Blunt. Brash. Bold. Politically incorrect. Unapologetically patriotic. Philadelphia cheese-steak king Joey Vento was all that and a side of freedom fries. The 71-year-old owner of Geno's Steaks died of a heart attack this week, but he reignited a national debate over radical multiculturalism that will burn for years to come.
Five years ago, Vento garnered national headlines when a local newspaper profiled his outspoken views on customers who couldn't speak English. He hung a sign in his order window that read: "This is America. When ordering, speak English." Though he never turned anyone away, the grandson of Italian immigrants informed hungry patrons that he reserved the "right to refuse service" to those he couldn't understand.
No menus in 10 different languages. No dumbed-down pictographs for the idiocracy. The choice at Geno's is simple: Sink or swim. Learn English or eat somewhere else. "If you can't tell me what you want, I can't serve you," Vento told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "It's up to you. If you can't read, if you can't say the word 'cheese,' how can I communicate with you -- and why should I have to bend? I got a business to run."
Vento's refusal to coddle triggered a tsunami of complaints from self-appointed civil rights leaders. The ululations of the aggrieved resounded from sea to whining sea.
For exercising his constitutionally protected free speech, both the Philadelphia City Council and Philadelphia Human Relations Commission launched political inquisitions against Vento. Yes, it really happened in the home of Independence Hall.
Members of the government bodies demanded that Vento remove his bald eagle-adorned sign and threatened to revoke his business license. After 21 months of investigation, a marathon seven-hour hearing and hysterical testimony likening his innocuous 4-inch-by-9-inch sign to "Jim Crow laws," he was cleared of discrimination charges.
Plain spoken as ever, Vento understood full well why the multi-culti mob wanted to gag him: "I say what everybody's thinking but is afraid to say."
As a fellow Philly-born loudmouth, I cheered Vento on for years during his battles with the anti-assimilationists. He weathered the same old slings, arrows and accusations of being a "racist," "xenophobe," "nativist" and immigrant-basher -- despite the fact that generations of assimilated immigrants and naturalized Americans agree with him. The vast majority of Americans support English as the official language of the United States. Latino parents in California revolted against "bilingual education" mandates that stuck their kids in Spanish-only classes.
Generations of successful immigrant families in America know English is the language of success, not the language of oppression. Yet, politicians in both parties have pandered ceaselessly to the language-Balkanizers.
The Clinton administration gave us Executive Order 13166, effectively requiring all government agencies to provide translations into any language on demand. Rather than rescind the order, the Bush administration went after localities and forced them to provide foreign language materials. In 2004, the Bush administration ordered Harris County, Texas, to provide all voter registration and election information and supplies, including the voting machine ballot, in Vietnamese, as well as English and Spanish.
Under the Obama administration, the Department of Justice threatened to cut off federal funding to the state of Oklahoma over a state constitutional amendment proposal to designate English as its official language. The Obama DOJ also has ordered my home state of Colorado to protect the interests of "language minority populations" by funding free translators for any foreigners -- legal or illegal -- who sue in civil cases here. In the same vein, the Philadelphia Human Rights Commission that tried to silence Vento distributes pamphlets asking "Are you a victim of discrimination?" in seven languages.
"Progressive" politicians pandering for votes treat non-English speakers as hopeless victims of white hegemony, instead of beneficiaries of the American dream. By contrast, small-business man Joey Vento promoted a common culture, a common tongue and common sense. We need more assimilation warriors like him to challenge the infantilizing Babel Lobby.