Posted on August 10, 2007

English-only Signs in Merrimack

Jim Kozubek, Union Leader (Manchester), August 10, 2007

Latino people remain free and welcome to come swimming at Naticook Lake at Wasserman Park, but they are not going to find any Spanish-language signs to tell them the park rules.

The town council last night voted 5-0-0 to update the park rules only in the English language, ending a two-week debate that captured national attention and hit at such nerves as public access and immigration.

Finlay Rothhaus, whose grandfather immigrated from Germany in 1921, was the councilor who made the initial objection to the Spanish-language signs, and explained his line of thought to the public last night.

“My concern is that multi-lingual nations have a history of problems, and have no mechanism for unification. If you look to the north, Quebec made a move to secede from Canada, and the vote only failed at 49 percent. I don’t think we want that.”

An identification in the English language enables unity, shared values and public safety, a protective message that was similarly presented by councilor Michael Malzone, and resident Dennis King.

Proponents of English-only signs said that if the town were to adapt Spanish-language signs, the action could develop into a slippery slope with calls for signs in Vietnamese and Portuguese.


Parks director Sherry Kalish brought the debate on Spanish-language signs to a head last month, when she asked for a sign in Spanish per a police department request.

Police say that more than half of the visitors to the park on the weekends are often Latino, and a handful of those visitors do not respect the rules of the park by bringing alcohol, foul language and rough and tumble activity.

Rule-breakers often appeal to language barriers when confronted by police, saying they do not understand the park rules and cannot read the signs. Police, Parks officials and town staff supported an idea of a Spanish-language sign to mitigate those excuses.