No Bilingual Commencements in New Orleans Please
New Orleans Agenda News Report
July 6, 2008

New Orleans Agenda, News Report, Vincent Sylvain, Posted: Jul 06, 2008

NEW ORLEANS -- On May 19, two co-valedictorians from Ellender High
School honored their parents for their sacrifices by incorporating
their native Vietnamese language into parts of their commencement
speech. They then translated those brief words into English for the
general audience. In response, the Terrebonne Parish school board is
currently considering a policy, primarily sponsored by Rickie Pitre,
to require that all future commencement speeches be in English only.
The fact that these top students at Ellender High School speak
fluently in two languages is a tribute to both their families and to
an educational system that has not, until now, compelled them to
sacrifice their culture and heritage for the sake of their education.

The Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association of New Orleans
(VAYLA-NO) is deeply concerned that if passed, this policy would
infringe upon the rights of students to express themselves in their
native language and devalue multiculturalism in education.
Furthermore, VAYLA-NO questions whether this policy would have been
proposed if the language in question had been Latin, Italian, or
French rather than Vietnamese.

The proposed policy will affect not only the Vietnamese American
community in the Terrebonne Parish, but threatens all multilingual
communities in this Gulf Coast region. Having come from refugee
families, many Vietnamese American students have overcome countless
life obstacles to become successful proud Americans. Many students
attribute their hard work and successes to the struggles and
sacrifices that they witness their parents endure as refugees fleeing
a war torn country during the Viet Nam War and as first generation
immigrant Americans. The ability for students to communicate their
appreciation to their parents in a way which can be best understood is
a right of all students.

Minh Nguyen, Executive Director of VAYLA-NO states, "This proposal is
a grave act of injustice to all who embrace the diverse communities in
which they are a part of. It is blatantly discriminatory and infringes
on core American values of the freedom of speech. We should instead
celebrate the fact that the success of these students are rooted in
their culture and their ability to communicate in a second language."

The Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association of New Orleans
(VAYLA-NO) is a youth-led community-based, youth organizing and
development organization in New Orleans dedicated to the empowerment
of Vietnamese Americans and underrepresented youth through services,
cultural enrichment, and social change.

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