Thursday, April 29, 2010

"This is America"

This is when America makes me crazy:

Notice how he said, "This is America." Is it? His vision of what America is is something I definitely disagree with. If America can't be a collage of colors, languages, cultures, and people, then we've denied our whole history as a nation. I was just reading a New York Times article this morning about New York City being one of the most linguistically diverse spots in the WORLD.

I don't know what we're so afraid of. I think it's not just fear, it's denial. We already ARE diverse. It's not like stopping immigration (I'm looking at you, AZ) is going to preserve this solid cultural identity that we have. That is a pipe-dream. Our cultural identity IS diversity. Creating unity within that diversity is our challenge, and keeping people out or acting like the white-middle class is America will NOT help the matter.


Amy B. said...

I have very mixed feelings about this issue. Everything you have said is very true. And yet I also kind of agree with the politician.

It seems to the pragmatist in me that a common language is important for many reasons, including the well-being of those who come here. I know that America is a uniquely diverse nation...but it would also be a denial of reality to say that English is not the established language. I would not go to another country like France or China and assume or demand to take tests or vote or do any other sorts of business in English. I would assume that if I wanted to live there, I would eventually have to learn the language of that country.

But I certainly don't think people should learn English because I think English is superior, or because other cultures are bad or scary. I'm not afraid of anything per se...I wouldn't be surprised if one day Spanish were to replace English as the standard American language. Fine! But having a standard language, whatever it is, just makes sense to me.

All that being said, I do think we should be patient and provide all possible assistance to people who come to the U.S. in helping them learn the language and other aspects of life here. I have just finished reading "The Middle of Nowhere" by Mary Pipher, an AMAZING book about the experience of refugees in America. Our treatment of refugees is really quite appalling and the stories are heartbreaking. As an American whose ancestors were once immigrants, it is shameful. And as a Christian, who has been told by the Word of God that we should welcome the stranger and the alien, it is even more shameful.

So yeah...ambivalence!

Jaimie said...

Arizona isn't trying to stop immigration, lol. Our country still immigrates a ton of people. It's the non-paperwork kind that messes stuff up.

Anyway. That's my political comment for the day.

Jaimie said...

Also: I don't care about providing stuff in other languages, but English should always remain the official language. Well... for the next 20 years, anyway. After that, some drastic change could alter the situation.

Kacie said...

The question isn't really about whether or not we have an official language. It's really how we provide services and help the people that don't speak the official language. Why not translate drivers' license tests? The refugees I work with - one was helped with a translator, and he is now driving legally. The other attempted to take the test twice, wasn't helped with his language, failed twice, and now drives illegally because he just can't get to work without driving.

The antagonism towards helping people because they can't speak the national language is strange to me.

Kacie said...

question - DOES America have an official language? I read some articles in '06 that it was up for debate in Congress as to whether we would declare English our official language. Did that happen? Also - legend has it that English defeated German by one vote as the language voted in with which to print US laws.

Jaimie said...

Haha, I'm not saying English is morally superior to every other language. But it is America's language for the last 200 years (and beyond, really, if you consider the origins of the government).

I don't know where I stand on translating driver's tests into other languages. I guess I think the policy should vary by situation. And I think either way would produce lamentable results, people falling through the cracks.

Amy B. said...

I am generally not opposed to helping people. And I certainly am not in favor of making people's lives needlessly difficult. Your examples about the driver's tests are very illustrative, and could have come right out of the Pipher book I mentioned.

But I still come back to wondering where the accommodation should stop, and what sort of financial, time and resource commitments should we make to accommodate immigrants? Like I said before, I would not expect that level of accommodation in another country...but then again I haven't tried to take a driver's test in another country, maybe they DO offer them in English all over the world!

But I think Jaimie is right that no matter what sort of policies or programs we come up with, there will be people who still won't be helped. I guess I am just thinking about the fact that sometimes life is really hard, and we can't always make it otherwise.

I don't know if English is legally official, but it is certainly the established language of government, commerce and media.

If a person does NOT eventually learn English, wouldn't that be a potential danger for them? An serious medical emergency or a mixup with the police could get very bad if they are not able to communicate.

By all means we should help people!!! Among other things, we should help them learn the language.

Amy B. said...

P.S. I know you aren't necessarily saying that people who come here shouldn't learn English.

Kacie said...

Yep - agreed. :) Don't worry, I don't think you think English is morally superior, Jaimie.

I also agree that there are limits to how much we can accomodate, and I agree that there will always be people falling through cracks because being an immigrant is hard regardless.

But the ad - the guy fights against offering drivers' tests in any language other than English because "This is Alabama. We speak English. Learn it."

That mentality I find rather anti-helpful, particularly because they very well might need to drive in order to get to a place that will help them learn it.

Anonymous said...

For 5 years living in Chicago we lived in a Hispanic neighborhood where I could walk down the street one way and get Middle Eastern or Sweedish food or the other way and get Korean or German food. I really miss living in such a diverse area.

I really don't think it would go over well if someone came into my place of work and said to our DD consumers, "This is capitolism! Get with it!" I understand there is a difference, but there are so many populations that need help in one way or another in order to 'make it'.


Charlotte said...

I understand your point.

But why is it that ALL immigrangts to this country in the 1800's and through until at least the 1950's - they ALL learned English when they got here? They all understood that coming here meant you wanted to be an American and Americans spoke English.

My grandfather came here at age 12 from Germany. He spoke German for the rest of his life AND full English. We ate German food at his house, listened to German music and followed German traditions. But he spoke English, by choice and necessity.

By all means, give a Mexican a driving test in Spanish so that he can get a legal license. But after that, make him learn English!

Isaac said...

I think this Spanish-English relationship in America is a unique one. Especially in states like Arizona where English is the "new language." Seriously, I live in Texas, a part of the country which also used to be Mexico and where Spanish has a long tradition of being spoken!

This is not to say that people in the US shouldn't learn English. I teach English to Hispanics here in TX. They want to learn, but it's a hard language. It's gonna take a while.

As for the "this is Alabama... learn English" guy, as someone who grew up in the UK speaking the Queen's, I have to say that people in Alabama (and TX for that matter) can hardly claim to speak English.

Kacie said...

Hey Charlotte, I'd actually argue with your point that all immigrants used to learn English when they got here. Although each immigrant community eventually merged with the greater English speaking community, that happened over the course of generations. There were a great many Irish, German, Russian, Italian, etc., etc. immigrants who never learned the language when they got here. Some of my great great grandparents were Pennsylvania Dutch - they never learned English. Their children did, and from that point on English took over.

It's the same now, really. In our Russian and Ukrainian neighborhood in Chicago, the older immigrants knew barely any English, but the children were bi-lingual and the grandchildren were only English speaking. Isaac's Mexican students in Chicago were bi-lingual, their parents struggled to learn any English, and it's nearly guaranteed that the next generation will be entirely English-speaking.

The refugees are the same way. The old folks are slow enough that they'll probably never learn English. The parents struggle to learn - for some it will take years, but they ARE trying. One guy I worked with despaired of learning since he couldn't get a drivers' license to go to the English classes! His kids, though, will be in the public school and will learn by socializing.

So - it's a process. The point is that we welcome and help them instead of isolating and attacking.