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  • Press One for English

       June 06, 2010

    One of my Facebook friends posted this video yesterday:

    Besides being a terrible song, it's seems terribly mean-spirited, doesn't it? It's one thing to say or think that recent immigrants and their kids should learn English as soon as possible because it's economically and socially essential, but it's another to say, as this song does, that once you get here you should stop speaking your native tongue.

    So basically, the song says that immigrants to America you should stop having your culture and adopt American culture. Isn't that completely backwards? I thought America was a melting pot that absorbed the best of the world, rather than a hammer stamping out non-conformity?

    I'll admit it. I'm annoyed by having the press "1" for English. But I'm annoyed by a lot of things. As a country, I think we're far better off with an annoyed me and native-Spanish speaker who can better understand what she's doing on the IVR. And you know, even if every recent immigrant immediately took ESL classes, wouldn't they still need lots of initial help? Are subtitles really that big of a deal?

    I was getting a pedicure yesterday and the Thai woman next to me was telling her girl about how her daughter was raising money to go to a cheerleading competition in Florida. She was struggling with the word "competition" and apologized rather self-consciously a couple of times for her English. At that point I inserted myself into the conversation to just tell her that, my God, her English was great. She had only been in America for four years, she told me. I told her that if were living in Thailand for four years I'd probably still be lost. Most Americans would be. We're spoiled because English is an international language. But the kicker is that part of the reason that it's so widely used is because it's flexible - new words are easily absorbed into it. Salsa, karaoke, schadenfreude, namaste & ennui are all "English" words now too. I have high hopes that one day we'll answer the phone with "moshi, moshi".

    Should we really try to stop this kind of evolution of our country and our language? I mean, isn't that part of what made America great? Does the Spanish language or Southeast Asian culture threaten our American ideals of "life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness" or does it just make us uncomfortable because it's different?


    Posted by kris at June 6, 2010 10:59 AM

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    Comments

    #  June 6th, 2010 6:58 PM      themandownthehall
    If they want to properly function in society, then they need to know a decent level of English. The implication of the debate seems to be that they don't want to lose their culture. Well, just because someone has to learn a new language does not make them less of their culture, it adds to their person.

    We are a melting pot, yes, but the key word is melting. To be part of the mix, you melt into the society. In most melting pots, something that refuses to melt into the whole is tossed in the trash.

     
     
    #  June 7th, 2010 9:33 AM      james
    Contrary to this song's claims and those of some bumper stickers, I've never heard a phone tree ask me to "press 1 for English." I've heard "press 1 for Spanish," or "For Spanish, press 2," but in every case English is the default, with no action required to continue in English.

    The song is the epitome of mean-spirited, starring two people that should be ashamed of themselves, not proud of their ignorance. There is no official language in these United States, nor should there be - government exists to serve the people it governs, not the other way around.

    In 1848 Wisconsin published its constitution in English, Norwegian, and German to meet the needs of Wisconsinís immigrant population. Although English has always been the predominant language in Wisconsin, German and other languages remained in common usage well into the early 20th century.


    I have a hard time believing that those passionate about the language issue have the best interests of immigrants in mind. Not knowing English is certainly a disadvantage, but it's a disadvantage borne by the individual, not by society at large. If a person chooses to remain at a disadvantage, it's their own prerogative.

    I suppose one could argue that having a sizable population unable to communicate in the predominant language is detrimental to society at large. That's fair. But if that's their position, then it seems that moving to a bilingual society or offering government sponsored English education classes is the best way to tackle that problem.

    I suspect that the "English only" crowd is opposed these solutions as well. If so, then I have to question their true motivations. Are they really concerned about the well-being of the immigrant and our society, or are they just worried that their own ignorance of the Spanish language will be put them at a disadvantage?

     
     
    #  June 7th, 2010 9:45 AM      kris
    I assume ESL classes are free for kids as part of public schools, but yeah, I'd support free classes for adults too. Of course, people don't have to take them, but I think most people would if they knew about it.

    I don't think the English-only crowd are worried about immigrants or about their own potential disadvantage - I think they're uncomfortable around people who are different. Oh my god, maybe those people speaking Spanish are talking trash about them... As an aside, I do always assume that the pedicure people are talking trash about me in Vietnamese, which is why I usually try to engage them in conversation.

    I think Stevens Point had a Polish radio station well into the 1960s. I wish they still did.

    I kind of envy my nephew, who is a triple major in Spanish, Chinese and Norwegian. Those skills will probably help him get along in the modern world far more than anything I learned in college.  
     
    #  June 7th, 2010 9:55 AM      kris
    We are a melting pot, yes, but the key word is melting. To be part of the mix, you melt into the society. In most melting pots, something that refuses to melt into the whole is tossed in the trash.


    I'm not sure who is "refusing" to mix. In the past, it's not like immigrants immediately mixed it up with the rest of America - they typically lived in immigrant communities and assimilation was a gradual process, often never happening in the first generation. I don't know why we'd demand more from immigrants today?  
     
    #  June 7th, 2010 9:58 AM      kris
    Actually, the more I think about it, I'm not sure that the melting pot is even the best analogy. It's not like we've produced a single homogeneous "American" culture. We have blends and pockets of all kinds of cultures that as a whole equal America.  
     
    #  June 7th, 2010 10:07 AM      james
    I think "melting pot" is an apt analogy as long as one understands the basic concept of mixing. If you have a bucket of white paint and add a few drops of red, the red paint doesn't turn white. Instead, the whole mixture takes on a pinkish hue.

    The Spanish speaking population is indeed mixing in the great melting pot of America. It's the people who want their part of America to stay eggshell white that are turning the idea of a "melting pot" on its head.  
     
    #  June 7th, 2010 10:11 AM      kris
    The joke, of course, is that America is absolutely not eggshell white and this same fear of pink was used against Catholics, Italians, the Irish, Poles, Chinese, etc.  
     
    #  June 7th, 2010 10:32 AM      james
    Some members of my extended family are firm "speak english or leave" adherents. They seem to forget that my grandfather lived and worked in Chicago for 40 years speaking only Polish. When I bring this up, they say, "But he didn't have people bending over backwards to put everything in Polish for him! He didn't get to 'press 2 for Polish!'"

    First, had the technology existed at the time, he certainly would have had the 'press 2 for Polish' option.

    Second, my god, have you BEEN to Chicago? There were (and still are) many establishments that operated in ONLY Polish. The streets all have Polish names. There's even a state-wide Polish holiday on which government offices and schools are closed.

     
     
    #  June 7th, 2010 10:38 AM      kris
    Clearly all the Chicago Poles are just part of a movement to annex Chicagoland to Poland.  
     
    #  June 7th, 2010 11:13 AM      kris
    Alternatively, perhaps your Grandfather should have just gone back to Poland  
     
    #  June 7th, 2010 11:36 PM      themandownthehall
    I'll stand by my analogy. Mix or be discarded. If certain English speaking parts refuse to mix, they'll be thrown in the trash soon enough. Ditto the non English speakers. Yes James, there is no official language, BUT there is an unofficial one that they choose not to learn at their own disadvantage. But that is their right.



    "Contrary to this song's claims and those of some bumper stickers, I've never heard a phone tree ask me to "press 1 for English." I've heard "press 1 for Spanish," or "For Spanish, press 2," but in every case English is the default, with no action required to continue in English. "

    You haven't??? Seriously??? That makes you one of maybe 6 people in the country. Seriously? Wow. My bank used to have that. My doctors office does. My local phone company does. Doesn't bug me, but it is there. You may get 'press 1 for English' less and less but it's still out there.




    I'm not sure who is "refusing" to mix. In the past, it's not like immigrants immediately mixed it up with the rest of America - they typically lived in immigrant communities and assimilation was a gradual process, often never happening in the first generation. I don't know why we'd demand more from immigrants today?


    Agreed. But back in the day, to be citizens, you used to have to be able to speak English and have a trade that mattered. You had to make the attempt at getting "Americanized". Now, you just have to have the ability to click a voter lever for the party that wants your vote and you're in.



    Instead, the whole mixture takes on a pinkish hue.

    Agreed. They add to ours, we add to theirs. That's how it used to be.


    The Spanish speaking population is indeed mixing in the great melting pot of America. It's the people who want their part of America to stay eggshell white that are turning the idea of a "melting pot" on its head.

    Um, no. They are not. This batch of immigrants is not like past immigrants who came here for a better life. They are here to send money back home. Assimilation is on the minds of a few, yes, but you can't make that argument for the majority. If you can, I'd love to hear it.



    "Clearly all the Chicago Poles are just part of a movement to annex Chicagoland to Poland."

    I know, because there's no such group like Aztlan that wants to get a chunk of the Southwest back into Mexico...  
     
    #  June 8th, 2010 10:28 AM      james
    I think you have an incorrect view of "the way things were." Many Poles became US Citizens without learning English, many did and continue to send money back to Poland, and most Polish immigrants proudly displayed the Polish flag on their cars in their homes. They love America, but they love their homeland too. And there's nothing wrong with that. Think about it - would you really prefer someone who switches their allegiance so freely?

    I can't speak to the habits or thoughts of Mexican immigrants, but I'm thinking that they're no different.  
     
    #  June 8th, 2010 10:41 AM      kris
    Oh no, Mexican immigrants are the first US immigrants in history to have any leftover allegiance to their homeland. Please kindly forget the Irish who gave $ to the IRA, the Germans who opposed WWI and hell, the colonists who wanted to stay colonists.

    Polska shirts, Swedish flag decals and St. Patrick's Day are harmless symbols, but the Mexican flag, Cinco de Mayo and the Spanish language itself are insidious threats to all that American stands for.  
     
    #  June 8th, 2010 1:34 PM      BVBigBro
    Of course the Poles, Swedes, Germans and Irish also didn't have groups advocating hacking off a portion of the country for themselves either.  
     
    #  June 8th, 2010 1:40 PM      james
    Well clearly if a small number of individuals holds an extreme view we should impute their view to the whole group they identify with.

    I think there's a dozen Libertarians living on a compound in Idaho who want to secede. Therefore, all Idahoans should have their rights restricted.
     
     
    #  June 8th, 2010 1:42 PM      kris
    Exactly. There are Americans who want to give back land to the Native Americans or Yuppers who want to join Canada as well as people who oppose various aspects of American foreign policy. Just because some recent immigrants oppose some aspect of current American policy doesn't mean they should get kicked out or that they're not assimilating. I mean, aren't we so fond of saying that dissent is the highest form of patriotism?  
     
    #  June 8th, 2010 1:44 PM      BVBigBro
    Notwithstanding you need for hyperbole, no restriction of rights is being suggested here.  
     
    #  June 8th, 2010 1:48 PM      kris
    Well, I think themandownthehall's original comment said something about "In most melting pots, something that refuses to melt into the whole is tossed in the trash.", so I think that means more than just a hissing in the general direction  
     
    #  June 8th, 2010 1:52 PM      james
    You're right, you suggested nothing. You said, "Of course the Poles, Swedes, Germans and Irish also didn't have groups advocating hacking off a portion of the country for themselves either." Which implies that you think Mexican immigrants are somehow not the "same" as Poles, Swedes, Germans, and the Irish.

    So please enlighten me. Let's assume that a small minority Mexican-American group wants to "hack off" a portion of the country for themselves. Let's further assume (incorrectly) that no small Polish, German, Swedish, or Irish group ever wanted to do the same. What of it? Who cares?  
     
    #  June 8th, 2010 1:53 PM      BVBigBro
    The business of the State should be conducted in English only. People can speak whatever they want wherever they want in the USA but unless they are dealing with an embassy or a diplomatic function they should have no expectation of dealing with the state but in the language of the state.  
     
    #  June 8th, 2010 2:04 PM      james
    And what's the language of the state? (Please cite a law.) What was the language of the State of Wisconsin when it published its original Constitution in German?

     
     
    #  June 8th, 2010 2:18 PM      BVBigBro
    What of it? I can assume, then, that you don't care if the country in fact breaks up and a portion of it becomes a new Mexican state.

    Via comparison it has is suggested here that Mexicans are equivalent to all other immigrants. They are not the same. All those other immigrant combined did not present the illegal immigration problem Mexicans do. The scale of which Mexicans enter the country illegally, consume the resources of the state, and then leave is a perfectly legitimate concern. A concern that did not exist at the time all those other immigrants emigrated.

    I understand you wish to equate an opposition to illegal immigration with an opposition to all immigration. This equation is simply false.

    It is additionally false to assert that the concern for illegal immigration is not unique to Mexicans. It is. Not because of racism, but because Mexicans in fact comprise about 70% of illegal immigrants with the rest of latin america contrbuting another 20%. The business of illegal immigration and temporary workers simply has no historical precedent in this country on anything approaching the scale of today.  
     
    #  June 8th, 2010 2:21 PM      kris
    I haven't seen any conversation in this thread that talked about illegal immigration at all. My assumption was that the conversation was simply about the accomodations made for immigrants vs. what accomodations were made in the past and whether or not our current experience represented a big change.  
     
    #  June 8th, 2010 2:23 PM      BVBigBro
    What is the language of the State? I don't care what it is. You, however, seem to have trouble with the idea that the state(s) should be allowed to conduct its' business in one language, knowing, of course, that the choice will be English.  
     
    #  June 8th, 2010 2:29 PM      BVBigBro
    I would agree, Kris, except that trying to put this issue in a vacuum without illegal immigration is like claiming the civil war wasn't about slavery.  
     
    #  June 8th, 2010 2:33 PM      james
    You certainly seem to care. A state is allowed to conduct its business in a single language. Or in 2 languages. Or in five. Who says they aren't?

    If a state chooses to conduct their business in Spanish as well as English, who are you to say they can't?  
     
    #  June 8th, 2010 4:19 PM      BVBigBro
    I say they can, James. But of course this whole issue has begun again because of Arizona. As I recall you were utterly opposed to Arizona dealing with immigration.  
     
    #  June 8th, 2010 4:23 PM      james
    No, I was utterly opposed to Arizona stomping on the personal liberties of millions of people. Still am.  
     

     

     


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