Pancakes, xenophobia and the Spanish language…

What do pancakes and Spanish textbooks have to do with racism and xenophobia in America? Well, this blog post by Sarah Baram I stumbled upon yesterday sums it up nicely. This white American girl tells a personal story about being hassled at her local IHOP (aka International House of Pancakes) by a couple sitting nearby because she’s learning Spanish. Her reasons for doing so are beside the point; the interesting thing is the way people can react to something so innocuous and see it as a threat.

I understand elements of the ‘English only’ debate. It’s obvious that having everyone in the US fluent in English is logical and functional. The thing that disappoints me when I hear people discussing this issue is that it’s all rhetoric and no practicality. Everyone has an opinion about or some personal story related to immigrants learning English or failing to do so. People have vague notions about the effect non-English speakers are having on our nation and culture (although I find much of this questionable, to say the least). And people get really riled-up about things that, in my opinion, don’t matter in the slightest, like the fact that they can listen to automated messages from their bank in either English or Spanish, or about the existence of Spanish-language TV and radio stations. That’s capitalism, baby! If there’s a service to be provided to a potential customer, then, by god, it’s someone else’s right to provide that service and make some money out of it (i.e. banks, hospitals, whatever, that offer Spanish-language assistance). But that’s all beside the point.

The thing that bothers me is that something that may have its roots in a reasonable debate (how to cope with non-English speaking immigrants so they can become functioning members of American society), ends up turning into something irrational and reactionary (white people can’t learn the Spanish language, for pleasure or otherwise, because it’s evidence of our nations decline and the loss of our white protestant American identity).

The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of the people in the world are NOT THE SAME AS YOU. Difference is the reality. We have to be more creative in trying to solve our problems and issues. Just trying to control other people with our scowling disapproval or obnoxious interference or our shouting and anger-filled rhetoric, or deporting or denying entry into the country to people that ‘aren’t the same as us’, or making silly laws that hinder the freedoms of people who speak other languages; these aren’t going to solve anything. They just breed resentment and marginalize people. I just want to hear people offer practical solutions when they perceive a problem, and to respect the dignity of other people involved, no matter their country of origin, languages spoken, religion, or whatever. A respectful and intelligent discussion would serve all of us much better.

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2 thoughts on “Pancakes, xenophobia and the Spanish language…

  1. I can relate to Sarah Baram because I am a white guy in America but I speak some spanish. The reason I speak spanish is because my girlfriend of three years is hispanic and she speaks English and Spanish fluently and she has to use them both at her job. And I must say she makes a lot more money because she is bilingual. I dont have a problem with people that speak spanish I respect people who speak more than one language because they are very hard to learn. But I have had instances where American people look at me weird when I start speaking spanish or I order my food in spanish when I am at a mexican restaurunt. But i have noticed that only the americans have a problem with it. The actual hispanic people that talk to me are proud and honored that I have taken the time to learn their language. They show a lot more respect towards me because i can appreciate their culture. And I completely agree that in America it is all about Capitalism and I think that we have to the type of people to embrace that try to help ourselves, for one you will be learning a new language and culture and second you will be helping yourself because there will always be companies that need you to translate. So yeah I think that we need one language to unite us like English but there will always be a need for translators because the Hispanic community is growing rapidly. So we might as well just join the crowd. I mean that they still have to learn English when they come to this country but we also have to understand that learning English is not that easy.

  2. I completely agree with you Scott. I think there are so many benefits to being bi- or multi-lingual. I also think it’s much more helpful to everyone involved if people adopt a more open-hearted and open-minded attitude, if we want to have an integrated country. Being cold and judgemental toward people who speak other languages or who were born in different countries doesn’t really encourage community or national cohesion, and it’s really counter-productive. Besides, I think it’s exciting to learn other languages or to meet people with different backgrounds and cultures, and in so many countries in the world it is the norm to be multi-lingual. As I’m sure you’ve experienced, it’s also humbling to try and learn a new language! Like you mentioned, it’s no easy task.
    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. It’s always nice to hear about people who take the time and effort to build bridges between people rather than putting up walls. All the best!

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