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There is a new push by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to make English the official language of the United States. This is by no means the first attempt to get this issue passed. It is somewhat difficult to understand why many of our top government officials have rejected this idea in the past.

The rest of the world considers us an English-speaking country. Our Declaration of Independence was written in English. Our currency, which is used in most global transactions, is printed in English. Yet our government seems unwilling to acknowledge this very fact.

Our American English is as much a part of our society as baseball and apple pie. Learning to speak this language is an important first step for anyone who comes to this country in hope of achieving the American Dream.

I came to America as a young man from Germany in hope of finding my dream for a better life. Much of my desire to emigrate to the United States was inspired by my family's experiences with the American occupation forces at the end of World War II.

It was from the soldiers and their generosity that I learned my first English words - "chocolate" and "gum" - at the young age of 6. These were only two of the items the American soldiers were always willing to share with us during those difficult postwar years.

Although I could not understand them, I enjoyed hearing the soldiers speak and interact with each other. Back then, I viewed their language and their casual behavior as a perfect fit that I would someday want to be part of.

After arriving in the United States some 14 years later, in the late '50s, my first priority was to learn the language, which for me was without question English. I recall the difficulty I had in understanding it, because each person's pronunciation was different.

I am frequently reminded of these early days and the many people who were patient and helpful while I stumbled to communicate with them. While helping me, they often recalled their own family's heritage and struggle as immigrants on these shores.

I also spent many hours in movie theaters, where I learned from watching the screen without the pressure and the need to respond to anyone. As I became more comfortable with my progress, I realized that it was not enough to just be able to communicate. I wanted to be fluent in my newly acquired language, which ultimately led me to earn a college degree and the opportunity of a very satisfying working career.

To me, our language and our society go hand-in-hand. It's what makes us Americans.

For any immigrant, being faced with an unfamiliar lifestyle and a new language can be overwhelming. Americans, however, are perhaps most accepting when they realize that someone new is trying to fit into our society. We should, of course, honor our heritage, no matter where we have come from. This diversity is what has made this country great.

Our language, however, is what holds us together. Otherwise, we become a fragmented society that can be polarized and divided. It is amazing that after 236 years, we are still struggling with the issue of language identity for our country. Perhaps it is time that we become involved and not just leave this important decision to the few in our government.







Fred Bonisch, who lives in West Seneca, emigrated from Germany to the United States in the 1950s