- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 12, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Critics of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s comments about multiculturalism say immigrants still need to learn English to succeed in the United States — and that they are trying.

Roberto Allen, president of the Baltimore Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday that some immigrants come here and never learn English, “but the majority want to.”

The multiculturalism debate, essentially over whether immigrants should keep their heritage or assimilate into their new community, flared anew last week when state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, a Democrat and former Maryland governor, complained about an awkward interaction at a McDonald’s with an employee who spoke little English.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, later defended his political ally and rejected the idea of multiculturalism during a call-in show on WBAL-AM radio in Baltimore.

He has since stood by his remarks, despite criticism that has come mostly from political opponents.

“The bottom line is, if you want to get ahead … learning English is a good thing,” he said.

Mr. Allen acknowledged that many older Hispanics still primarily speak Spanish and have little interest in learning English, but they are the exception.

He said many Hispanics, perhaps like the one Mr. Schaefer encountered, are working their first job while also trying to learn English.

“I don’t think someone needs to be able to speak the king’s English to work at Burger King,” he said.

Luis Borunda, chairman of the Hispanic Republicans of Maryland, the official outreach arm for the party, said Mr. Ehrlich expressed “what needed to be said.”

He said Hispanics are in fact clamoring to assimilate into their new culture as soon as they arrive in the United States.

“You cannot get into an … English class in Silver Spring and Prince George’s County,” Mr. Borunda said. “People realize that you have to speak English to do well in this country.”

Jorge Ribas, chairman of Maryland Hispanic Republican Caucus and frequent critic of Mr. Ehrlich, called the governor’s comments divisive and said they would cost the party votes.

However, he acknowledged that Hispanics must learn the language of their new culture.

“We all want to learn English,” he said. “If my accent is bad, that is not my fault.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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