Press 1 for English. Para español oprima numero dos.
When some Americans hear that recorded message they go ballistic. It’s as if a perfect stranger walked up to them on the street and insulted their mother, their spouse, their children, their dog, their goldfish and their entire ancestry going back to Adam and Eve. If this is you, we need to talk. It’s not like you don’t understand what “Para español oprima numero dos” means, even you don’t get all the words.
It’s a simple instruction, more easily understood than the bewildering English directions that come with today’s smart phones, home entertainment systems and computerized automobiles.
It’s Spanish, a language spoken in North America long before there was a USA. It was spoken in the Mexican Republic when the USA marched in during the Mexican War to steal northern Mexico from the Mexicans. It was spoken in Puerto Rico when the USA landed there in 1898 and stole it from the Puerto Ricans.
Yeah we stole it. Don’t deny it. It was just as much of an armed robbery as one of those knuckleheads who sticks a Glock in your face and grabs your wallet and your iPhone. More so even. Much more so.
Spanish is spoken in much of Latin America where the USA plundered its resources, exploited and uprooted its peoples, installed terrorist dictatorships and generally made life as miserable as possible for its hard working inhabitants. Actions have consequences. Does it surprise you that people uprooted with the help of USA political & economic policies come looking for some of the wealth that was taken from themselves and their nations? They are not even coming here to steal it back. They want to work for it. In that sense, it’s payback time.
In short, if you don’t like Spanish, you are living in the wrong region of the planet. This is not Klingon, Ancient Sumerian or the songs of humpback whales. Spanish is an American language. Spanish does have something in common with English though. English and Spanish are languages of European conquest that obliterated languages that had been spoken for centuries in the Americas. I wonder if you have a ever shed a tear over that tragedy?
But if immigrants from the Americas and across the globe want to come here, why don’t they learn English? Well most of them do with varying degrees of fluency. If they run a small business or are looking for a job, English sure doesn’t hurt. Their children are especially eager to learn English. They would be foolish not to. Not only is English the most widely spoken language of the USA, it has become THE global language. It is wise for people all over the planet to study English. In our globalized world, if a person is Danish and they need to speak to someone in Mongolia, they are likely to conduct that discussion in English.
English is here to stay for a quite a long time to come.
Sure some people here don’t learn much English, sometimes by choice; sometimes out of necessity. Not all us of are whizzes at language, especially if we are older or exhausted by work and family responsibilities. So be a little patient would you please?
Immigrant workers have traditionally been allies and often leaders in struggles for a better working class standard of living. The way corporate America is behaving today, we need as many people as possible out there on the side of justice. When Wisconsin’s working class people occupied their statehouse last winter, they weren’t checking peoples’ papers or their English proficiency, believe me.
Are you frightened that the USA might become a multi-lingual nation? Don’t be. We already are. Lots of countries are multilingual. In fact, two of our closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico, manage it. If we have questions, I’m sure we can count on them for advice and counsel.
Being multilingual has important advantages. Multilingual people develop better cognitive skills and are able to multitask more successfully. Multilingual people find it easier to be creative and flexible in their thinking and it even improves their mathematical abilities. Being multilingual opens up new possibilities for cultural enrichment through literature and direct human contact, expanding the mind to explore a variety of experiences. It enables people to form cultural identities and connect with their history, traditions and culture.
Oh and BTW, multilingualism is a sweet advantage in the job market too.
In short, being multilingual makes people smarter. Children who learn languages at an early age develop additional neural pathways that enable them to think more effectively. We should be marching on our Boards of Education to demand multilingual education for our children from pre-school forward. Just because many of us were deprived of that doesn’t mean we have to cheat our children.
Current research suggests that multilingualism can stave off the worst effects of Alzheimers. Have you ever watched the effect of Alzheimers on a human being? I have, upclose and personal. It’s a dark, dirty, nasty way to go out of this world. You don’t die like a character in a Shakespearean play with ageless poetry emerging from your lips as you breathe your final breath. No way.
Finally if you are so damned concerned about the purity of the English language, try this on for size.
The next time Washington explains that we are going to war with an impoverished 3rd world country in the name of “national security”, “regional stability”, or “human rights”, ask yourself what their oh-so-fluent English, delivered with such gravitas, is trying to conceal.
The next time a powerful multinational corporation tries to sooth you with their oh-so-fluent English to deny the reality of climate change or to extoll the virtues of blanketing our earth with toxins, ask yourself if perhaps they are poisoning language as well.
“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.”–George Orwell, author of 1984 and Animal Farm.
So what’s worse, the fact that a smiling young Mexican immigrant got your burrito order wrong or that the deliberate abuse of the English language is taking this whole planet down a black hole of truly biblical proportions.
Since I always strive to be fair and balanced, you decide.
In case your are wondering, my high school French would topple the Eiffel Tower and my night school Spanish would doubtless re-ignite the Spanish-American war. Does that make me a hypocrite? Yes, I suppose it does. But it’s me who pays the price for that.
Why should our children and grandchildren pay the same price?