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.