A Cri du cœur in Defense of English from Cerro Gordo, Iowa

By William K. Black

Rick Perry is now pledging to save conservative IowaRepublicans from a great peril – accidentally reading a phrase on a productlabel on one’s soup can before realizing that it is written in a language otherthan English.
  Read and be amazed:

December 30, 2011

Perry Supports English as Official Language in US

“Perry, whosecampaign needs a boost before Tuesday’s lead-off Iowa caucuses, spoke at aCerro Gordo County GOP fundraiser and took questions from the audience at theMason County Country Club.

The voter who toldthe Texas governor he was tired of multilingual directions for products drewapplause when he said he’d like to see English become the official language ofthe U.S. government.

“I don’t knowhow the rest of the conservatives in the room feel, but personally, I’m fed upwith seeing the directions on every single product on every single shelf ofevery single store written in four languages,” said the man, who didn’tgive his name.

Perry replied,”That is a statement, that’s not a question, and I can agree with it.””

The Art of Generating a “Moral Panic”

Meredith Willson, author, composer, and songwriter of themusical The Music Man made Iowafamous.  The musical is famous amongcriminologists and sociologists because it simultaneously exemplifies andsatirizes the deliberate creation of “moral panics.”  The phrase is reasonablyself-explanatory.  The creator of thepanic simultaneously generates fear of and loathing for “the other.”  Famous examples in movies are “ReeferMadness” (smoking grass makes one depraved) and “Birth of a Nation” (blacks areout to rape white women and the KKK are the heroes).  Willson’s flawed protagonist, a not veryelite white-collar criminal, “Professor” Harold Hill, pretends to be a musicianand band leader.  He needs to convincenormally conservative Iowa parents to purchase expensive musical instrumentsand uniforms from him.  Hill’s solutionis to create a moral panic, which he does through the song “Ya’ Got Trouble!”  Hill’s song explains that the youth of RiverCity, Iowa are headed toward damnation because the town has a new pooltable.  Yes, a pool table.  Indeed, to accentuate the absurdity of themoral panic he is generating, Hill’s song differentiates between people playingbilliards (high-class, desirable) and those who play pool (low-class,delinquents).  Meredith Willson grew upin Mason City, Iowa, the county seat for Cerro Gordo, and based his play on hisexperiences there.  In the musical, Mrs.Paroo, “Marian the Librarian’s” mother, despairs that her daughter reads foreignauthors.  Mrs. Paroo shares the distressof modern Cerro Gordo residents with languages other than English.

Mrs. Paroo:
But, darlin’–when a woman has a husband
And you’ve got none,
Why should she take advice from you?
Even if you can quote Balzac and Shakespeare
And all them other highfalutin’ Greeks.

SavingCerro Gordo and the English Language

Putting aside the major imponderable – why is the “Cerro Gordo County GOP fundraiser [meeting]at the Mason County Country Club – one must delight in the exquisite irony thata conservative Republican who is driven to rant by the fact that some productshave labels describing the product in multiple languages chooses to live in“Cerro Gordo.”  Perhaps he is scarred byhaving to use these two Spanish words so frequently in America.  One must concede that it is un-American tofail to despise languages other than English. I have often been driven to paroxysms of rage when I see that my currencyhas been defiled by a foreign language.

Indeed, I havebeen scarred for decades by living in a city with an un-American name.  During my time in law school I lived in aYpsilanti, Michigan, which was named after a Greek hero of their war forindependence from the Ottoman Empire.  Ofcourse, Ypsilanti’s other claim to fame, the “brick dick” (a building voted themost phallic structure in a survey) may have been even more responsible for myfeelings of inadequacy.  In any event, Ifeel the pain of the Cerro Gordo resident beset by un-American languages on hiscan of soup.      

I urge thecitizens of Cerro Gordo to change the county’s name to “Fat Hill.”   

How an Iowa County was Given aSpanish Name

I can reassurereal Americans that the handful of citizens of Iowa that named their newlycreated county “Cerro Gordo” roughly 150 years ago did not do so out ofpolitical correctness or any love of the Spanish language.  They named their County to celebrate a greatvictory by the United States over Mexico. This was a very different era with no parallels to our own.  President Polk actively sought a pretext toinvade another nation, Mexico.  The U.S.had just annexed Texas, in violation of a treaty with Mexico.  The annexation followed the Texas war forindependence from Mexico, a struggles won largely by U.S. expats demanding thefreedom to own slaves.  Mexico, being abackward nation, had made slavery unlawful.   

Polk wasuncomfortable that his general, Zachary Taylor, won the initial battles in theU.S. invasion of Mexico (launched south form Texas) so decisively that hebecame a potential political rival.  (TheU.S. contemporaneously made multiple successful land grabs from Mexico in NewMexico and California.)  Polk, therefore,ordered General Windfield Scott to invade Mexico via the sea with the missionto capture the port of Veracruz (“True Cross”) and then march to Mexico Cityand capture it.  Scott’s siege ofVeracruz in 1847 was successful, but it gave time for substantial Mexicanforces outnumbering Scott’s forces to establish a strong defensive positionanchored on the heights of Cerro Gordo on the Federal Highway blocking Scott’sroute of march to Mexico City.  TheMexican defenders had the advantages of being on the defense of their ownnation, control of the high ground, prepared positions, limited frontage,greater numbers, greater artillery (in defilade)commanding the approaches to their main line of defense, and (what should havebeen) superior knowledge of the terrain. Scott’s forces should have been decisively defeated.  U.S. engineers, however, with Captain Robert E.Lee playing an important role, engaged in bold scouting that revealed a meansof flanking the Mexican forces commanded by Santa Anna.  The US flanking movement allowed Scott’sforces to attack the defenders in enfilade,which allowed them to rout the Mexicanforces.  The U.S. victory at Cerro Gordoopened the door for Scott’s capture of Mexico City, which led to Mexico’scapitulation in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  The war was as ignoble as any the U.S. hasever fought, but the U.S. army performed brilliantly at Cerro Gordo. 

The Rich White Sparkling Whine forthe New Year

Press reports call the Cerro Gordo resident’s statements toPerry a “rant,” but this is unfair.  Itwas a whine.  As a resident of CerroGordo the man has chosen to live in an area where he will rarely hear anylanguage other than English.  The CensusBureau informs us that while 95% of the residents of Cerro Gordo are white,they are being overrun by the 3.8% of the population that are Latinos – a fifthcolumn of roughly 1500 dedicated to the sole purpose of reversing thehumiliation of Mexico at Cerro Gordo over 150 years ago.  Mexican-Americans have long memories and aburning desire to bring about a Reconquista.  Mexican-Americans are not the onlyforeign threat to real Americans living in Cerro Gordo.  Roughly one-thousand county residents (2.4%)are “foreign born.”  Nearly one-in-twentyhouseholds (4.9%) in Cerro Gordo speaks a language other than English in thehome – the better to plot against America. Cerro Gordo is a veritable Tower of Babel. 

The Cerro Gordo resident who shared his pain with Perry wasnot suffering because he was forced to patronize the 1.8% of Cerro Gordo firmsowned by Latinos.  (Fewer than 100 firmsare owned by black or Asian residents of Cerro Gordo.)  It must be Cerro Gordo firms owned by real(mono-lingual, white) Americans that caused the valiant Cerro Gordo speaker’scry of distress by stocking products with labels that include languages otherthan English. 

TheIncident puts the Lie to the Canard that Conservatives Oppose SensibleRegulation

The U.S. does not require companies to label consumer goodsin multiple languages.  Many U.S. andforeign manufacturers print labels and product information in multiplelanguages so that they can increase sales and minimize costs.  It gives the producer more flexibility tosell its goods in whatever nation and region offers the producer the greatestprofit opportunity. 

Most so-called American consumers, unlike the real Americanhero of Cerro Gordo who brought this great moral crisis to Perry’s attention,do not have enough respect for the purity of the English language to be upsetthat the jar of mustard they purchase also says Senf on it.  It has come tothis in our once great nation – the language of the Third Reich is on ourmustard.  Why did we bother to fightWorld War II if we were going to capitulate to German demands for lebensraum on our product labels?  It gets worse – I saw bottles in the storeyesterday labeled Zinfandel and Champagne that did not even have anEnglish translation!  Wahnsinnig! 

The real American hero of Cerro Gordo who brought his cryfrom the heart about the assault on English on our soup cans to Perry’sattention, reminds me of that great patriot, General Jack D. Ripper in the movie“Dr. Strangelove.”  General Ripper, like theunknown patriot of Cerro Gordo that inspired Perry, was the first to understandthat the “loss of [English] essence” indicated that we were entering a fin de siècle.  “Purity of English” must be ourmantra.  As true conservatives we mustmake the preservation of the exclusivity of English in America our raison d’être.        
Only faux conservativeswould oppose regulation in these circumstances. Yes, consumers could just refuse to buy products defiled by the presenceof un-American languages on their labels. Entrepreneurs could enter the market and offer English-only labelspreserving the Purity of (English) Essence. But we should not rely on freedom of consumer choice when the assault onEnglish and America poses such an existential threat.  One cannot overstate the trauma caused to areal American when he tries to read a word or two in English before realizingthat he has been exposed to seeing a foreign language.  Our children are helpless absent a lawforbidding foreign words on products sold in America.  The danger of a pool table in Cerro Gordo,Iowa is de minimus compared to thescourge of seeing French on the label of cans of consommé.  RealAmericans believe in bullion, not bouillon.  

Why did Perry endorse the proposal to purify the labels ofour soup cans?  He is the chief executiveof a state with millions of citizens who prefer to have Spanish and English ontheir soup cans.  It is a testament tohis political courage that he would side with a single resident of Cerro Gordo,Iowa who is phobic about seeing languages other than English rather than sidewith those millions of citizens of Texas who would continue to betray ourEnglish language by purchasing soup with multilingual labels.  Only extensive government regulation of allproduct labels led by a Language Czar can rid us of these accursed languages.          

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