History lesson

I don’t normally discuss politics on my blog, but an acquaintance has picked up an unfortunate habit of copying me in on his mass distribution list for snotty diatribes denigrating Mexican immigrants, and his most recent offering touched on one of my pet peeves.

Without getting into a long, complicated, and potentially divisive discussion about immigration laws, I want to point out a historical fact that seems to escape most of the anti-immigration crowd:

English is not this country’s native language.

Nothing irritates me any faster than to hear somebody start beating the “welcome to America — now speak English” drum.

English is no more native to this country than Spanish — and both languages found their way to North America through European immigrants who certainly didn’t have green cards.

Anybody who’s worried about immigrants from some other country coming in and mucking up the status quo would do well to remember that if such a thing happened, it certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented. I’ve yet to meet anyone who can explain to me why it was OK for Europeans to come in with guns and smallpox and take over an entire continent, brutalizing its inhabitants, stealing their land, and forcing them to speak a language that was not their own, but it’s not OK for Mexican immigrants to come to the United States with empty hands and ask for nothing more than a job — and perhaps a little patience with the fact that they are speaking a language that was imposed on their country by one group of European settlers, while we are speaking a language that was imposed on our country by a different group of European settlers.

Unless you are a full-blooded American Indian, at least some of your ancestors were immigrants who did NOT speak the native language when they came to this country. 

Welcome to America. Now speak Cherokee.

Emily

8 thoughts on “History lesson”

  1. Amen and amen again. My husband and I were just discussing this over the weekend, as he had seen a bumper sticker with that sentiment on it. Nothing hurts more than the painful truth. They can eat it with the cold crow still in the fridge from the last groundless rant. Thanks!

  2. First, it’s hypocrisy to complain about immigrants from Mexico and other parts of Latin America. If the economic realities were reversed, you can bet the flow would be going the other way. And people who gripe about jobs lost are idiots — these folks hold down jobs most of us wouldn’t. Frankly, I am deeply appreciative of anyone willing to do the dirty work. Bless them many times over.

    Also, I don’t have a problem with the folks coming over the border wanting to keep their culture and language. But I also don’t see a problem with learning English. My adopted dad’s family came from Germany, Croatia and Hungary. They maintained their culture and language — I learned some German from Dad — but they also learned English because to them, that was what it meant to be fully American. I think for many people, the refusal by Latino undocumented workers to learn English comes across as contempt for America, whatever the real reason is.

    And as a matter of fact, I do have some Cherokee blood. Where can I learn the language?

  3. Janet: I found some information about Cherokee here.

    I find it interesting — and by “interesting,” I mean “unconscionable” and “stupid” — that the people who complain about Latino immigrants speaking Spanish are the very same people who complain about having to spend their tax dollars on English Language Learner programs that are designed to teach immigrants English.

    When we’re dealing with bigotry, logic is seldom — if ever — part of the equation.

  4. Emily, I like your blog much more when it’s a-political. But of course you can do with it what you will.

    I agree with the language part of your post. I can certainly speak any language I want to. If someone wants to communicate with me, I am perfectly willing to give them a shot at it.

    I think some of the problem is that Americans have a somewhat shallow worldview. That promotes bigotry. But bigotry isn’t isolated to the United States. Unless you are from NYC, Houston, Chicago, or LA you don’t see much diversity.

    We ought to figure out a way to make it easier to get people legal. Every Mexican I know is hard working and honest.

    Whatever happened to:

    Give me your tired your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

    I like the way I learned that is school: No politics attached.

  5. Jeff: It has become a political football, but as you correctly point out, immigration shouldn’t be a political issue at all. Bigotry is a form of immorality — and a dangerous one at that. It entices people to base their decisions on hatred and irrational fear, which too many politicians are too willing to use as tools to advance their own careers. If we sat down and looked at the big picture, the causes of the problem would be obvious, and sensible, workable solutions (such as the one you propose) would present themselves. Targeting the people caught in the middle of the problem isn’t going to solve it.

    My old neighbor once let a burned-out tree stump in her front yard get overgrown with weeds because the area was too rough for her mower to handle. Technically, it was her responsibility to handle the problem, but I did the math and realized that pointing fingers and complaining would waste time and create ill will that neither of us needed — so instead of standing around griping, I got her permission to spade up the area and turn it into a rugged but attractive flowerbed for some extra California poppy seeds I had lying around. The whole project took maybe an hour, didn’t cost me a dime, and ensured that the next time I needed a favor, she was more than happy to grant it. Problem solved … beautifully.

    It’s not rocket science. It’s not even political science. It’s just common sense: Neighbors have a vested interest in each other’s welfare, and the best neighborhoods are the ones where people recognize that and work together to find creative solutions to problems that affect everyone instead of squabbling about which side of the property line the problem is on and who’s responsible for fixing it.

  6. Emily:

    Thanks for the link! It’s awesome and now that I’m done with school, this will make a great lunchtime project for me — not that I know any native Cherokee speakers here in Ohio — but learning a language is a great way to learn culture, too.

    I think we’d all be better off if we just acknowledged the situation and helped integrate the workers who are into the culture, instead of chasing them down with INS agents. This area (NE Ohio) has a good-sized Latino population — mostly Mexicanos, Puertorriqueños and folks from Central America. They aren’t problematic, but that didn’t stop the INS from closing my favorite Mexican restaurant.

    I agree that it’s non-logic not to teach someone the language you want them to speak. But logic is, sadly, no longer a part of American political dialogue. Name calling, stupid e-mails and photo ops are, yes, but not logic.

    And that’s enough of that.

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