THE BLOG
02/03/2014 05:37 pm ET | Updated Apr 05, 2014

America Is Beautiful, and Bigotry Is Ugly

The Nativist backlash to a Super Bowl ad featuring multilingual versions of "America the Beautiful" brought out the best and worst in our country, heralding the goals of and obstacles to immigration reform.

The best was the desire for Americans across the United States, from Vice President Joe Biden to everyday people, to weigh in with paeans to diversity as our strength using the #AmericaIsBeautiful hashtag. The worst were the boycott and expletive hashtags urging us to "speak American," as if that were actually a language.

Beyond stirring more drama than the lopsided Seahawks win, why did the "America is beautiful" meme matter?

First, because America is beautiful and bigotry is ugly. It is shameful that a segment of our society chose to "other" non-English singers of "America the Beautiful" as somehow not American.

Second, "America is beautiful" matters because we are engaged in a bipartisan push for comprehensive immigration reform wherein the conscience of our country is challenged. "Speak American" is code for white American -- and a dogwhistle to nativists' ugliest impulses.

Third, "America is beautiful" matters because our fellow and sister Americans need multi-lingual hospital information, ballots, and law enforcement resources to be fully enfranchised in society.

When a sick person enters the ER, having multilingual services ensures not only the health of that patient, but of others in the case of disease. When a voter seeks to exercise the precious right to vote, multilingual materials ensure the full expression of that civic sacrament. When a crime victim or witness comes forward, multilingual law enforcement ensures access to justice.

Limiting hospital access means sicker neighbors. Limiting ballot access means fewer empowered voters. Now ballot access might appeal to some nativists, but who in the world wants to limit law enforcement, military and intelligence officials from communication with crime victims, witnesses and even anti-terror informants? As a former prosecutor, I can attest that multilingual court interpreters are integral to the pursuit of justice.

Because bigotry is ugly, because we need comprehensive immigration reform that treats all as equals with no second-class citizens or second-class Americans, and because we all need access to health, voting and justice, we must advance not attack multilingualism. When we draw strength from the liberty to speak or sing or shout our truth in our language of choice, America is beautiful.