Monday, May 22, 2006

¿Habla inglés señor?

According to an article I read, a host of analysts are arguing that there is much more to the debate about making English the official language of the nation. When I think about the oppression and racism that has historically come to shape this country, I'm inclined to agree.

This debate is so ridiculous and idiotic that it offends me on every level. I mean, is there a single person in this coutry -- illegal or otherwise -- who doesn't already know that English is the language of this nation? Why does Congress feel like they have to devote unnecessary time and resources trying to affirm and notarize something that is already well known? If you want land a job in America, chances are you need to know English. If you want to watch television, listen to most music, or understand literature, chances are you know English. For that matter, if you're even reading my post right now, then you know English. Do we really need legislation to validate this? If that's the case, then -- while they're at it -- why don't they pass a bill that reminds us that Lansing is the capitol of Michigan?

Before you start thinking that I'm against the idea of making English our national language, let me assure you that I'm not. If an immigrant wants to realize the "American Dream", well then -- dammit -- they need to learn how to communicate with the vast majority of the American people; which translates into English. If I want to live out a "German Dream", then guess what? I need to learn German. Same with Japanese, Chinese, or French. Foreign exchange students have already figured this out. I suspect that most immigrants have also caught on to this already.

So why, then, are congressional bills being presented to address this issue?

I think that the problem is most of the political and social leaders are doing their best to alleviate the fears (both theirs and others) that come with having an explosion of 'immigrants' in the country. What better way to do that than to officially regulate the very thing that is the centerpiece of our existence; our ability to communicate. But mainly, I suspect that this bill is an attempt by the GOP to lure our attention from other pressing issues that they aren't handling very well. I can't say that I blame them. The best way to handle a situation is to either pass it off to someone else or to distract everyone else's attention from that situation. It's one of the oldest tricks in the book.

Language has never just been about language. It's never just been about words, syllables, and syntax. It is a social and political tool used to maintain power and control over groups. Since language is the most critical tool for us to communicate with each other and to procure our identities, the people who control that language can ultimately control people's identities. As James Baldwin argued in his powerful article, "If Black English Ain't a Language, Then Tell Me What Is", language has the power to connect and/or separate a person or a group of people from the larger public square; making it a symbol of power. Though his eye-opening piece specifically addresses "Black Language", the same principles apply to any language which deviates from the 'standard' language used in this country. Language has always been about power.

That being said, I suppose that I'm really not all that suprised by some of the moves that Congress is trying to make. In fact, perhaps we can even file this under the "War on Racial Control" category.

Your thoughts?


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Diane said...

I agree, any legislation on this subject will be geared toward control of groups of people for the intent putting money in someone's pockets.

Sorry, my thoughts aren't too clear right now. Andre, would you please pray for me and a situation I'm struggling with? I'd really appreciate it, and I wouldn't ask if I didn't value your Christian insight and respect you as a Christian brother.

And thank you for putting a link to my blog in your sidebar. I take it as a compliment, and I'm honored that you feel my blog worthy of your linking to it. :-)

thehc said...

Hey Andre
Yes I do speak English. Thanks for asking. It's my Spanish that needs work. First off, I think your reading a little too much into this. Everything under the sun is not about the white power structure trying desperately to control minorities through oppression. The reason for legislation like this is to limit the amount of paperwork involved in every aspect of government. States like California are already requiring every document that they produce to be in Spanish. Soon other immigrants will feel slighted because their language is being ignored. Should we then produce every document in Chinese? Korean? Why not? Are we prejudice against them? Sigh. When will it end? One thing is certain, The perception of prejudice in this country in everything we do is far worse than the reality could ever possibly be.

Andre said...

Hi Diane,

I'm not sure what you're going through, but I trust that it's more important than the schemes that our silly Congressmen are up these days. So, you and I will have to table our insults for Congress for another day.

On to the other pressing issue:

Again, since I don't know exactly what's burdening you right now, I won't pretend to know how to address the SPECIFIC incident. But, one advantage that we, as members of the body of Christ have, is the Word.

I'm sure you've read it at one point or another, but Psalms is a great book to go to when you're dealing with grief and distress. In particular, Psalms 10 gives us a great example of how to respond to God during our difficult times. In the first portion of the chapter, we see the pain and affliction that David experiences. He's being victimized by an overwhelming enemy that seems to have the best of him. He gives off this vibe that he is totally conquered and has no hope. But, in the later verses, He starts to shift his attention to God by crying out to him; as his Helper, Deliever, and Friend. David trusts that God understands his hurt and is willing to act on David's behalf. In the final few verses, David expresses the praise that he has for God because of HIS mighty acts.

What I've always loved about this particular Psalm was that it shows the progression of David's heart as it goes from feeling sad and overwhelmed to dependent (on God), to praise to God for His victory.

But, I think that it's interesting to note that David uses FAR MORE of the chapter to describe his problems and his sorrows than he does in talking about how God has performed in his life. This begs the question: How often do we drag out the hurtful things in our life, when God is literally ONE moment, ONE prayer away? Whatever you're dealing with right now, God is there, waiting for us to invite Him in.

Please don't think that I'm trying to trivialize your issue by not addressing the "human" part of your problem (it's always easier for me to spiritually comment on your ordeal than it is for YOU to physcially live through it). But, I think that we can all point out God's hand is everything we do. He has more strength than any of us could EVER give each a blog, no less.

I'll be praying for you! Let me know when you're delievered from this (and, YES, you WILL BE delivered!) Stay encouraged in our Savior!

Andre said...

@ HC: I agree with you, to an extent. I'm getting annoyed (in a 'sensitive' way, of course) by Hispanics insisting on having their nationality assimilated into another nation's framework, especially when many of them 'snuck' into the country anyway. But this whole issue IS about dominance over a minority. The dominant folks in this case just happen to be our friends of I do put this delicately...lighter hue.

But, I think it's interesting that this national language nonsense is being sparked at the same time that immigration is a hot topic. To me, this is Congress's way of indirectly dealing with immigration. If you HAVE to speak English to live here, that will make the lives of non-English speakers a living hell...almost to the point where immigrants will get up and leave THEMSELVES. Rather than be the "bad guys" by kicking immigrants out, Congress will hide behind literature and legislation (that immigrants can't read anyway) to do the dirty work. It won't say "You know. You specific immigrants have to go." It'll say "Anybody (though, I'm talking to you, Pedro) who can't understand our national language needs to!". Congress thinks that since most people won't be able to acquire English speaking skills so late in their lives, they have no choice but to go back home. That's what this issue is REALLY about.

No offense, but I really didn't expect you to think that this issue was about more than just 'paperwork'. You probably haven't never been told that you have to "talk white" to succeed. You've probably never been left to believe that if your English and grammar weren't pristine that you wouldn't receive respect from the mainstream. Your intelligence is less likely to called into question based on your language skills. I mean, our frickin' president gets a pass...and he makes up HIS OWN WORDS.

The fact is: our country typically abhors any deviation to "standard" English. Ebonics is villified (but, being a black person who tries to exude come intellect, I agree with this one), southern dialects are mocked. Don't even THINK about having an Russian, Hipanic, or French accent! Unless your language is clean and immaculate, you won't get the same level of validation.

That, to me, is an indication of power.

thehc said...

Hey Andre,
Your right about me never having to "talk white" to succeed. However since I did go to Emerson jr. high in Flint, I do know what it feels like to be in the minority. I was lucky if I had one other white kid in my class. I felt how they would say things for my benefit like "Your White so of course your right" I had to hide a lot of my opinions to fit in, and not get beat up. I have a scar over my right eye and a missing tooth to remind me of how it feels. One of the most interesting things about the way I'm treated by black people now, is how they ASSUME I've lived a life of priviledge even though we were so poor my mom didn't even own a car or a phone for a whole year. The kids would rag on me for my "picway plastics" (cheap shoes)and say that I shouldn't be allowed to get the discount lunch because I was white. So you'll have to excuse me if I don't feel part of the power structure. We all have our sob stories, but I have yet to feel this "privilege" from down here in the mailroom. You may be right about how minorities are treated badly, but your wrong if you think I can't understand. Still your friend. H.C.

Andre said...

Hey Hipster,

I'm not in disagreement with you at all. Please don't think I meant any harm. The last thing that I want to ever do is imply that any group of people is monolithic. I realize that not everyone in the majority ACTUALLY REAP all of the benefits associated with being white in America. But, at the same time, I'm also saying that VERY FEW, if any, minorities have ANY of the privileges that come with being white. This language debate is yet another reminder of that.

This debate is less about establishing communicative equilibrium with all American citizens (irrespective of race, ethnic origin, etc.) and more about protecting the Stars-N-Bars, baseball, Cracker Jacks, and apple pie that is the good ole U.S. of A.

thehc said...

Hey Andre,
Sorry if I seemed defensive, it's just I felt I was being put in a group I didn't belong in, and, well, you know.

Andre said...

Dude, stop being apologetic! I get where you're coming from. ;)

Boy, these University guys...

Anonymous said...

I read that article by James Baldwin. I think that it definitely parallels todays national language debates.

ajbendaña said...

People, how when and we got to this country is Irrelavant. We all came here for one reason, and thats to better our lives and the lives of our families. I dont agree with what hispancis have been doing with thier marches only because they were holding up thier home countries flags. If they had done it with out the flags then it would have been just another protest. Seeing those flags out scare mainstream America. This is The United States of America though. Key Word America, not north, south, central, just plain America. America has many languages, thats not to say that we should have to change the offical language or add a few lauguages just because the major ethnicity in the region is what it is. Example spanish in Miami. It has gotten so bad here with this. Everyone whos worked in miami has had complaints by some hispanic about them not speaking spanish. Its pretty absurd. But I dont think that its the fault of the goverments such as california. The reason its gotten so bad is because big buisness has adapted to these spanish speaking areas of the US and have made everything bilingual. Call any buisness in miami and someone will be there to speak to spanish speakers. Once thats established, goverments must follow suit. Immigrents are not bad, they are the foundation of this country. The day they had the imigration protests here in miami, More than 60% of road and construction workers were M-I-A (missing in action) Every thing came to a crawl for a few weeks. Its gotten better since but the effects were strong and were felt throughout the counties. As long as big buisness caters to hispanics and other large minorities, then we will always have this problem. My favorite comercials to watch are those Caucasian lawyers talking thier broken up spanish. They sound like fools but thier the ones laughing at the end when thier little commercial does wonders for thier buisness.

Diane said...

Thank you so much for your words here, and especially for your prayers. Green Eyes saw this last night when I posted it and emailed me, and I asked her to pray for me, too. I feel better today, spiritually, anyway. The situation was, my husband of 20 years said some cruel, hurtful things to me, and it was unprovoked. And he meant it, and said so. That's what cut me to the bone, that it wasn't said in the heat of anger, he just meant to hurt me. He is dealing with some things in his life, too, such as Jessica graduting and about to leave home, and they found his cousin, 44 years old, dead of a cocaine overdose in his apartment in Memphis yesterday. He had just broken up with a long-time girlfriend, and it may or may not have been deliberate. I'm really emotional, too, and that is not helping the situation. He tends to say things and and he's over it in an hour or two, and he expects me to be, too.

Anyway, enough dirty laundry. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the prayers and the scriptures, too, and the insight. Psalms 51 is a favorite of mine, and I read Psalms 10 just now, too. It's hard not to latch onto verse 15 right now in particular: "Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man...." :-) But this too shall pass, and I think I am stronger today and more able to deal with this because of your and Green Eyes' prayers. Thank you my brother for standing in the gap for me in my time of need, and know that I stand ready to do the same for you in time you have need. Just call on me, and I will be ready, Andre.

Diane said...

PS, Andre,
My email address is: if you would like to contact me anytime.