Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cuando, Barry?

I love it when a Presidential candidate says something early on in the campaign that shows either a) how out of touch with the rest of society they are or b) how unrealistic they are or c) how incredibly misguided they are. And whether it's a, b, or c, it always results in d) my wanting to just twist right off on any given day. Today was one of those days.

Today, Barry Obama was speaking to a group of people in Powder Springs, Georgia. A member of the audience asked him a question about his present position on bilingualism. First of all, I was unaware that there was such a word as "bilingualism". Second, even if there was a word such as "bilingualism" I was confused as to why the President should care whether or not people are bilingual. And as I listened to Barry's response, I realized that "bilingualism" was code for "not having English as an official language and expecting those speaking English to accommodate those who are not speaking English rather than have those not speaking English to assimilate into a country that does speak English." Granted, "bilingualism" is a bit shorter than all of that, but it's highly misleading.

The text of Barry's response is below. After that is a video clip of his response. After the clip, I will continue twisting off.

"You know, I don't understand when people are going around worrying about, "We need to have English- only." They want to pass a law, "We want English-only."

Now, I agree that immigrants should learn English. I agree with that. But understand this. Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English -- they'll learn English -- you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish. You should be thinking about, how can your child become bilingual? We should have every child speaking more than one language.

You know, it's embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe, and all we can say [is], "Merci beaucoup." Right?

You know, no, I'm serious about this. We should understand that our young people, if you have a foreign language, that is a powerful tool to get a job. You are so much more employable. You can be part of international business. So we should be emphasizing foreign languages in our schools from an early age, because children will actually learn a foreign language easier when they're 5, or 6, or 7 than when they're 46, like me."

Good hell, where do I start?

I guess I could start with the end. The end, where he tried to save his ass by claiming that learning another language is a powerful tool to get a job (as opposed to a powerful tool in order to tell your gardener that he's cutting the hedges back too far). Is IT, Barry? Does IT make me more employable? Oh, sure I can be a part of an international business, but do I want to be? And just because one is part of an international business, that doesn't necessarily require them to know another language. And how odd that the language that you initially suggested that "our children" learn is Spanish. Hmm...I wonder why that is? Is it because of the huge influx of Spanish speaking international businesses out there? Uh, no, it's not.

But back to the beginning. You know, the part before he realized he wasn't exactly sending the best message. In English. If he "doesn't understand" why people feel that this country needs to have "English only", then he is completely out of touch with his surroundings and the society that the majority of people in this country live in. Hey, Barry, when was the last time you were at Home Depot and all of the products were shelved with the Spanish language sides facing out? Hey, Barry, when was the last time you went through a Drive-Thru and all you wanted was some extra cheese on your burger but the employee didn't speak English and so you ended up with NO cheese? Hey, Barry, when was the last time you used an automated phone system and had to sit through what to do if you were speaking Spanish BEFORE you could get to what to do if you're speaking English? Hey, Barry, when was the last time you were ANYWHERE that your political entourage didn't take care of everything for you, virtually ensuring that you have NO clue as to how bad it is?

And you know as well as I do, Barry, that the people that US citizens are frustrated with because they do not speak English are not those who speak French or German. They are those who speak Spanish. They are those who speak Spanish and refuse to (or do not want to) learn English. And a lot of those who fall into those categories are not in this country legally. But you, Barry, you "don't understand" why people want "English only"? What don't you understand? I'd be happy to clear things up for you.

See, it works like this: There is a steady stream of people coming from Mexico entering this country illegally. It would appear that a lot of them don't feel the need to learn English (nor would it appear that a lot of them feel the need to become a legal citizen, but that's a whole different blog post, now isn't it?) and just continue to speak Spanish. For some reason (seemingly under the guise of "being nice" or just "accepting" or something), not only has this been allowed to continue, is has proliferated to the point where now, instead of just "accepting" that people don't want to learn English, we are supposed to "accommodate" those who don't want to learn English. And really, Barry, those of us who are in this country legally and who speak English are pretty much done with the "accommodations" that we've made up until now. Actually, we're a little offended that we've been so accommodating and have received almost nothing in return for it.

More than offended, I think we're tired. We're tired of listening to automated phone systems in Spanish FIRST. We're tired of wading through everything posted everywhere in TWO languages. We're tired of getting the wrong orders, having short hedges and having to repeat ourselves (oddly, usually louder the second or third time around). I really don't think it's too much to ask for those who are in this country illegally to conform to at least ONE standard. If they're not going to conform to our laws, could they not at least try to appease us by speaking English? Apparently not.

Barry, you make it sound as if we're being unreasonable to want/expect that people speak English. Oh, but it IS reasonable for us to make sure that our children can speak Spanish because there are so many Spanish only speakers in this country who don't speak English? If they're going to learn English like you say they are, why is it that we need to make sure our children speak Spanish? Oh, right. To get a job at an international business. (Isn't McDonald's an "international business"? See, that example would almost prove his point, except that all of those at the "international business" of McDonald's are speaking Spanish because they don't speak English, NOT because they learned another language.)

And Barry, your comment about how when the dumb Americans go over to France all they can say is merci beaucoup? See, while I don't really see that as accurate, I'm OK with it and here's why. In France, if you're American and you don't speak French, the French will not bend over backwards for your American ass. The French will be less than accommodating if you don't speak French or at least make some attempt to speak french. Aside from that, are you suggesting that the Americans who go to France and who don't speak French are going to STAY there? I was unaware of the HUGE problem France was having with illegal immigrants from the US who refuse to learn French!

(And by the way, Barry, you might want to look at a European map once in a while. There are a lot of countries in Europe that speak different languages. And all of those countries are right next to each other. It's almost out of sheer necessity that they learn different languages, as the countries are so close to each other and there is a lot of coming and going in between them. But if you're going to use that as your example, and you clearly did, why do you appeal to those of us in this country who speak English to learn Spanish to accommodate those from Mexico who won't speak English when you have just said that if you go to another country, you should speak that language? I also noticed that you didn't use Mexico as your example for people who travel to other countries and speak that country's language. No, you used France and Germany. Nice.)
And now, Barry, you're suggesting that those of us who are in this country LEGALLY learn to speak SPANISH to accommodate millions of individuals (not all) who are in this country ILLEGALLY?? WHY?

Finally, in regard to your statement "they'll learn English" (with "they" being those immigrants who do not speak English), I have but one question for you.

When are they going to do that? When? Because if they were actually going to do it, we wouldn't even be having this discussion. So, when would that be, Barry? Because like I said earlier, I'm tired and I kind of wish that they'd hurry. But since they haven't felt a sense of urgency until now, I highly doubt that they're going to feel one after this. I can't think of a better time for just a little Obama Girl to make me feel better.

Wow. That always helps. Even if just a little bit. It always helps.

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Anonymous said...

We learn the word "bilingual" from the cradle here in Canada. I hate this word.

While I agree with you that it is good to speak another language..I myself speak another language..I don't feel it should be forced down my throat 2 get a job...or get a promotion...all government jobs require fluency in both languages..english and french

Would some1 tell the French they lost the war on the Plains of Abraham..better yet..would someone tell the English...and while we r at it...Chinese has surpassed French as the 2nd most spoken language in Canada...all of the Hong Kong immigrants we imported up here...they had the duckets 2 buy perm resident status u c...

Here in the land of "Everybody has their right to do as they choose, especially those who are not the majority"...we r officially bilingual..all packaging is in English and French..but wait

WAIT WAIT WAIT...this rule applies 2 all of Canada except la belle province..Quebec where it is against the law to put ur kids in English school unless u went 2 an English school..where all signs must be in French only...where they prefer immigrants from French speaking countries only...the list goes on...

All I can say is...don't do it...don't become officially bilingual...let the immigrants, be they Spanish speaking or Chinese speaking...LEARN ENGLISH...and another language if they want...BUT DON'T MAKE IT OFFICIAL

Mare said...

"Everybody has their right to do as they choose, especially those who are not the majority." That's brilliant and I'm letting you know right now, I'm going to be using that at some point in the future. I KNOW I will need to (unfortunately).

Language is one of the key components to defining a specific culture, regardless as to what that culture is. When you start to lose your language, you start to lose your culture. It's not paranoia, it's reality.

I don't know that I think that English needs to be the OFFICIAL language. I think it's just that I and many, many others are SO frustrated by the enormous number of people who do NOT speak English. And that number only seems to be getting larger.

(The Chinese take-out place over here recently changed their hours and posted the new hours (of the CHINESE take out place) in SPANISH. ONLY!)

Barry says "they'll learn English", but they're not. Short of having English as an official language, I don't know what else would give them an incentive TO learn English.