This country and it’s neighbors are nations of immigrants, Neither were “discovered” by anyone, just different groups got here from different places at different times. I can’t tell you how long the aboriginal groups have been here, but I know it was longer than the Vikings or Columbus coming. Everyone else to the area are immigrants. We came for different reasons, some to escape religious persecution (only to practice that here e.g. Salem witch trials, or current anti non-Christian sentiment), some came in search of a better life, or leaving abject starvation behind. Some came hoping to find treasure, some came as freemen, some came as indentured servants, and some came as outright property. We came from different countries, different cultures, and different languages. Somewhere along the way, it was decided that English would be the language used by people. Probably because the English at the time were much more populous than other tongues. So from then on, if you wanted to live here, work here, raise your children here, you learned English. People that immigrated from other countries that didn’t speak English learned to speak English. My great grand parents immigrated from Italy… they learned English. I have others that were French and Swedish, they learned English. They may have spoke their native tongues at home, but in public, in the workforce, and dealing with government, or businesses, they always spoke English. After WW 2 America became an international powerhouse. Other countries teach English as a second language from the moment the child is in school. There are some countries where they learn multiple languages early. American schools offer language, but not usually until middle or high school. Some districts are starting language classes earlier, but what do they pick as a second language, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, French? I learned Spanish. But since I never spoke it a lot, like most things I lost it. I always had difficulty with it anyway, trying to translate and conjugate verbs was frustrating. I remember bits and pieces, but not enough to be able to speak it anymore. Maybe if I were to live in Spain, or work in Mexico, I would seriously consider relearning it, and practice it more. However I don’t live there, I live in the US. I have a friend that lives in Italy with her husband. She learned Italian, as she saw that since she was living in the country, she would speak the native tongue. I have another friend that has worked and lived in Germany. He speaks.and writes in fluent German. It’s out of respect for the people. Most of these countries know English, maybe not in the smaller towns or locales, but major areas do.
So what does this have to do with a nation of immigrants? We still very much are a nation of immigrants, people looking for that land of opportunity. Some come here legally, some come here by other means. It’s a variety of countries and a variety of languages. Some come here and are willing to learn the language and become part of the melting pot that we are supposed to be. Others choose not to for whatever reason. Obviously the 2nd language of the USA tends to be Spanish. This is the case in Texas. I respect that people want to keep their language as part of their culture. I remember my great aunt and uncle speaking in Italian when they would get emotional. But they spoke English outside the home. I think that’s the way it should be, and if it makes me racist, well I am sorry. We somehow made English the unofficial language of the US, and I shouldn’t have to learn to press something on the phone to speak to someone in English. Especially when a lot of customer service jobs are being farmed out to foreign countries that learn English and I have to struggle with heavy accents. I am struggling to find a job, for many reasons. I could do a lot of jobs, but can’t even apply for them because I am not fluent in Spanish. I shouldn’t have to be fluent. It would be nice to be, but I shouldn’t HAVE to be. I am not sure where it became ok for people to demand that business or schools, or agencies learn another language. I certainly wouldn’t go into a foreign country with others and demand that they provide translators or documents in both languages. To me it seems lazy. Why is it ok that thousands of immigrants learn English, and function in society that way, but certain groups do not. Learn the language of the country you reside in, especially if that’s where you choose to live your life, work, raise and educate your children.
A couple stories that I often tell, I worked for an agency that helped infants and toddlers that had developmental delays or living with disabilities. Some of these families were Hispanic. A couple of the wives spoke little to no English. (one case was because the husband wouldn’t allow her to, it was a way to control her among other things) if my translator wasn’t available, it made it difficult to communicate with them regarding their children or other needs they might have. I certainly couldn’t discuss one child’s illness with her mom using her 8 year old daughter (the only one that spoke English) as translator; there were just too many things an 8 year old didn’t need to know, or would be able to comprehend enough to explain to her parents. How easy would it have been to have had the parents learn English.
The other story is less about learning English, but attitudes regarding other languages. I have a friend that was eating in the cafeteria at his workplace one day. He lives and works in an area with a high immigrant population, not only Hispanics, but Asian cultures as well. As I said he was having lunch with a friend, when they noticed at the table next to them, there were a couple of women speaking in Tagalog, a language of the Philippines. Occasionally they would glance over at my friend and his lunch companion, but there was no belief that they were discussing my friend. He decided to switch to speaking in another language which he and his lunch partner were both fluent in. At that time the women were leaving and stopped by my friend’s table and informed him in English that what he had done was rude. When asked what was rude, he was told speaking in a foreign tongue. When he said it was no different than what they had been doing as they were speaking in Tagalog, they told him they were speaking in their “native language”. So apparently it’s ok to do that as long as it’s “your native language” Who is to say that the language they were speaking wasn’t their native tongue? I know a young man who has lived here since he was 4 and now is 19 that speaks both Afrikaans and American English both fluently. His parents still use Afrikaans at home. He has no discernible accent when he speaks English, and I have yet to hear one when he speaks Afrikaans. So would they have been offended if he decided to switch to Afrikaans in the middle of his lunch? It too is his native language.
We talk about being a United States, and yet we continue to do things that separate us. We use words that keep us apart. We use terms to describe our race, what about just saying we are all members of the human race. Yes, I realize for some odd reason it’s important to recognize our ethnic backgrounds, but what does it add to wear them on our sleeve. Yes, certain groups are easier to identify their differences. so we should? We scream we want equality, but we set ourselves up to be looked at differently. Of course there were opportunities provided to some groups that others have had to fight for. But how long are you going to ride that train? How long are people supposed to apologize for how people were treated 60 years ago, or 160 years ago? People have crappy childhoods, some of us more crappy than others. Yet not everyone turns that crappy childhood into a life of crime, a life of bad choices. Privileged childhoods can lead to crappy adulthood just as easily. Privilege just allows for people to buy their way out of trouble. Is it fair, no, it’s just the way our justice system is. Sad but unfortunate.
If we want this nation to heal, and move forward, regain what it had, we need to stop being a nation of separatists. We need to find a way to come together, ignore race, religion, languages, we need to be the human race.