Monday, October 01, 2007

My “Dear Veronica” Letter

Last Friday, for our weekly Moment of Whimsy, mwbh showed a video clip of a white guy attempting in vain to serenade a young Latina with a very poor command of Spanish. In response to a commenter who would teach her children Latin before she did Spanish, a woman named "Veronica" wrote:

"For the life of me, I can't see what is so wrong about Spanish, especially considering that is my native tongue, and quite a beautiful one at that."

Well, kids, here at man with black hat, we like to show that we care. So here we go...

No, Veronica, there is nothing wrong with Spanish. Yes, it is known far and wide as "the loving tongue." That was not the point.

You do not have a Blogger profile, let alone any indication of where you currently reside. Let's suppose it would be in the United States of America. Now, historically, the USA has no "official" language, but most people who are here for any length of time (and I'm betting you're no exception) begin to notice that English is the predominant language here. While this may not be the case in certain urban and/or rural pockets of the Southwest, this does not change the overall place of English in American life.

There are distinct advantages to everybody in a particular country speaking the same language. For one thing, everybody understands one another. This means that it is less likely that they would MIS-understand each other.

Okay, let's review. Understanding, good. Misunderstanding, bad.

Everybody got that? (Whew!) Good, let's move on.

Last Friday, we mentioned an article about research conducted by Robert Putnam, the author of Bowling Alone. According to a report on his findings in TCS Daily, "...a variety of research from the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe shows that ethnic diversity is associated with lower social trust, lower 'investment in public goods,' less reciprocity, and less willingness to contribute to the community. In workplace situations diversity is associated with 'lower group cohesion, lower satisfaction and higher turnover.'"

Veronica, I ask that you click on the quotation just mentioned, and read the article.

When my paternal ancestors came here from France more than a century ago, they knew they would have to learn English if they were going to succeed. My great-great-grandparents didn't quite get the hang of it, but my great-grandparents did. They changed their name from "Alexandre" to "Alexander." My father's middle name was "Andrew," not "Andre." And while my older relatives had a distinctly guttural accent common to the Rhineland region, they spoke perfect English, which is more than I could say for their French.

In much of the USA, a percentage of the Latino population can get by for years and never have to learn a word of English. They can walk into the local pharmacy, and the signs overhead and the product labels are in two languages. (When I go down the street to CVS, I have to walk around to the other side of the aisle to read the overhead signs in English. Why should I have to do that for the predominant language in this country?) There are grocery stores, variety stores, clothing stores, all of which cater exclusively to the Latino market. They can go to a Spanish-language Mass on Sunday. They can go to a job where everybody else speaks Spanish. True, their upward mobility might be limited, but that is the price they pay for not learning English. If they're content with that, fine.

But there is a price, Veronica, not the least of which is to be misunderstood.

I live in the southern part of Arlington, Virginia, along the Columbia Pike corridor, which is heavily populated by Spanish-speaking people. I can honestly say that I have never met a Latino who wasn't a good neighbor. I go to Latin nightclubs, and I get treated just fine, even though I'm one of the few "Anglos" in attendance. So this isn't some personal gripe on my part. Nor is it a desire to see people give up their heritage. But others had to face the choice of how to retain that heritage, while becoming part of the American landscape, and prospering as a result. Nothing more is being asked of those who have come in recent years from south of our borders. Yes, the entire Anglo population could be expected to learn Spanish, so that those who are currently a minority can have an easier time of it. But in light of the problems that would present, as highlighted in the study mentioned above, why should we do for them what we've never done to accommodate any earlier wave of immigration?

Because, sooner or later, we have to get along. And getting along involves being understood. And being understood... well, you know.


Tony said...

Magnifique, homme avec chapeau noir. :)

Anonymous said...

California's first constitution upon being admitted to the Union was written in Spanish. It indicated that the state would have two official languages, English and Spanish.
As a blue-eyed native Californian, with Native American roots, I am not offended by either English or Spanish, but am offended when people tell me and my children to stop conversing among ourselves in Spanish and "learn Korean" or Urdu, or Vietnamese, simply because we have people in our community who speak these other languages.

Dymphna said...

The guys who clean the toilets and the rugs at my job all only speak Spanish. Some have been here for years and they still can't speak more than a few words in English. The Hispanic attorneys at my office all speak perfect English. Knowing only Spanish dooms a person to the bottom of the economic ladder. If that's what they want, fine. Not everybody has what it takes to rise above their present station. But don't demand that I speak Spanish just to make someone feel comfortable.