Monday, October 26, 2009

try to speed up hispanic assimilation

Isn't it something how America still takes pride in being a "melting pot," a nation that draws strength from having such a diverse population? And yet at the same, paradoxical time, how it also still insists that immigrants assimilate as quickly as possible into a set of deracinated, bleached-out standards?

A couple of recent news items (described below) demonstrate how that assimilationist pressure gets applied to Latinos. For one thing, they're constantly told, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, "Speak English!"

What is up with that, anyway? And why, especially, the vitriol that accompanies it? What's that anger all about, that it would even drive people to wear t-shirts like the one above? Surely someone else's struggles with the English language don't cramp the ordinary white person's life all that much, do they?

Actually, I think a lot of this white anger isn't really about annoyance with someone else's struggle with English. I think it's more about the browning of America, and the supposed threat that demographic change represents to some nostalgic white notion of a fading "real America."

It used to be that white people were more firmly in control of things, and didn't have to share center stage politically and culturally with darker people. But now that so many darker Americans seem insistent about intruding on white America, insisting that it live up to its own expressed ideals and all, a lot of white Americans are basically insisting in return that even though those intruders don't look white, they should at least act white.

A lot of white people complain about people who "can't speak English" because they're really kind of wondering whatever happened to immigrants who were more than eager to assimilate. How come they're not so anxious anymore to become just like us?

Exhibit A: It's recently come to the nation's attention that police in Dallas, Texas have been giving dozens of tickets (and a $204 fine) to certain drivers, for the horrendous crime of not speaking English especially well.

Yes, it is true that the police officers may have been confused about a law that applies instead to commercial drivers, and thus wrongly applied it to people driving cars. Nevertheless, what message do these tickets send to Latin Americans who live in Dallas?

Brenda Reyes, a political consultant and member of the League of United Latin American Citizens, puts her outrage this way: "It's the principle of the matter that there are police officers out there representing our city who actually think that it's a crime not to speak English."

It also seems to me that this injunction -- "Speak English! And since you don't speak it well yet, here's a hefty fine!" -- again has more baggage and emotion behind it than a mere concern or annoyance with linguistic ability. It also carries the weight of all that anti-immigrant sentiment that gets unjustly leveled at Latin Americans.

"Speak English!" also means "Stop speaking Spanish!" And so it's one of many ways of saying, "Stop being Hispanic." In that way, I imagine that this English-only thing can feel like the tip of a knife. Or in cases where authority is involved, as in the ticketing in Dallas, more like the tap of a police baton, which barely precedes threats of the taser, the handcuffs, and the gun. We'd prefer you leave, but if you're going to stay, then hurry up and assimilate, right now.

Exhibit B is an example of something I've written about before, the common white aversion to unfamiliar names. This aversion sometimes goes as far as the demand for different, "easier" names.

"Hotel owner tells Hispanic workers to change names":

Larry Whitten marched into this northern New Mexico town [Taos] in late July on a mission: resurrect a failing hotel.

The tough-talking former Marine immediately laid down some new rules. Among them, he forbade the Hispanic workers at the run-down, Southwestern adobe-style hotel from speaking Spanish in his presence (he thought they'd be talking about him), and ordered some to Anglicize their names.

No more Martin (Mahr-TEEN). It was plain-old Martin. No more Marcos. Now it would be Mark.

Oh the ironies. This story is full of them, isn't it? (Actually, I think it could make a great movie.)

And that hotel owner said something else I've heard white people say several times before -- I just haven't gotten around to a blog post on it yet. Something like, "suspect that speakers of foreign languages are talking about them." What is up with that? It reminds me of yet another post I haven't done yet, something about how a lot of white people "get paranoid when they're around non-white people."

Fortunately, Larry Whitten's militant style has been countered with organized protests, and he's thinking about selling the place and leaving:

Former workers, their relatives and some town residents picketed across the street from the hotel.

"I do feel he's a racist, but he's a racist out of ignorance. He doesn't know that what he's doing is wrong," says protester Juanito Burns Jr., who identified himself as prime minister of an activist group called Los Brown Berets de Nuevo Mexico.

 (The Taos News)

It's a little strange that this story took so long to get national attention, since the Taos News wrote about racial problems at the Whitten Inn over a month ago, as well as earlier protests:

Among chants of, “Boycott,” and, “We won’t stand for racism,” protesters of all ages carried signs and shared their feelings about Whitten and his policies. . . . most people in town are supportive of the protesters, and even white people in town have been bringing them food and water and honking in support.

Two Latinos specifically addressed Whitten's arrogant, paternalistic insistence on renaming his employees:

Emilio Sánchez, 12, said he stands behind the protest and wants to see Whitten leave town; he said he wouldn’t consider working under the conditions Whitten imposed. “My name is not Timmy or Tom or anything,” Sánchez said.

Martin Gutierrez, a fired employee, "says he felt disrespected when he was told to use the unaccented Martin as his name":

He says he told Whitten that Spanish was spoken in New Mexico before English. "He told me he didn't care what I thought because this was his business," Gutierrez says.

"I don't have to change my name and language or heritage," he says. "I'm professional the way I am."

Isn't that the problem, right there, with this "Speak English!" thing that white people do?

Again, it's not so much about annoyance with someone's English skills (which is an ironic, rather ridiculous annoyance, given that it almost always comes from people who can only speak one language). It's more about denigrating that person's heritage, and so ultimately, it's about denigrating who that person is as a person, as a human being. It's about implying that they're less of a human being than we are.

These two recent examples of assimilationist pressure are extreme, but they help to clarifly what many white Americans believe -- that Latin American people just don't belong here, and if they are here, then they should stop shoving in our faces that which makes them Latin Americans. We basically want them to suppress and deny themselves, all for our own convenience, and so that we can feel more comfortable and safe around them.

And I also think that at its worst, it's as if we're saying to them, even with a simple complaint about their English skills or their unfamiliar names, "Look, if we're ever going to accept you, you must become like us. But then, good luck with that. See, when you get right down to it, we are superior, and you are inferior."


  1. At the veterinary clinic where I work, we have just welcomed a bilingual (Spanish/English) receptionist to our team. Our boss, a middle-aged white man, kept mangling the pronunciation of her Hispanic name. After much coaching from other members of the staff, he became frustrated and said that we all knew who he meant, and it didn't matter if he said it right.

    Thankfully, the other (white) members of the staff joined me in chastising him, telling him that if he respected her heritage/skills enough to hire her, he should at least take the time to pronounce her name right, and that she had a more Anglicized nickname (that she accepted enough to use as her vanity plate on her car) if he was having trouble.

    He brooded for a while, but later in the day, he very carefully pronounced her name correctly when he addressed her.

    Score one for teaching old dogs new tricks.

  2. well, i can't speak for the rest of the country, but in southern californian, super-republican orange county pretty much everyone speaks a little spanish. (i remember george bush, laura bush, and arnold all campaigning in the county, and they were deft enough to have signs/slogans that were bi-lingual.) it's necessary for communication, and surprisingly not many people are upset about it. maybe that bunks the whole white anger towards the darkening of america?

    maybe the anger isn't about race but about the inability to communicate? i know it's very easy to get frustrated when you can't understand one another.

    this is a problem for many americans, which says a lot more about education than about race, i think. if only we taught kids to speak more than one language earlier, and more intensely (like they do in europe) there'd be no problem if someone spoke spanish, because it'd be more likely that the other person would know/have some idea what they were saying and not meltdown in a very un-politically correct kind of way.

    what surprises me the most is that nobody gets mad that we think english is the original language of america... especially since i'd think cherokee would be more likely (at least on one coast for sure) but that's just me.

    all in all, the multiculturalism of america isn't a problem here in california. the whole state uses bi-lingual materials at least, and in the BA (bay area - where i'm going to college at the moment) there is tri-lingualism in english, spanish, and cantonese.

    my opinion is that these events are unfortunate incidents that get the worst possible light thrown on them, but the fact that our attitude towards them is one of condemnation rather than apathy shows how far we've come.

  3. It always boggles the mind when white people complain about people who are still learning English.

    Here in PA, many of our churches still held worship services in German until WWI. It takes a couple of generations fall language and all that to "smooth" itself out after an influx of immigration. Certain parts of the country will have English that is influenced by the varieties of Spanish spoken by immigrants - and that's OK.

    The only explanation for the impatience is the browning affect you mention.

  4. How interesting that a guy in a "majority minority" state with a Hispanic governor would be foolish enough to enforce such policies in his hotel. I have lived in New Mexico and remember some whites feeling pissed off not just by the browning of the state but by the political clout Latinos have there.
    I think in America there's definitely a tendency to devalue non-English speakers. The anger doesn't come from inability to communicate. If you truly want to communicate with someone, language differences won't stop you. In Europe, people constantly made an effort to speak to me in languages I didn't understand. One Italian lady, for example, was really excited about a comet she saw and did her best to explain things to me in Italian. In the U.S., we tend to think that if someone doesn't speak the language, there's no point in trying to communicate. The person is instantly othered. Perhaps if we didn't equate language with someone's value, those who don't speak English would feel less self-conscious about attempting to speak it and have more social opportuniies to do so. The U.S. mindset on language harms both native born Americans and immigrants. We are behind not only Europeans in our ability to speak foreign languages but Africans, many of whom speak the language of one or two colonizers, their native language and various regional dialects.
    This post also makes me think of writer and conservative Richard Rodriguez who's argued that English is a "public" lanaguage and Spanish, a "private" one. I completely disagree with this, by the way. So much business in the U.S. is done in Spanish, it can hardly be considered a "private" or "domestic" language.

  5. Maybe this is different from your state, but school districts around here are required by law to hire teachers so they can educate non-English speaking kids. In 95% of the cases the parents of these children are in the United States illegally. These are schools already short-staff due to budget cuts and are being forced to use text books that are 11-years old in some cases instead of the state required 3-5 year max. So instead hiring one teacher to educate a group of children the money is being spent to support one child who in most cases shouldn’t even be here in the first place. How frustrating is it as a parent or teacher when programs are cut because of this reason. I know one school that handed out six paper clips, a box of pencils, and 2 reams of paper to each teacher and told that was their school supplies for the years. If they needed more they would have to pay for it out of their pocket. Most did buy extra supplies so students weren’t short-changed, but teachers in our area are underpaid compared to the rest of the state. And this brings up another point. The teachers they hire to educate these non-speaking children usually make 15-20% more than the other teachers. Trying explaining to a teacher who has been at your school district for 20+ years how that’s fair. You can see how anyone would get angry under these conditions.

    I have to agree I think the big part of the anger isn’t about race but communication. I have felt my blood pressure rise when it takes 3 times as long to fix a problem because I can’t understand what the person on the other end is telling me, and I am a pretty patient guy. But then you take a deep breath and realize this guy is doing the best he can to help you and it’s not personal. Still, if I’m an English speaking customer shouldn’t I expect the company to hire someone who can communicate to me without mangling the words where you can’t understand them? Isn’t this policy called customer service?

  6. @Old Enough - Firstly... no one is "illegal" as you've mentioned in In 95% of the cases the parents of these children are in the United States illegally. There are undocumented residents but NO ONE is illegal. That notion is silly. Might was well make having lungs illegal. child who in most cases shouldn’t even be here in the first place. then where do you think this child should be? away from school? missing out on an education? in case you've missed the memo, education is VERY IMPORTANT.

    You know what could help with such a terrible state in education? MORE TAXES!!! wanna pay up? before you respond, remind yourself... NO ONE is illegal and all children have a right to free and quality education.

  7. It's because of this whole attitude toward Hispanics that I, as a Latina, have very little knowledge of the language. I can understand pretty well, but if I'm asked to speak or write, I'll freeze.

    Why else would my Spanish-speaking relatives refuse to teach me their language? As it is, because of the whole stress of "English, English, English," my father is not comfortable speaking Spanish and often denies that he knows it unless absolutely necessary. What probably sped this process along with my relatives is that the Spaniard blood present in our line really came out in my dad; he looks white. Me? I'm a little bit darker than him, I get some who think I'm Hispanic and others who don't.

    You can see that my poor knowledge of the language presents a problem, as I'm often expected to know Spanish fluently. White Americans especially are confused when I inform them that I don't know Spanish and cannot provide interpretation services. "But you're Spanish!" they protest, as if I would suddenly say "You're right! I forgot about my heritage. I suddenly can speak Spanish now." I've also had others who upon finding out my last name, tell me that I speak English very well. I often say "well I hope so, it's the only language I can speak fluently." Which often involves them shutting up or sputtering that I don't know Spanish? what? how is that possible?

  8. I already
    my thoughts about this issue, both here and over in the USA.

    Those tickets issued to people for not speaking English are appalling.

  9. I haven't commented in awhile. Just writing to say good job and keep up the good work!

  10. The way this post is written, you'd think white people were angry because Hispanics are trying to learn English and are having a hard time with it. That's silly. People are angry because they think Hispanics refuse to learn English.

    The idea is that a bunch of criminals are invading our country, forcing us to change our ways but refusing to change theirs, benefiting unfairly from our tax dollars, and taking our jobs. Some even believe that the high rate of immigration is a plot to return the Southwest to Mexico. I'm serious.

    This view is certainly influenced by racism. I don't understand why anyone would object to Hispanic culture and it boggles my mind that people object to having the option to press 2 for Spanish. And I think assimilation happens regardless. We'll influence them, they'll influence us, life will go on.

  11. “Those tickets issued to people for not speaking English are appalling.”

    I agree with you on this Cinnamon girl. I’ve never heard of such a law before and I can’t believe it would be considered constitutional.

  12. "The idea is that a bunch of criminals are invading our country, forcing us to change our ways but refusing to change theirs, benefiting unfairly from our tax dollars, and taking our jobs. Some even believe that the high rate of immigration is a plot to return the Southwest to Mexico. I'm serious."

    This is precisely why I see it as a class issue more than a race issue. Yes, brown people who speak a different language might be scary to some people (see also: Arabic), but I never understood the part about taking jobs. They take labor jobs, yes. That's all I've seen, honestly. When I hear these suit-and-tie cubicle jockeys complain about "they're taking our jobs", it boggles my mind. If anything, they're *saving* jobs. The companies are hiring them to do the landscaping and maintenance, while (unfairly) paying them a fraction of what they would a legal American citizen. If anything, I would think other laborers would be the most vocal, but I think the reason they may not be is because of union representation. I think if they didn't have that safety net, they would be a bit more concerned.

    Also, I wasn't aware that the term "illegal" was offensive. To me, it implies citizenship status, and isn't dehumanizing. I get that people use the word with lots of venom, but are we supposed to stop using valid words, because some people are hateful? I dated a guy who moved to Canada after the 2004 elections and got hired to work in places under the table. He called himself "illegal". It was not that big a deal. He was black.

  13. This also makes me think of your last post. But instead of using dress code to segregate areas often times you'll see English only signs as a way of segregating a space. I have always been against English only laws. Hell, we don't expect our own children to learn another language and yet we expect every immigrant to be fluent after crossing the border. Never mind that a lot of immigrants don't always have the resources to go to classes.

    And I'm sorry, but when someone can speak English well enough for you to understand it but it's not grammatically perfect that's just stupid to get on someone's case. It reminds me of all those friends I used to have who would make fun of my bad pronunciation and I'm an English speaker. Heaven forbid they meet up with someone who isn't completely fluent. Like people who bitch and moan about tech support with accents. And generally they understand the person just fine, but because they have to put in a little EXTRA effort to communicate it's the person's problem for not speaking English better. -_- And not everyone has the facility to learn more than one language fluently and English is the most difficult of the romance languages (right?) to learn. It's just ridiculous. Maybe if America was more into teaching our children other languages (like starting to teach Spanish at an earlier grade level) then we wouldn't have these issues. But no, Americans (or at least white Americans and Americans who have English as a first language) are under no pressure to learn another language because, you know what, pretty much every other country has their children learning English.

    So why bother, right? -_-

  14. "Actually, I think a lot of this white anger isn't really about annoyance with someone else's struggle with English. I think it's more about the browning of America, and the supposed threat that demographic change represents to some nostalgic white notion of a fading "real America."

    Yup - that's pretty much it. People fear things they don't know. It ends up sounding like, "They'll make Spanish more popular than English and I'll end up being the minority."

    Dear white people who don't like languages other than English being spoken here,
    All of the white English-speaking immigrants in the world have already moved here. That's probably why you're here. They moved here during times of poverty and oppression in their home countries. There aren't anymore of them in large numbers wishing to come to America. The rest of the white English-speaking immigrants of the world are pretty much ok with living where they are now. The thing is that there are non-English speaking immigrants who still ARE impoverished and/or oppressed. Shocking, right? I know it's hard to care about them because they don't look like you and now you can't even understand what they're saying, but I assure you that they're still human beings. They aren't here to change or take over America, they just want to change and take over their own lives. Your ancestors got to do that. You're living proof of it. You don't have to learn another language, but it does help you communicate better. So if you own a store or restaurant, you're likely to have many more customers if you can find some way of facilitating a sale between you and them. Just sayin'.

    From Victoria (a whitey who speaks Spanish)

  15. I disagree that the reason some people want to require the use of English is ease of communication.

    When the [American] national anthem was translated into Spanish, there was a *huge* uproar. Why? It's not like non-Spanish speakers didn't know what the words meant. It was that a claim to America--to being an American, and being proud of that--was being staked by Latino/as.

  16. Hawkmom, it seems like you're saying that the people who get riled up about Hispanics "taking our jobs" are mainly middle-class or upper-class people, and that working-class people don't mind because they have the protection of unions.

    I'm pretty sure most American workers don't have union protection, and I've definitely seen working-class people rail against Hispanics. It's not just cubicle jockeys. And I think when politicians say things like "oh noes the browns are taking our jobs," they're speaking to working-class whites.

    So it seems to me that class is involved, in that Hispanics are seen as competition mainly for working-class whites. But the issue is not that they are working-class, it's that they are different from us. Immigration wouldn't be an issue if Hispanics were immediately considered part of "us" upon entrance into this country. The question is, why aren't they? I think that's at least partly due to racism.

    There are citizenship issues as well, but that's quite the can of worms.

  17. How ironic that some Americans, who are against bilingual life, can't speak English properly.

    at least some Mexicans who speak broken English, can speak TWO languages (both Spanish and English), while these angry white Americans can barely speak their own native language.


  18. Every country has a national language. I think anyone moving to a country that speaks a different language should make efforts to learn that language.

    That being said, I think all Americans should make an effort to learn spanish and teach their kids spanish. Our country's demographic is changing and I think it would behoove all Americans to embrace this change. Also, like Zek J Evets said, teaching kids different languages in early development is really where we should be focusing our efforts. Teaching kids spanish at 15 is not the best time to do it, IMO.

    I am in the same boat as Kasey. My mother is Panamanian and I learned spanish as my first language, but when my mother married my dad (who is a white American), it was decided by the both of them that I needed to start learning english so I wouldn't start behind in school. It's because of this that I never learned spanish fluently. (Though, I'm not too bad at it and, given time, I could learn to speak it fluently quickly.)

  19. Someone mentioned that this anger comes from mostly people who can ONLY speak English.
    Europeans are more patient in dealing with people who don't speak their language, and are better skilled at getting their point across through gestures; Americans in this same situation tend to freak out after about 5 minutes.
    I think that's part of the problem.
    Monolinguals do not realize, in any way whatsoever, the patience required, frustration and dedication involved in learning a new language, ESPECIALLY as an adult.
    They also fail to realize that English is pretty irregular and that its pronunciation is downright wacky. Even a challenging language like Japanese has a logical pattern, once you see it. English is not a difficult language, but it's extremely irregular and has a vast amount of exceptions that can baffle the student.
    Then there's the issue of interaction: Monolingual English speakers often lack patience in dealing with non-English or heavily accented speakers. They become frustrated quickly, and get visibly angry....this is very disconcerting for the immigrant, and it's easy for him to say "Why learn English if I have to deal with these condescending people?" The backlash against non-English speaking immigrants is counterproductive. That is why I second intense foreign-language education in schools.

  20. @bluey512

    That's not what I was saying, really. I saw a lot of conflict among construction and labor workers back in my hometown, but not on a national front. A lot of the people "back home" are unskilled and don't belong to unions. A lot of hiring through placement agencies. I was speaking specifically about my experiences and what I know, while noting that nationally, I haven't heard the same kind of fervor. I assumed it was because of the union support.

    As far as those politicians go, I will NEVER understand how they they can working-class people all riled up about the!brown!people! and nobody bats a lash about their tax cuts for the rich. Doesn't make sense.


    Your story is all too familiar. I had a friend who was Mexican-Puerto Rican. Her father and mother, respectively. They came to the states as young adults and had a rough time with the language at first, as a result they never bothered teaching she or her siblings Spanish. They didn't want her to be teased or feel different. I was a Spanish major and fluent in the language, and it felt strange to me speaking "her" language to her parents and she couldn't. I do understand, though. It's still very sad that people feel pressured to abandon part of their culture for acceptance.

    A friend of my mother's, also from PR, and her husband only speak Spanish to their young daughter. She goes to an English-speaking daycare, but at home? Spanish only. She's literally growing up bilingual. I wanted to do the same with HawkBaby, but English is much easier (syllable-wise) when teaching a baby how to talk. If I were to put her in any childcare or hire someone, I would request they only speak Spanish to her, though. I think Mandarin is also an up-and-coming language that the next generation will have to know. I'm working on that for her, too.

  21. I teach English for non-native speakers on a volunteer basis, and during training it alarmed me to notice that there were a number of other white people whose stated purpose for volunteering was "helping immigrants assimilate."

    It's frightening the lengths to which whites will go to defend this form of racism, too -- as though their deep-seated revulsion at having to press 1 for English (or worse, pressing 2 (Gawd forbid we should have accept a secondary ordinal position!) -- were anything other than a post-hoc justification.

    @Elsarial: Not every country has an official language, though, and the US is one of those that doesn't.

    Still, I agree with you insofar as the local "Lingua Franca" is English, and the ability of any person to function broadly in public here is impacted by their degree of comprehension of that language. It's a useful skill at minimum. I am sure that, where a given immigrant community is large enough, one can afford to be more insulated, but it can make getting services outside that community difficult, not to mention the very real risks of dealing with the police -- who in many cases will be bringing their own racism into the interaction, and whose response to non-speakers of English is undoubtedly even worse.

  22. By "white" people, I mean people for whom the descriptive adjective constitutes a basic component of their social identity and world view. "White" people ALWAYS think anybody speaking another language in their presence is talking about them. It's a kind of guilty, narcicistic ethnocentrism.

  23. Macon, I feel the need to point out that this an AMERICAN thing rather than a white thing. Talk to any Mexican about the rift between Mexicans and Puerto Ricans and one of the first things they will tell you is "They refuse to speak Spanish to us, only English." Other races too, and this is one situation where other races can practice racism just the same because their being native English speakers creates an artificial upper-hand. And yes you DO need to look at the bigger picture to fully understand it.

    My fiance's English isn't great, but it is understandable and he also speaks Italian. Yet when he talks to people, some of then panic and give me this pleading look like "You look American, please help!" Like they won't even consider trying to understand an accent.

    Every Spanish speaker I know, including everyone in my household, is trying to learn English. It's not easy and not everyone has the time or money for classes, so it's usually via immersion. I'd like to see these "Learn English!" people actually try to learn another language.

    America is only accepting of non-WASP ethnicity when it stays in it's Chinatowns and Little Italys and Cinco de Mayos and St. Patrick's Days. Must be either safely contained or celebrated superficially in "safe" WASP havens with only stereotypical imagery to remind everyone of why they're out getting smashed.

  24. I've seen some pretty clear examples of racism where immediately upon hearing the different language/strong accent the person is dismissed as being someone who isn't worth the effort to understand. I've even seen people get really nasty toward people who speak English, but not "good enough" English.

    I've also seen simple frustration, where there is an effort being made to understand, but it just doesn't go well. I don't think this is usually racism.

    I live in North Carolina, an area with a strong, and growing, Spanish speaking community. I don't speak Spanish but can generally understand and make myself understood, at least for basic things if I just listen, make an effort and have a little patience.

    As an undeserved, but welcome bonus, when you do make the effort, people are usually really appreciative. On a purely selfish (and privileged) note, I love the feeling you get when something you've done helps someone else. If some of us are going to have undeserved privilege, (and let's face it, some are.) that's the kind we should promote and not the kind that makes us feel better by cutting others down.

    Also, just from my experience, I think most immigrants do try to learn the language and to a certain extent "assimilate" into this big old melting pot we call the US. It just takes a long time to become fluent in a new language, especially if you don't have the resources or the time to take formal lessons. Most people want to be understood by the majority, even if they also want to retain their cultural identity.

    We just have to give them the room to grow at their own rate.

  25. @Cloudy

    So much word. I remember telling a guy from Columbia about how I was going to Costa Rica to study abroad, and he went onto tell me how dirty the people were. Then he said something about how Argentina was okay. It was all more of a class thing, I think. And then there was Carlos Mencia who said something about a social hierarchy with Mexicans at the ops and people from Guatemala at the bottom. I don't remember the exact wording. Either way, those issues run deep. I had to Indians explain to me how those from the North and South of the nation were different or "better than" the other. A lot to do with skin color.

  26. The teachers they hire to educate these non-speaking children usually make 15-20% more than the other teachers. Trying explaining to a teacher who has been at your school district for 20+ years how that’s fair. You can see how anyone would get angry under these conditions.

    That's an excuse, my mother taught ESL for about three years, and she taught it because to her it was frustrating to see hispanic, asian, and other minority children being treated as other and herded into a class with one teacher who was supposed to learn five or six different languages. Yes teachers who can teach ESL get paid more, but so to science, math, and special education teachers. These are high demand subjects in many school districts across the nation. Why are you not upset a math or science teacher is making more?

    By the way, my mother has taught for over 20+ years.

    I think the anger is that to many people felt that those who don't speak English feel entitled and try to push their culture upon others. Then there is the assumption if you don't speak English, you must be "illegal".

    In this Dallas case, the woman is a permanent resident who has lived in Dallas almost 30 years, she just never learned the language. She has the legal right to be in the United States.

    Dallas has a huge hispanic population. There was an uproar a few years back when Pizza Patron, a restaurant whose demographic was heavily hispanic, started accepting pesos.

    Then we have Farmer's Branch ( a dallas suburb and former sundown town), which attempted to pass ordinances keeping people from renting to "illegals". They were concerned about property values :\

    I'm pretty sure most American workers don't have union protection, and I've definitely seen working-class people rail against Hispanics.

    Yes you see this hostility a lot in right to work states. Texas is a "right to work" state, which makes it almost impossible for union workers to exist here. They don't but in small numbers in comparison to the rest of the working population.

    Or course I find it reprehensible that a employer demand someone change their name to sound less "ethnic". If you can't pronounce Rosa or Juan, you need help anyway.

    Every country has a national language. I think anyone moving to a country that speaks a different language should make efforts to learn that language.

    The US does not have an official language.

  27. It was weird to have the hotel owner try to change the way people pronounce their names. Generally I try to learn how to pronounce foreign names correctly. I also try to encourage people to keep their name or at least I did until I came across a guy named Trushit.

  28. "Actually, I think a lot of this white anger isn't really about annoyance with someone else's struggle with English. I think it's more about the browning of America, and the supposed threat that demographic change represents to some nostalgic white notion of a fading "real America."

    I agree that for many white Americans there's a sense of change that's unsettling, and a sense of losing the America they grew up with. But I don't think the frustration and anger that accompanies this sense of loss is entirely about racism towards Hispanics. Racism, xenophobia etc. doesn't tell the whole story.

    An equally big, if not bigger part of the story is the fact that for decades they've been watching illegal immigration transform their country. And when they've spoken up in overwhelming numbers, wanting to see illegal immigration slowed down and brought under control, time and time again the political establishment on both the right and the left hasn't been responsive.

    Many white Americans (and Americans of all races for that matter) look at illegal immigration and the way it's changed their country and feel powerless, like democracy isn't working. That's where a lot of this frustration comes from. It's not fair, but in this context the individual Hispanic immigrant becomes sort of a cypher for this country's dysfunctional undemocratic immigration policies.

  29. As an ESL teacher, sh*t like this always pisses me off. I run a volunteer program off-campus, and one of the things I focus on the most in training volunteers (who are all students from my university) is that we can't properly teach our students until we know our students. The town adjacent to the school I go to has a steadily growing Mexican immigrant population, most of whom are not US citizens. Because of that, half of our issues don't even have to do with the classroom. Student retention is hard, because losing a job means a quick move, we can no longer offer the classes for free anymore because we received no grant funding this year, and when winter hits half of our students stop coming because it's too cold to walk.

    People don't realize how hard English is until they actually have to teach it to someone else. (I speak English, Spanish, and some Japanese, and I would agree that English is the hardest out of the 3.) My students don't have the luxury of learning about present participles and dangling modifiers; we teach survival English because the reality is that they are getting beaten down every time they walk into a grocery store, or a bank, or a gas station. Last year, I taught our advanced class, and even those students (who were fluent enough to read and discuss the New York Times) lamented the fact that people immediately brush them off if-heaven forbid-they stumble over a word. And this comes from people who 1) know only one language and 2) have an inadequate system for teaching second languages. As a Spanish major (and an admitted Spanish snob), it makes no sense to me that over 90% of my fellow Spanish majors, at an elite university no less, cannot speak Spanish (I mean it is bad. Walk into a college-level Spanish class and expect to find one, maybe two people who have an adequate level of Spanish. I actually want to be a Spanish professor, and part of the reason I want to go into education is to actually, ya know, produce Spanish majors who speak Spanish.

    I've already written too much, but I'll co-sign the comments about parents not teaching their kids Spanish so that they don't feel "different." That's why Spanish was my best friend's first language, while her younger brother and sister don't speak much at all. I always felt bad for the Hispanic kids in my Spanish classes who got badgered with, "How do you say this? What does that mean?" It's like some people think all Hispanic people have a built-in Spanish mechanism or something.

  30. HawkMom, if this is a class thing, why don't Americans rail against the hordes of Canadians who are in the U.S. illegally or even Asians who are? The anti-immigrant stance of many Americans has a clear Mexican/Latin American focus. This is not about class.
    Also, HawkMom, there's nothing wrong with the word illegal itself but with calling a human being illegal. A person can't be illegal. They can, however, commit an illegal act, such as immigrating illegally.
    As for Old Enough, I doubt 95 percent of those kids immigrated illegally. Firstly, the schools likely have no idea who came here legally or not. I have taught ESL to kids in a mostly Latino school and had no idea (and no interest) in which kids were documented and which kids were undocumented. One of the reasons Prop. 187 was so controversial in California in the early 1990s is that it would have required teachers to identify kids they suspected were undocumented. Schools, hospitals, etc., have no idea what a person's immigration status is. The only entity who should know would be the person's employer. Schools don't require someone's green card or permanent residency card to enroll a student, so how would they know if 95 percent of the kids were undocumented?

  31. @Samantha Martin & Siditty

    Yes, thank you, you are correct. English is the language spoken by the majority the population, however the US does not have an official language. My apologies.

  32. "HawkMom, if this is a class thing, why don't Americans rail against the hordes of Canadians who are in the U.S. illegally or even Asians who are? The anti-immigrant stance of many Americans has a clear Mexican/Latin American focus. This is not about class."

    When it involves other laborers and blue-collar workers, it is very much a class issue - as in people within that class. Many of the people who aren't affected by the influx of immigration have racist motives for their concerns. I'm an example of someone who isn't affected in day-to-day life. I don't compete for work, education, or any really, so I don't care. Aside from translating between store managers and Spanish-speaking customers as I shop (it's happened a few times), I don't really come into contact with many people who cannot speak English. I also don't mind dialing '1'. It's really not that big a deal to me. However, if I knew my only option was to clean buildings or do landscaping and a wave of people were coming in willing to be paid a fraction of my salary, I imagine I would be angry, too.

    Oh, and all Hispanic people aren't linked arm in arm in unity about this, either. This is definitely a class issue for many of them. I remember that was a big thing that got Bush re-elected. Latino voters and that damned fence. A lot of legal Hispanic immigrants I know couldn't stand the sight of "illegals". There was an air of "I was here first, and I've reached this level and you're beneath me." Very strange, but nobody wants to acknowledge that. It's all "whitey, whitey, whitey".

    Speaking of which, that's a good point about Canadians and Asians. I think a big reason (my opinion, not fact) is that they kind of slip in quietly and don't really make an impression. Also, they are a smaller group. Asians stick to their own kind and form their own communities. They're not insisting that the local Target include Laotian employment applications. Canadians just blend in. That's self-explanatory, and something that bothers me about white Americans, I must admit. Barely a century ago, blacks, Jews, Irish, and Italians (and other E. Euros) were kind of on the same level. We were all "niggers". Now, I'm hearing fifth-generation Da Silvas, Connellys, and Brenneman's playing the "those people" card. People my age talking this way! It's like they have no concept of history. Very frustrating.

  33. any particular reason why my last comment didn't get posted? I'm just trying to figure out if I said something wrong.

  34. SM, I've disallowed some others in this thread for being too far off topic, but I didn't get a previous comment from you.

  35. And I also think that at its worst, it's as if we're saying to them, even with a simple complaint about their English skills or their unfamiliar names, "Look, if we're ever going to accept you, you must become like us. But then, good luck with that. See, when you get right down to it, we are superior, and you are inferior."

    This has got me thinking. I really want to ask my mother if she's ever felt this way. I know she's experienced her fair share of racism and frustration from being bilingual (although, I think she speaks beautiful english if you ask me), but that was when I was a lot younger and she was less fluent. I wonder if she still experiences a sort of inferiority complex after all these years...


  36. If people really wanted to curb "illegal" immigration, they would go after the employers who hire undocumented workers and paint them as the "bad guy" instead of the folks who come here because of the opportunities presented to them that they don't have a chance to obtain within their country of origin.

  37. Hmm, I don't remember everything I said before, but basically I was just saying that there were some people I know talking about the tickets for not speaking English in Dallas (I live there)who tried to act like it was some kind of public safety thing because drivers who don't speak English can't read traffic signs, which I thought was really stupid, and then I remembered that you don't even have to be able to READ to get a driver's license in Texas, because I took the test here (I stupidly let my out of state license expire), and the computer reads the questions and answer choices as you take the test. Even more evidence that the whole thing is total BS.

    I have also noticed that there are many people who consider "not speaking English" to mean speaking with an accent. I can't count how many times I have heard an interaction where one of the people speaking was perfectly clear and understandable to me, and the person listening just could not get it at all. More frustrating to me was the person not getting it, like really, it seems like you have never interacted within anyone who doesn't sound just like you, so that's why you have such a hard time understanding? This happens with my husband all the time, and he hardly has any accent at all.

    And don't get me started on the whole anglicize your name thing, I should probably just do a whole post about that and the issues it has caused between me and my side of the family (here's a hint, my husband's last name is Husain...)

    I did have some other comment about raising a bi-lingual child, but I can't remember it all, so I will just have to let that one go.

  38. Or people don't want us to become a colder version of Brazil.

  39. @Brad - what are you talking about?

    Brazil is NOT a Hispanic country. For the record.

    Back to topic,
    "Speeding up Hispanic assimilation" has supremely racist undertones and it boggles my mind that anyone can't see that. It's definitely hard to say how (white)Americans would react to millions of (white)Canadians/other Anglo-Saxons streaming over the border "illegally", but that's a hypothetical. I apologize for derailing.

    I think the consensus is, among most (white)Americans, is that because the US is the "greatest", most powerful country on Earth, we are entitled to our monolingualism, almost as though we earned it; the whole rest of the world better just get with the damn program.

    America is, of course, only a melting pot for whites.

    (Please note sarcasm)

  40. I give you Exhibit C: I'm involved with a group of parents that has been fighting for fairness in our school system for the last four years, and lately has been meeting with school system administrators regarding translation of important parent documents into Spanish to facilitate better parent involvement throughout our community (26% Spanish-speaking according to one estimate). We had secured from the Superintendent of Schools a promise late last school year that the parent handbooks and code of conduct would be translated and distributed to all schools, and that there would be interpreters at all of this year's mandatory parent orientations.

    Score one for understanding and bridge-building, right? Wrong.

    This year, the parent who spearheaded the whole translation campaign went to his school's orientation and found no Spanish documents and no interpreters. We looked into it and found that, while the handbooks had been translated to Spanish, they weren't distributed to all schools, and no systemwide effort was made to secure translation for parents who need it. There were at least nine schools in our district that literally didn't get the memo.

    Notice that we weren't demanding to have classes translated, or homework in Spanish, or Spanish-speaking staff on hand at all times. Just the bare minimum that would help a quarter of our parents feel a little more at home in our school system (which, by the way, just started a major reform initiative - shows you how well it's doing...) and let them know exactly what is expected of them and their children, as well as the school's official disciplinary policies. Didn't happen, despite having been promised. THAT AIN'T RIGHT!

    This was one broken promise too many, so we escalated, and staged a protest outside the next Board of Ed meeting. Results here: the local independent Web paper and the local mainstream paper.

    The comments section in both articles, but most of all in the mainstream paper (and even worse in the Yale Daily News, which I won't even grace with a hyperlink) are full of "Speak English!", "OUR tax dollars funding this crap!", "Speak English!", "bunch of illegals...", "Speak English!" and even one "why can't they be like the Asian parents, who seem to have no problem?"

    The battle is ongoing.

  41. they're out to get meOctober 27, 2009 at 8:00 PM

    I'm guilty of thinking people speaking in other languages are talking about me. Once I was at the park and there was this group of girls speaking Korean. They said something then all turned and looked at me, then just burst out laughing. It really hurt my feelings / made me feel self conscious and I don't even know what they said.

    I've seen documentaries where subtitles reveal that people speaking in other languages really are talking about the person there, and to be honest, if I were the manager of a hotel or anything really I would want all of the employees to speak English for that very reason.

    I don't think the manager was racist. When people become so quick to call people racist, the term loses its meaning.

  42. @they're out to get me

    I can understand the paranoia that a person can feel when being around people that speak another language. And if they turn, look at you, and laugh, then that just heightens it.

    However, ticketing someone for not speaking English and giving spanish people english-sounding names is blatantly racist to me. Nobody should have to change their name. EVER. It's a part of who you are.

  43. @Hawkmom

    Yes, thank you, you and I are in total agreement. While it certainly does have a racial component to it, it's about "those poor, dirty, boarder-jumpers". Mexico is thought of as a place full of corruption and poverty, and Americans love to feel superior to everyone else.

    There are actually lots of illegal immigrants from Ireland. No one is afraid of "the diseases they bring" or "what happens when they can't pay for their hospital visit and we have to foot the bill?" At most, people assume they're associated with the IRA. The Irish/Irish-Americans* are still outsiders in America, but they're on the same economic level as America and people equate money with being civilized.

    Oh and people getting bent out of shape about the term "illegal"... that's what they call themselves/refer to themselves as. It's not a slur.

    *As in really Irish, not someone whose only attachment to their ethnicity is getting drunk every March 17th.

  44. 'Generally I try to learn how to pronounce foreign names correctly.' (capturedshadow)
    A good-faith effort is all anyone can reasonably ask. If you think you can pronounce all foreign names correctly, all it means people are too polite to correct you. I gave up on learning Polish when I noted they have tree consonants and one vowel I could not distinguish or pronounce.

  45. White people shouldn't have invaded their land/brought them over as slaves and forced them to speak Spanish in the first place. Sometimes racism DOES come back to bite people in the ass.

  46. The comeback I always use when a WASP says that Latino people should speak English or go home, is to say to them that if they are going to insist on speaking English, they can go back to England.

  47. realism said...
    White people shouldn't have invaded their land/brought them over as slaves and forced them to speak Spanish in the first place. Sometimes racism DOES come back to bite people in the ass.

    Exactly, succinctly said!

  48. I never said Brazil was Spanish, only poorer, more corrupt, more inefficient and with much higher rates of illiteracy, unemployment, environmental degradation and violence against women and children than the US.
    I once asked some Portuguese immigrants why they didn't go to Brazil instead of the US; after all, British and Irish people tend not to go to Latin America but to other English-speaking countries.
    They said that Portugal hadn't done as good a job with its colonies as the British and that in the US there was less crime and you could make more money and not have to bribe corrupt public officials and schools to get things "fixed".

  49. I found it very ironic that the hotel thought hispanic names would be difficult for people to pronounce, especially since my whole life strangers, mostly whites, have mistakenly called me Maria or Mary.

  50. Yeah, a change of 'complexion' by an influx of immigrants, legal or illegal, is usually disconcerting to any society. And this is regardless of class. For example, Asian immigrants to Australia are made up of both working class and upper-middle class people from Asia. Working class ones are accused of taking away jobs and tax money. The well-off ones are also accused of taking tax money - e.g. 'They buy such an expensive house and how dare they get a first-home-buyer's grant from the government like everybody else?' Or, taking away seats in universities. Or there's a sense of, 'They're from Asia, how dare they be well-off?' because, apparently, Asians are expected to be poor. So, it really doesn't matter what the newcomers are like, as long as they're *different*, people will find reasons for why 'these' people don't belong here.

    HawkMom said> There was an air of "I was here first, and I've reached this level and you're beneath me." Very strange, but nobody wants to acknowledge that. It's all "whitey, whitey, whitey".

    Actually, we did acknowledge it in a previous post. Russell Peters talks about it too:

  51. 1) What I find amazing is that often, the people who get so upset-- downright offended-- when they hear Spanish spoken in America (really, how often are people speaking Spanish to them?) are the very same people who travel to other countries and expect everyone to speak English to them. In other words, their attitude at home is, "Show some respect! You're in America; speak English!" And their attitude abroad is, "Gah! Your stupid language! Doesn't anyone here speak English?!" I've travelled quite a bit, and I've seen this with my own eyes. (It does not go over well.) No respect, no apology, no humility, it's: "what's wrong with you?" Note also that it doesn't matter if you speak 5 languages-- if English isn't one of them, you're uneducated and useless. Never mind that a shocking proportion of Americans have barely mastered one language.

    2) Is it me, or is learning English not always enough? Seems to me that even having certain accents is not allowed. The message seems to be not so much "start assimilating," it's, "stop having been foreign-born!" Eh?? (And yet, I can't tell you how many friends I've had whose Russian, or Italian, or Whatever grandparents never learned to speak English, and that seems to be okay.)

  52. I think that if you have a liscense to drive in the US, where all the street and traffic signs are in English, you should have to at least pass a proficiency test or SOMETHING. That's just a common sense safety issue, not racist in any way. I think it's the same as being illiterate, and if you cant read English, even if you are American and can speak it, you shouldn't be able to drive. would it make sense to go to Turkey or Azerbaijan, or Spain, and drive there when you cant read any of the street signs??? If they were given a ticket for just being on the street and not speaking English when a cop came up to them, that's different, and racist. But just like your eyes have to be at a certain functional level to drive, so should your grasp of the English language.

  53. get real, i gather you're one of those peeps who likes to keep things simple?

    this woman had been in the states for twenty years -- she must have known how to read some english, and how to speak some of it. but under duress in the spotlight glare of a hostile officer, she probably blanked out and couldn't speak english. that doesn't mean she couldn't read stop signs and so on, all of which also have distinctive shapes. after all, she got a driver's license, ya know?

  54. @getreal

    1.Street signs are not instruction manuals. They're usually pretty simple. 'West', 'East', (Highway) '401', 'Broadway', and the rest is in pictures. This is because people who are driving don't have time to read long paragraphs. This is as complicated as it gets:

    2.There's such a thing as an international license where you can go to other countries, not speak a word of their language and still drive for a few months (the length of time varies depending on the country) on that. So, I think it is assumed that it doesn't take much language skills to know how to drive in that country.

    The driving test usually uses English that is more complex than street signs. The driving test IS the proficiency test.

  55. @ getreal, I don't know if you saw my post before, but I pointed out that I'm from Texas, and you don't have to be able to read at all to get a driver's license, so that is total BS. Plus, under TExas law, you can drive on a valid driver's license from another country for up to a year. So obviouksy that is not what is going on here.

  56. These brown berets got me thinking about the militant style of garb seen by Latino residents of that small town in Pennsylvania after a Latino boy was killed by white teens (who got off by the way). I am by no means trying to pit POC against one another but I think as time goes by and other minority groups begin to realize discrimination is not just an daily annoyance but can also manifest itself in deadly acts of aggression, they more powerfully understand the plight of blacks (we, the bottom of the social barrel) and realize that complete assimilation is as dangerous as silence. There is nothing wrong with learning to speak English but when we start LETTING others change our names and tell us how to think, we endanger become homeless, subordinate, confused and self-hating.

  57. I live in a west texas/border town with a hispanic (mostly mexican) population of 80 percent the other 20 mostly white and my girlfreind was telling me that at the university there was these two guys speaking spanish and an older white person told them to "speak english or leave", and the spanish speaking students ignored him, however i do understand the comment the white said because in this town almost everybody speaks spanish and english (including whites and blacks) and some only spanish but with the influx of military families (mosly white and black) there seems to be some sort of cultural clash. I undersand if whites or blacks get offended because after all, whether you like or not, english is pretty much the offcial language (or to be politicaly incorrect its the unnoficial language), and i do encourage peopleto speak english for our visitors who are bring economic developement and not scare the whites away. Seriously, you could only know spanish and get around town, and some whites that dont know spanish cant even get McDonald jobs. Btw Hispanic names are anglo names or christian/european names, so i doubt its that hard to pronounce Jose,Jesus, or any other streotypical spanish name.

    I love living in this town, probabaly the only place where i could have a conversation in spanish with an American white or black guy, and as a Mexican, i believe some of the anti-spanish remarks are made from frustraion more than racism, at least from what i experienced.

    Because of this white assimilation attiude, the next generation of hispanics are not going to be able to speak spanish, remeber italians,asians,french and asian immigrants faced this problem...


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