- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2006

EL CENIZO, Texas (AP) — A Spanish-only ordinance in 1999 put the Mexican border town of El Cenizo on the map, but many of the town’s residents and officials are squarely behind a push for English to be the language of choice for Americans.

President Bush said in an immigration-reform speech last week that all immigrants should learn to speak and write English as “the key to unlocking the opportunity of America.” Earlier, the U.S. Senate approved a resolution stating that the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance and the citizenship oath should be spoken or sung in English.

Raul L. Reyes, El Cenizo’s 22-year-old mayor, was critical of the promotion of a Spanish version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” He said the flag and national anthem are “sacred.”

“I wouldn’t go getting Mexico’s flag and coloring it red, white and blue,” he said.

The Spanish version of the national anthem debuted last month, and many El Cenizo residents did not like it one bit: “It’s an offense,” El Cenizo city secretary Magda Gonzales said.

Two decades ago, El Cenizo was just another of hundreds of “colonias” along the U.S.-Mexico border — shantytowns where people lived on plots of land and used whatever they could find to build shelter against the sun. There was no water, sewer or paved roadways. Cars and pickup trucks came in the mornings to bring men to their jobs in the onion fields and women to domestic jobs in Laredo, about 10 miles north.

In 1989, El Cenizo was incorporated, city services were created and things began to improve. To leaders of the young city, the decision about a decade later to hold City Council meetings in Spanish made sense. Everyone spoke Spanish anyway. It wasn’t a political statement, but common sense, they said.

No one foresaw the reaction when news outlets began reporting about the little town that spoke Spanish: Hate mail came from across the nation. White supremacists threatened to burn down the place.

Mr. Reyes said he understands the furor.

“It was something that El Cenizo was the first city to actually do, to execute the right to do. … [But] we’re not encouraging people to only speak Spanish in El Cenizo.”

The town of 6,500 now is swinging back toward favoring English, and the English-language classes every Thursday night at City Hall are just one indicator.

The city’s entry sign — which a few years ago depicted a worker holding both the U.S. and Mexican flags — has been whitewashed and now reads, “Welcome to El Cenizo.” Political signs are bilingual. So are signs announcing “El Cenizo Recreation Center” and “Future Site of El Cenizo Public Library.” The phone at City Hall usually is answered in English. This year, El Cenizo will have its first citywide Fourth of July celebration, with food and decorations and an ROTC color guard.

The National Anthem will be sung. In English.

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