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61 C h a p t e r T wo Bilingual Personhood and the American Dream In America Is in the Heart, Bulosan shows the decline of Carlos’s family in the Philippines when the family mishandles their investment in their son Macario’s education. On the surface, Carlos seems to endorse American-style education compared to the Spanish one, which “was something that belonged exclusively to the rulers and to some fortunate natives affluent enough to go to Europe.”1 Yet they actually discover that the “free education” introduced by the United States comes at a steep price when their family, like “every family who had a son, pooled its resources” to put Macario, the chosen son, through school.2 Carlos’s father mortgages the family land on egregious terms based on a calculus of investment and profit. While the educational investment requires sacrifice in the present, it will pay off in the end when Macario enters the professional class by becoming a teacher after his schooling and elevates his entire family’s socioeconomic status. The family’s investment in human capital, however, turns out to be disastrous as Macario fails to meet the family’s expectations of becoming a stable member of the professional class and the father becomes a sharecropper after losing his land. Even before the Brown v. Board of Education decision in the midtwentieth century, education was viewed by many people of color as a crucial means of social and economic uplift. It would not be a stretch to say that the legal briefs on educational inequality during Jim Crow well precede the economist Gary Becker’s notion of human capital, which he proposed in 1964 to econometrically assess the value of investment in education. While the most well-known and widely Bilingual Personhood and the American Dream 62 accepted narrative of educational equality in postwar American liberalism is the progression from segregation to integration, what these terms mean in relation to a substantial meaning of equality has not always been clear. In Asian American educational history, for example , the implementation of integration in public schools sometimes did not get rid of the problem of the lack of support for cultural and language difference. When Brown v. Board of Education made the integration of public schools a state mandate in California, Chinese American parents opposed the busing of their children out of Chinatown to schools with white-majority students in a 1971 lawsuit on the basis that they feared their children would lose their home language and culture.3 While the historical path of integration drowned out these parents’ concerns, a similar set of concerns came up again only a couple of years later in 1973 when Chinese American parents in San Francisco sued the school district for inadequately supporting their Chinese-dominant children’s language needs in an English-speaking environment.4 On the one hand, the Chinese American ambivalence about English-language public schooling may seem to go against the ideals of racially integrated classrooms, so crucial to the era of civil rights struggles.5 Yet, it also taps into complex questions of what education is expected to offer minorities in a multiracial society with a vexed history of race. In this chapter I turn to the debates on public bilingualism to examine the rhetorical and social construction of bilingual personhood as part of the American Dream. If my discussion of bilingualism in the previous chapter focused on the colonial histories underwriting language difference’s translation into a cultural asset, I anchor my use of the term bilingualism in this chapter in how it was used in policy debates. With the debates on bilingual education and bilingualism as civil right in the 1960s and ’70s, race was no longer the sole determining factor of national or civic identity in the juridical sense as it was the case with Asian exclusion. These debates, rather, show how cultural factors, such as language, entered the realm of politics through legislation, litigation, and activism as key components of defining American identity and values. On the surface, the debates became bipolar. The opposition to public bilingualism argued for English as the one and only national language; the advocacy of public bilingualism contended that multilingualism did not diminish the value of English and that it was concordant with the tradition of American pluralism. At its most polarizing moment, in the 1980s and Bilingual Personhood and the American Dream 63 ’90s, these debates took on the traits of the culture...


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