrants did not follow the lead of the agitatorsnand ideologues who had found asylum among a peoplenwhose kindness has always exceeded their prudence. Then