Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"I'm So Glad You Speak American!"

If you know me well, you know I hang out on the socially and fiscally conservative end of the spectrum. But anytime I hear someone begin to spout off about people needing to speak English, my stomach gets upset and my respect meter takes a dive.

Perhaps it's the four years I spent studying another language, or the time I spent in another country (where, ironically, people made a great effort to speak to me in English until they figured out I could speak Spanish). It could also be the 10 years I lived in the brown half of a fiercely divided town, the men I have dated from other cultures or, I don't know, my common sense?

"I'm so glad you speak American" is something I hear far too often from callers. It is twice as disgusting as the usual English-only crud I come across. One, because 'American' isn't a language (speaking of which....'America' isn't a country, either), and two, because I work for an international company. Yes, when you call, the person you speak to may have an accent. This might make you uncomfortable (well, no one ever complains about the Irish accents. Maybe because Irish people tend to be white?). But it is solely your problem. The company I work for hires the cream of the crop at any location and while there is an occasional linguistic mishap, in the year and a half that I have been doing my job, I have been impressed. It is not anti-American of us to hire outside this country. After all, we sell outside this country, and if one thing is sure, 'America' sure appreciates our prices.

I think what bothers me most is that this particular brand of xenophobia tends to be associated with people and things that I hold dear or believe in. But you want my opinion? Here it is!

It is prideful. English is not a better-educated, classier, richer, conservative, better-sounding or more useful language. You just think it is because you have been speaking it all your life. By the way--thinking they need to learn to speak English to deserve to live here? Um, you were born here about four years before you became a proficient English-speaker.

It is ignorant. Do you know what I hear the most often? The opinion that people come to the US and never learn to speak English. After all, everywhere you shop, someone is speaking another language! Why can't they just get it in gear and learn English anyway? Well, I have news for you: THEY ARE. It's kind of like saying, "Everywhere I go there are more teenagers! Why can't they just grow up already?!" The problem isn't that the teenagers refuse to grow up (that's another post entirely), but that every day, more kids become teenagers. Likewise, it isn't that people are refusing to learn English--every day, more non-English-speakers join us in the great Melting Pot. You are just too blind to realize that they aren't the same non-English-speakers you were so hateful with a year ago.

Additionally, if your husband were transferred to Germany and you moved there 60 days from now, would you speak German well enough to get around town and get your business done? I highly doubt it. Don't make demands on others that you don't make on yourself.

When I lived in a heavily Spanish-speaking area, I got great opportunities to speak Spanish. But there was always a vying for languages taking place. I wanted to speak Spanish, my neighbors wanted to practice English. One gal, determined to learn the language, but home with three young children while her husband worked two jobs, would watch TV with the subtitles on, to try and learn to read and speak English while folding the laundry or cooking dinner. One semester she was able to join an ESL class that our church started, but her hands were simply too full to continue. (What? You mean they weren't on welfare, sucking our tax dollars? Sigh) Trust me, it isn't lack of desire or diligence at work here!

It's historically inaccurate. You think people used to hop off the boat and dive into an ESL class? Think again. I have a friend in her 70s who didn't learn English until she went to school, and she was born here in the States. You and I? Our backgrounds almost surely contain travelers who came to the US with a Mother Tongue, and sadly, somewhere our families lost them! If you ask my son, I'm sure he'd tell you he'd rather have grown up speaking German than walk to the high school every morning to beg for that teaching. My great grandmother must have spoken it as a child, but my grandmother never learned. The English-only attitudes that abound are causing families in this country today to try to not pass down this heritage. How sad! I will also point out that many Native American people groups are losing their language...and they were here before any English-speakers!

It's a bully's tactic. Pay special attention, my homeschooling friends. Those attitudes we love to miss out on by keeping our kids at home? I hear them in the English-only mantras. Good gracious, we wouldn't want anyone to be unique or different, no, everyone needs to be the same! And if they aren't the same, well, then, they aren't as good as the rest of us and they don't deserve what we have. (Interestingly, when I was in Guatemala with Wycliffe I learned that almost always, when a culture does not have a written language of its own, the people both within and surrounding that culture view them as lesser humans. Do we want to make people feel that way?)

It's arrogant. We can demand this because we are the United States? Few countries have this kind of rule. France isn't a country we want to emulate, is it? Most governments recognize that more than one language is in use in a large population. Why can't we? The prevalence of English speakers worldwide is due to just a couple things--British occupations and US pride. It might interest you to know that people in India (oh, the dreaded call centers!) grow up speaking English. That would be the English that is even more English than our English, a result of England's occupation there. And then there are those who cater to us because their economy depends on our money (see 'bully's tactic,' above).

It's useless and pointless. Exactly what are we hoping to gain? Discouraging people from coming to this country? Making everyone just like us? Or do we just want to be more comfortable when we go to the Wal-Mart? What insecurity is this feeding?

And, finally, it is not Biblical.
Ezekiel 22:7b The alien they have oppressed in your midst ; the fatherless and the widow they have wronged in you. (here we go...oppressing foreigners is listed with such things as raping one's daughter in law)

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 "He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens of Egypt." (and here we have a reminder--if you are a Christian, then YOU are an alien here on earth, as well)

Deuteronomy 27:19 'Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen.' (wait...you mean that doesn't say Justice was only due to them if they had learned to speak Hebrew by then?)

The entire book of Ruth (go read it, it's a good story anyway!)

I encourage you to put aside any patriotism that has morphed into pride, to make decisions based not on your personal comfort but on logic and biblical standards, and to open your mind and your heart to the joy that those who journey here, to be part of this great country, which was founded on the right to be different, can share with you if you are willing.


Random Fairchild said...

Finally. I can't even seek shelter from the "SPANISH IS EVIL" people in my own house...
Glad to see that someone out there has the will to will others to change.
Thank you.

shadowspring said...

People ask my Brazilian exchange student if he speaks Brazilian.

Americans are just not very well educated. :(

Jenny-Fair said...

Random, I must have Mackenzie to thank for your presence here :-) Ironic.

Shadow, what other language would he speak? *groan*

chica bonita said...

Thank you, for standing up to this type of comments... It's time to erase the boarder lines... I'm from mexico and it still leaves ne in shock when people ask me if i sepak mexican... really?

mcca17 said...

Yes,,different,,that is what America is about and definitely founded on Biblical standards,,,right on.

mcca17 said...

Yes,,different,,that is what America is about and definitely founded on Biblical standards,,,right on.