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No Bilingual Commencements in New Orleans Please

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.

The New Orleans Agenda newsletter is the leading local alternative for information on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast Region.

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