June 9, 2006— -- As the debate rages on about whether the national anthem should be performed in languages other than English, there's no question about which language you should use to order your sandwich at one of Philadelphia's most famous cheese steak joints.
"This is America. When ordering speak in English," proclaims the sign at Geno's Steaks. Owner Joe Vento put up in the window of his shop six months ago.
"Your loyalty should be to America and America only," Vento said. "All I did was quote Theodore Roosevelt, 1907."
When immigration reached a record 1,285,000 that year, President Roosevelt said: "There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room but for one language here and that is the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, of American nationality; we have room for but one soul loyalty, and that is loyalty to the American people."
In Philadelphia, 2006, Vento said he was referring to the growing Mexican population. There are approximately 20,000 Mexican immigrants in South Philly, and 4.5 percent of Philadelphians are Latino.
Vento, 66, is the product of immigrants himself and he insists he has no ill will toward immigrants. His grandparents arrived from Sicily without speaking a word of English. Vento said they paid the price, and it was not until the second generation, his parents, when to school and learned English, that the family truly realized the American Dream.
"It [school] was strictly English. It wasn't in Italian, there was no choice," Vento said, adding that providing bilingual education and service at stores will ultimately hurt immigrants in the end."You just might have a bunch of people who are going to be on welfare," he said. "If you don't speak the language, you can never excel."
While some in the Philadelphia community worry Vento's sign might give the City of Brotherly love a bad reputation, Vento says his customers -- even the non-English speakers -- think it's funny. He is quick to point out he has never refused service to anyone who didn't speak the language.
"Here at Geno's no one, and I mean no one, in 40 years has ever been refused service for a language barrier."