I have a bug up my butt about something. (Shocker!!!)
As per usual, there are some random references and seeming non sequiturs due to the Rambling Train of Angie Thought. Hang in there with me for a few paragraphs or ten. Okay, here we go.
So obviously, I read a lot of blogs, right? Yes. And once you start reading blogs, if you pay attention to the comments, you start to realize that a lot of the people reading, commenting and blogging in their own right are the same general circle of readers and writers.
After a while, it starts to feel exactly like living in a small town. Everyone knows everyone else's business (though in this case it's because we're all posting our business on the Internet.) You get to know whose kid is whose, and you get to watch them all grow up. There's a tremendous sense of community, of tireless support, of cheering each other on. You mourn together, cry together, laugh together. Of course, you occasionally encounter bullies, judgmental people, jealousy, but mostly there's a validation, a relief, a feeling of comfort from the sense of "OMG, me too!"
And yet, also like a small town, every now and then someone busts out with something really close-minded, and you're like, wait, WHAT?!? The flip side of community and solidarity, I suppose, is a sense of insularity and self-selective isolation. (Here's where we finally get to the thing I have a bug up my butt about.)
Last week on one of the blogs I regularly read, the author was talking about how she's just not a big-city person, citing the usual urban complaints: traffic, graffiti, crime and (wait for it, wait for it) "bazillions of non-English speaking people."
She added the following:
"I know, that makes me sound incredibly prejudiced, but I like for the people around me; for the people who serve my food, and work in the dry cleaners and the grocery stores and the retail shops, to actually be able to speak the same language as their customers. Sue me for saying it out loud."
The commenters, of course, piped up in agreement. This is the "OMG, me too!" factor in action.
Commenter A: "I couldn't agree more! My daughter is acutally 1/2 Mexican/hispanic & so there is a very good chance that in time, I will learn some Spanish for HER so when she decides she wants to learn more about her ethnic heritage we can learn with her. But I will NOT learn Spanish for the hundreds of thousands of legal & illegal immigrants to this country. If you want to live & work in this country & receive benefits in this country, you should at least learn enough English to communicate during a normal day."
And Commenter B: "I love your comment about english speaking. If you are in America the least you can do is speak the language. I should not feel uncomfortable trying to understand someone while trying to do my daily errands."
And C: I completely agree that it is much nicer when those people who come to live in the US from other [sic] are able to speak the language. Of course, I probably would never publicly say this.
And D: "Lately, I've been feeling a little resentful over this whole political correctness thing; it's troubling to me that here in the USA, land of my birth, I am the one who can't voice my opinion because it may offend someone who may or may not be here legally? Who thought up political correctness and why did we buy into it? I am all for people--any people--wanting to LEGALLY create a better life for themselves and their family. The way to do that, however, is not to come here and try to turn it into the place you've just escaped. Speak the language and assimilate. The schools here are going broke trying to deal with those who don't."
There were others as well. Of course, being me, I hopped up on my soapbox and left a big 'ol comment. I left my email address and invited dialogue over email so the original author didn't have to moderate a flame war. No one responded to me, but that's most likely because the blogger put up a handful of short posts in a row and it got bumped off the main page.
Anyway, I still have a bug up my butt about this, and I spell-checked my big ol' comment and everything. So I'm reposting it below:
I know sometimes it's hard to decipher someone's tone by reading their words, so I will preface this by asking you to try to "hear" me speaking openly, evenly, calmly with a tone of respectful curiosity.
Why does it bother you to deal with people who struggle with English? Is it simply the inconvenience?
I hear C and a few other commenters say, in so many words, that they welcome people who come to America to try to achieve the, er, American dream. How do you know how long that the person who is struggling to speak to you in English has been in this country? Today I met a woman who spent an entire month WALKING, more or less, from Guatemala. She arrived on Saturday. It's Thursday. My God, the blisters on HER feet brought tears to MY eyes. How long does she have to learn English before native speakers dismiss her with impatience and irritation? Six weeks? Six months? How long does she have from last Saturday to "speak the language and assimilate"?
What is a "normal day," exactly? (remember what I said about tone now, please hear this in the calm, respectful way I'm typing it) I grew up in a small town in PA where high school football is king. Everyone knows everyone. We have a community pool, and a firemen's carnival (yes, fireMEN, we don't have women firefighters, politically correct, what now? :), and marching bands. Every church has a Christmas bazaar and a vacation Bible school. I learned Spanish in high school, starting with the basics. My love for language propelled to continue studies in college, and I'm bilingual.
I lived in Miami for a year, where I spoke Spanish more than I spoke English. I know the commenters here will think that the fact that I really HAD to use Spanish as a necessity in Miami proves their point. Like it or lump it, it's a fact of life that Miami is a tri-lingual city: English, Spanish and Haitian French creole.
I confess that I felt uncomfortable using Spanish when it came to car troubles and banking. I can't IMAGINE having to go to an emergency room, in pain, sick and afraid, and try to communicate in a second language while panicking.
Sure, I liked speaking Spanish on a NORMAL day. I LIKED explaining "trick or treating" in Spanish to my neighbors from Argentina because their bilingual children Miguel and Alejandra asked me to help their parents understand the completely foreign concept of dressing up like a ninja and a Disney princess and running around the apartment complex asking people for candy.
You know what I like best about being bilingual? When I realize that the person who serves my food, and works in the dry cleaners and the grocery stores and the retail shops is struggling with English, I reach out to them and I say, "Senora, prefiere Usted espanol? (That is, "Ma'am, do you prefer Spanish?")
Their eyes light up. We TALK. I usually need a few minutes to make the changeover to Spanish in my mind. I thank the person I'm speaking to for their patience, and you know what usually happens? They often try to switch to English. They tell me about the other mothers from their child's class at school who are trying to learn, about the "all English" playdates they have to practice with each other, the nun at the church that offers a Spanish mass who runs a workshop at 10 p.m. at night, when they finally leave their second job. They ask me how they sound, am I saying this right? We communicate, and it's wonderful.
I guess my question is this... How do you know that the people who wait on you as you run errands aren't spending their evenings in church basements with workbooks and language tapes, TRYING to learn, and the disdainful reactions they get from native speakers when they struggle only make them that much more afraid to try to speak English "during a normal day?"
And you know what? You're right. Some people don't try. Some people are too tired, too scared, too preoccupied with trying to give their children a better life, too homesick for everything they knew , too much in need of education to reach outside their own cultural comfort zone. But isn't that true of everyone at times? Don't we all have things, struggles, ISSUES where we need to be met where we are?
How can we love America, the country of my birthright, and Commenter B's and C's, and not LOVE the process of the melting pot? Sure, some of us have been "stewing" in the melting pot longer than others, but if everyone who ever immigrated to America assimilated and learned the native language... Well, then... Shouldn't we all be speaking Wampanoag, the language spoken by Squanto and the Patuxet band of indigenous people who greeted the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock?
English has the largest vocabulary of any other language in the world, in part because every wave of immigrants has brought words from their native language that have been incorporated DIRECTLY into English. Words like democracy, metropolis, monsoon, iguana, bagel, opera, tobacco, pashmina, sushi and nugget; never mind "venti cappuccino."
Anyway. I don't know if anyone is even checking this thread anymore, (they weren't) and I don't want to start a flame war. If anyone wants to continue this conversation, or answer the question I posed before- Why does it bother you to deal with people who struggle with English? Is it simply the inconvenience?- feel free to email me. Thanks for listening!
So that's what I wrote. If you made it all the way through this entry, thank YOU for listening. You should probably go get some work done or something. :)