Hours after the House passed a bill making English the state's official language, Rep. Joanne Milner still has trouble controlling her emotions as she describes why she considers the legislation so repugnant.
The Democrat, whose Salt Lake district includes much of the state's minority population, angrily accused supporters of HB130, narrowly approved Wednesday, of wanting to make Utahns who are not fluent in English feel inferior.As the granddaughter of Italian immigrants to Salt Lake City's west side, Milner said she grew up knowing what it was like to be judged by others based on ethnicity.
It wasn't language but skin tone that separated her family from most other Utahns. As a child, Milner was told by women who attended her church that she was more beautiful than her olive-skinned sister.
"She said it was because I was whiter," Milner recalled, charging that the same spirit of racism is also behind the move to designate an official language for Utah.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Haynes Fuller, D-Eden, stressed during the hourlong debate on the House floor that his purpose was to draw different cultures closer together.
"If we speak in unison, we better learn to understand each other," Fuller said, describing his bill as "un-racist." He compared it to designating an official currency to simplify financial transactions.
The bill was amended at the request of Rep. Grant Protzman, D-North Ogden, to include statements supporting cultural diversity and encouraging the continuation of bilingual education programs.
The Senate, which last year narrowly defeated the bill on the last day of the session, will now consider it again. This year, Milner believes, it has a chance of passing.
A rally to persuade senators to vote against the bill was planned for Thursday afternoon in the Capitol Rotunda. Opponents to the legislation were to hear from representatives of various ethnic and religious groups.
The controversy over naming English as an official language is not unique to Utah. Other states, including Arizona and California, have made the designation despite protests.