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[personal profile] ktlovely
Good morning. My name is Katie, and I am a Mexican.

Maybe I should disambiguate. Culturally speaking, I'm "American." Ethnically, though, I am half Mexican. My father was born in southern Mexico and was adopted when he was eight days old by a missionary couple from the US. As such, he was raised in a predominantly "American" home with English as his first language. He also as a child learned a native Mayan dialect, since his parents were working with a particular language group in the area on some translation work. When he was ten or eleven, he learned Spanish while playing futbol (soccer, if you must) with the neighborhood kids. To this day, he is trilingual, able to communicate fluently in English, Spanish, and Chamula with no trace of an accent. I should also mention that my father is brilliant.

My mom, she's from Michigan. She's pretty much as white as they come, ethnically, but she is also brilliant, and reached a fairly impressive level of fluency in Spanish in college. She didn't use it for a while so she's no longer as fluent as she was, but she understands it perfectly well.

When people find out that I speak Spanish, and that I am half Mexican, they assume I have spoken it all my life. This is not the case, however; I was a stubborn child and my dad was a pushover, so we only spoke English in the home until I was a sophomore in high school. I took to learning Spanish like a duck to water, and eventually went on to earn a BA in Spanish. I consider myself fluent and literate; my degree is essentially an English degree, with all the reading of novels and literary analysis and writing of theses...just, in Spanish.

So that's the background, just so you understand where I'm coming from. Essentially, half my family is bilingual. The other half understands and knows enough to get around if necessary. And for the record, I prefer to buy my groceries from a self-checkout lane in Spanish. As in, I do it that way on purpose.

Enter Facebook. Lately there's been something going around on peoples' "like" lists, complaining about having to select a number to interact with an English-language menu when on the phone. Essentially, "WE'RE IN AMERICA* TALK IN ENGLISH." The one in question talks about the phone, but the root issue is that they're uncomfortable with the idea that English is just one option among others because there are many people in the US who do not speak English fluently enough to feel confident using it to conduct business. Things like this used to not bother me. Now?

Stop being an asshole. I am a native English speaker and as such, I actually comprehend how difficult English can be. There are no real rules--they call them rules, but there are more exceptions than anything, and some things just don't make sense at all. I didn't even begin to comprehend English grammar until I learned Spanish. The Spanish grammatical structure is elegant and simple, with very few exceptions to each rule, and the language is much more innately grammatically correct than anything in English. And the sad truth is that most native English speakers never learn to use their language to its full potential. Stop and listen sometime. "Don't aks me my bidness." "Nuculer reactor." "Contact the county you were born in." "Where are you at?" "I ain't going." "I seen it already."

No. "Do not ask me about my business." "NucLEAR reactor." "Contact the county in which you were born." "Where are you?" "I am not going." "I'VE seen it already." These are all examples of things that I have heard misused in a solely English-speaking environment in the last week. Don't even get me started on the written communications.

So. If someone can barely speak his or her own language, how do you think s/he would do if suddenly transplanted to a foreign country with a completely different culture and told to learn the language--sink or swim. And I also wonder how offended s/he would be if the natives treated them like crap while they were trying to learn and scorned and mocked them for their imperfect language skills. I just wonder.

For the most part, it's people who can speak only English who tend to complain a. Really? Really--tell me; how many other languages have you learned? What's that? None? Oh...it's a shame, really; I found my second language much easier to learn than my first--which made no sense when I was learning it--and remember, I essentially learned it as an adult. So you know what? Let me know when you've learned a second language. Even better, learn a third. Then you'll really have a leg to stand on. See, other languages are so much more elegant than English, and so much easier to learn...and you haven't even done that yet, so stop bitching.

There are many people on my friends list who speak multiple languages; I can't tell you how much I respect that. And most of them, they don't even live in the US. On the flipside, most of the US citizens I know haven't even bothered to try learning another language beyond "s'il vous plait" and "dónde está el baño." Or, you know, "Where the bathroom at, man?"


*It's the UNITED. STATES. Canada, Mexico, and the ALL of South and Central America can rightfully lay claim to the name "America." It's just that the US is arrogant enough to do so on a regular basis, as if it's the only country in two continents that actually matters.

Date: 2010-08-13 04:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nuranar.livejournal.com
Both sides have very valid arguments. I think many people do overlook how extremely difficult it is to learn another language, particularly English, as an adult. (It is also historical fact that millions of people have successfully done just that, however. I'm NOT saying it's easy, but neither do I think it's unfair to expect a reasonable effort to learn the language.)

The one in question talks about the phone, but the root issue is that they're uncomfortable with the idea that English is just one option among others because there are many people in the US who do not speak English fluently enough to feel confident using it to conduct business.

We're talking Facebook here, so it's pretty hard to make objective analysis. ;) But while that may be true of some people, how do you know it's everyone's issue? That's a really harsh judgment, IMHO. There's a lot more to the issue, and the overall big picture, than being uncomfortable with the mere *thought* that some people don't speak English fluently.

If someone can barely speak his or her own language, how do you think s/he would do if suddenly transplanted to a foreign country with a completely different culture and told to learn the language--sink or swim. And I also wonder how offended s/he would be if the natives treated them like crap while they were trying to learn and scorned and mocked them for their imperfect language skills.

This is very true. But is it a voluntary transplantation or not? If involuntary, yeah, that's no good, and there's way more problems going on than just the language issue. If it's voluntary, though - honestly, if it's arrogant to expect people to learn a new language and read, write, and speak it well just like THAT, it's also arrogant to voluntarily move oneself to a country where the language is not one's own and expect everyone else to perpetually accommodate themselves to one's choice. And of course I'm not saying everyone who moves here does that, any more than I think it's right to call everyone who wants English to remain the official language names.

One of my coworkers married a Mexican; his parents moved here, he was born here, he's bilingual. And he is very unhappy with the way the schools and the hospitals and the governments have allowed his parents and other relatives to refuse to learn English for decades.

This is not an issue that gets a quick, easy answer, nor a solution. And on Facebook? There's a reason I'm practically never on it!

As for the America thing; I've heard that before. Calling the USA "America" and the residents thereof "Americans" is NOT new. Frankly, although I understand how it seems strange, I resent the accusation of arrogance. Arrogance would be in telling Canada, Mexico, and all other countries of North and South American that THEY can't call themselves Americans. To be really linguistically picky, when I say I'm an American, who's making the moral judgment that I am considering myself "American" as a resident of the USA, or I am considering myself "American" as a resident of the Americas? And it's not like 200 years ago the citizens decided that being "American" was the most arrogant way they could refer to themselves. With a country name like the USA, what are we expected to call ourselves? If there were a clear answer, I have any idea it would have been used way, way back and there wouldn't even be this issue.

Date: 2010-08-13 05:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ktlovely.livejournal.com
It's definitely not unfair to expect a reasonable effort, and I think this is a sliding scale rather than "people who do learn and people who don't." I see it kind of like the my customers and their paperwork: some people figure it out perfectly on their own with no help, and some of them don't even try...and everything in between.

The specific instances I've run into with people I've actually known have been cases of xenophobia. My coworkers at Hobby Lobby assumed that if someone came into the store speaking in Spanish, they were gossping about us. I once translated an entire conversation about art markers and pencils for a coworker to prove that the family in question was shopping just like a normal family, not coming in to spy on us and talk about us so we couldn't understand them. Experiences like that definitely have shaped my perceptions of interactions of that nature--especially on facebook where it's hard to know the whole story. I tend to fit it into a context I already know. (Of course, I also joke that Hobby Lobby is run by the mafia, so maybe we were all just paranoid there :P) Anyway, the lack of attempt to empathize on both sides in those situation is maybe what gets to me.

...it's also arrogant to voluntarily move oneself to a country where the language is not one's own and expect everyone else to perpetually accommodate themselves to one's choice.

I totally agree with this. I have, however, run into very few non-English speakers who have expressed the same level of annoyance in things not being available in Spanish (or whatever...maybe it's different for other language groups), unlike English-speakers who go out of their way to censure those who don't meet their expectations. I think this goes back to a good faith effort to learn, as opposed to refusing to even try. I've noticed in my travels to Latin America that if you even look like you're trying the whole foreign language thing, people will really really try to work with you, even if it means you're both making gestures and grunting and smiling and nodding...and to be fair, I've found that to be mostly true here, too. But then, those aren't the same people who are barfing irritation over the internet. I've made noises about picking up and moving to Mexico for a year...but I can go in confident of my fluency in the language, so I don't really understand the decision to move somewhere that you know you won't communicate and not even try. So I'm not saying I approve of that, and I know I couldn't do it. It'd drive me nuts and I'd have to teach myself some of the language just to get by. So that mentality (I'm moving here now so translate everything for me) I don't really get, either. I'm visualizing a happy medium.

It's frustrating to me that there's no good word in English for "resident of the USA." Spanish has one--Estadounidense. Perhaps the lack of appropriate terminology is more lack of creative use of semantics than arrogance...but on more than one occasion I've felt ashamed and presumptuous telling someone from somewhere else in the Americas, "I'm American," because it's not specific; it's innacurate. I get that it's a widely accepted term, but it still seems way too nebulous to me. This one I'm sorry on--I'm sorry if I said anything to make you feel resentful. In the same way as "American" is inaccurate, most of the hispanic/latino population I've worked with prefers to be known by individual country, as in, "I'm from Nicaragua," or "I'm from Puerto Rico." They don't identify with "Latin-american," they identify by country...so to not have an appropriate name for my own country is frustrating because I feel like I can't then communicate with them on the same level.

Date: 2010-08-13 05:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] renna-darling.livejournal.com
Ok. Let me preface this by saying that I am Canadian and my experiences have been solely Canadian however I still have an opinion about this issue.

I question whether English should be "the language of the land". With such a significant immigrant population making up the United States, and Canada as well, perhaps the national identity should change to reflect this. Shouldn't a nation's identity reflect the multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-faceted reality that is American populations? If the perceived identity changes in this way, than a new American's relationship to the language(s) spoken in his or her country no longer becomes an adversarial, forced, assimilation. I feel this is a good change and a new American is then faced with an accepting, not an adversarial community.

On the other hand it is hardly possible for members of a community to accommodate every language spoken on this earth. In this it definitely becomes a balancing act where languages spoken by larger populations are more accessible simply out of necessity.

In Canada, all governmental organizations and services are offered in both French and English. I work in a bilingual workplace. I am intending to enter the workforce as a heritage professional and will definitely need bilingual skills in order to work and communicate effectively. I want to be able to communicate effectively with my francophone colleagues because they represent a large portion of the Canadian population both in the present and historically. I almost feel I need to acquire these skills as a measure of respect. Language skills are just that skills and having more skills should be an advantage in society right?

One of my favourite memories of two weeks I spent building a school in the Dominican Republic is of a local singing a song about how beautiful America was but the song was Brazilian in origin and referred to South America. Ever since the term American has, in my mind, come with a little footnote that says that this could technically refer to the entire western hemisphere but that is not how it is used in everyday speech.

On a side note, as the Canadian immigrant population grows I wonder how this will affect the preservation of historic sites that deal exclusively with the old colonial powers. I am thrilled when new Canadians show interest in these sites but for me part of the appeal is that I have English ancestry and "my people" lived in these places in this historic manner. Is it fair to expect new Canadians to feel the same way? And how will this affect sites that rely on income from admission sales?

Date: 2010-08-13 06:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ktlovely.livejournal.com
Okay, so the song about the Americas referring to SA is really cool. I'm big on being precise, so the generality of saying "American" bugs me.

It's really interesting to think about preservatin of historic sites as the population's overall ethnicity shifts. I think, though, that it would make sense to focus on the history of the place, which then in turn includes the people that were there. I'm pretty white for a Mexican, but there are some contexts where I don't feel like I can represent the history of a place accurately as a reenactor.

When I worked at Michilimackinac, I preferred to dress as Metís or native, because I looked the part. I could also do French. I wasn't really much for trying to look like I was British. To be fair, not a lot of people cared on those minor distinctions, but I would often get asked what tribe I was from (uh...Mex...ic...o?) and people expected me to answer "Odawa" or something. The truth is that the early history of our countries involved a predominantly white-European population. I feel like anyone who identified with being Canadian as such would recognize that. Although I have been asked by minorly offended people why historic sites don't employ more minorities. My answer was to ask "what roles would those minorities have played in history?"

I also heartily believe you can never go wrong by learning a second language. I mean, personally, I'm glad I know something practical--Spanish, or, in your case, French. But adding a skill to your repertoire that can help you connect more widely and deeply with people can't be a bad thing!

Date: 2010-08-13 06:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nuranar.livejournal.com
Definitely a sliding scale, and I love the comparison with your customers.

I think maybe the biggest part of the disconnect here is the parts of the country we're from. I hear Spanish spoken *everywhere*, in person, on the radio, on broadcast television. It's very much not an atypical thing. It's not only Spanish, either; Vietnamese and Chinese are pretty common as well. And back to Spanish - immigration, mostly illegal, has increased the amount of Spanish spoken, but it's never been a wholly foreign language in Texas.

But yes. Lack of empathy, on either side, drives me nuts. A good friend of mine in high school learned Spanish - she's red headed and no one would suspect it of her - and she's heard some nice and not-so-nice things. But ultimately, we're talking about the same thing; I just think I may see more of the other side because of where I am. There's very little evidence of good-faith efforts on the part of a large, if not majority, percentage of Spanish-speakers down here; and honestly, there's very little incentive to try. And the whole language issue is tied up a lot with illegal immigration, so it's easy for people to equate Spanish-speakers with illegals who shouldn't be here in the first place. It's very hard to feel empathy for the illegal immigrants when your son/brothers has had a seizure, was taken to the ER, and has to wait for hours to even see a doctor because of the illegals waiting to get free cold medicine.

... that reads an awful lot like a rant. It isn't! It's just another facet of the situation, that can fuel the anger and illogic. The legal Mexican immigrants here are among the most passionate about learning the language and not wanting bilingual or Spanish-only schools, etc.

I also started thinking about Why English, and renna_darling makes good points about French and English in Canada; that's always fascinated me. The thing is, this country as a country began as British, English-speaking colonies. Expansion did bring in other areas that weren't solely English-speaking, but the population percentage/level of colonization was not significant enough to drive any kind of bilingual effort (California might be the one exception?); and even then it wasn't just one other language besides English. The countries have always been very different.

I totally hear you about the frustration! I've started using "from the U.S." - how's that for creative use of semantics? :D It's a lot more specific. Of course someone could point out the United States of Mexico, but in English, that doesn't make sense, so it's picking a fight at that point. I did feel a little resentful; but I've heard the point raised before, thought about it, and there really IS no good answer (for all the reasons you've now listed), so that was the main reason. I didn't take it personally. :)

Date: 2010-08-13 06:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ktlovely.livejournal.com
I think you're right about geographical differences. We have very few illegals here; the Spanish-speakers I work and otherwise rub elbows with came here legally, on purpose, to work and be educated. It makes me upset to see them slammed into the ground again and again when they're trying for the same opportunities that I took for granted. There's a very obviously Latino family living on my parents' street now and it makes me inordinately happy every time I see them out in their yard. I mean, good for them! So few of the Spanish-speakers I know have been able to claw their way up from 'new immigrant' to livin' in the 'burbs, and it makes me proud to see that it can be done. I can see how it would be really frustrating like you said, though, to see the lack of effort from a community of illegal immigrants...it'd be hard not to feel used or taken advantage of!

I'm fascinated by the English/French/Canada thing, too. The parts of Michigan that were settled earliest were settled by the French. Michilimackinac, Detroit, St. Joseph, St. Ignace--all of them were French forts and settlements. Geographically, that includes basically all of Michigan that was accessible by water. For several decades, it was French and Indian (...you know, like the war), with the British kind of bumbling along behind. Very little French language heritage remains except in place-names, but there are still vestiges of the mixed ethnicities to be found. In that sense, going other places in the contguous 48 feels much more foreign to me than going to Canada.

I get so frustrated and just blurt out "Estadounidense!" sometimes. And Mexicans don't call it the USM--not that I've heard, anyway. Granted, my time in Mexico was spent quite far south, where they were all kind of like, "...we live on our mountain. So what?" The languages are REALLY all over the place down there--Mayan dialect in all its varieties has nothing to do with anything we find in English. I mean...come on. Really? Listen to this (http://www.joshuaproject.net/nt-audio-player.php?rol3=tzc). Hello, book of Matthew.

Side note--that would be my grandpa's life work you're hearing right there. The Bible, read aloud in Chamula. Started out before my dad was born with an isolated, hostile tribe with no written language, and now you can freaking listen to it online. How cool is that?

Date: 2010-08-13 06:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] renna-darling.livejournal.com
I grew up in the national capital region in a family of civil servants so the French language had long been an accepted part of life for me. Unlike the majority of my friends I studied French in high school and my language skills have sort of limped along since. What astounds me about place names are not so much the French ones (probably due to familiarity) but rather the aboriginal names. They're EVERYWHERE and yet I don't think I've ever heard a native language spoken live. That disconnect truly fascinate me...

Date: 2010-08-13 07:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ktlovely.livejournal.com
A LOT of places in Michigan still have French names...and some still that echo back to the native languages that were here before French. I mean, heck, "Michigan" is basically a native word. But there are places all over--the Pere Marquette and Au Sable rivers, Presque Isle, Grosse Pointe, on and on. Places like Manitou Island, Manistee--those are all Algonquin, Ojibway, etc. I don't know if you've seen or liked Last of the Mohicans, but it's very evocative of the final speech at the close of the movie; the father character delivers a lovely monologue about the frontier, and the future, and how things will grow and change, "but once...we were here." It's really cool to still see the traces of it a few hundred years later. :)

Date: 2010-08-13 07:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nuranar.livejournal.com
Wow, yeah, I had no idea it was that different! I won't go into all the details, but there is a *lot* of taking advantage done here. And the government makes it possible, so that's the biggest reason most are here in the first place. It would be so nice to see a Mexican family I don't know and assume they're doing it right. That's great for the family in your neighborhood. :)

Interesting! Michigan has a fascinating history. Of course, when I drove from Detroit to Grand Rapids, the thing I noticed most weren't French names, but Dutch! And the big red barns. ;) That wasn't by the water, which is probably what makes the difference.

That is SO cool. I love that sort of thing! For not being very linguistically gifted, I'm fascinated by the idea. Wycliffe is partially (wholly?) based right by here, and we've supported the Jesus Film project which dubs the film into many, many different languages.

Now totally off the beginning topic :D we heard from some family friends last night who've been missionaries in France for 30 years. Did you know that France has 1% Christians?! Indonesia, the most Muslim country in the world, still has 4% Christians, and Communist China 10%. It's incredible, a hard hard HARD mission field.

Date: 2010-08-13 07:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ktlovely.livejournal.com
Sounds like it's quite a different mentality here. With so much agriculture (MSU=premier ag univ, Southwest MI is the 'fruit belt,' Traverse City is known for it's cherries, and the next town over from my parents is Michigan's Salad Bowl), a LOT of the field work is migrant labor. Some of the sweetest and hardest-working people I've met in this program at work have been Latino, because they're willing to to jobs that nobody else will do. One of my favorite customers is from Mexico; he's got a wife, three daughters, and a little niece he's taking care of, and they survive on what he makes working as an electrician and at a friend/relative's startup grocery store. They've driven--DRIVEN--down to Mexico to visit and help out family members several times since I've known him, and the poor guy just never says no to helping someone or taking on another job. I'm pretty sure he never sleeps, and he's just the cutest thing running around with his little girls. If that gives you an idea of where I'm coming from and the image that first leaps to mind when I think of the Spanish-speaking community here.

Ah yes, the Dutch. Waant an extraa vowel? The VanderLaans have one to spare. ;) A quick glance at a map shows that the French influence is definitely much more concentrated around waterways...including rivers. Michigan, being a peninsula, was settled from the outside in, so the chewy nougat center, if you will, is newer and ethnically quite different than the coasts. I see a lot of Polish and Mexican/Latino right in Grand Rapids. There was a lot of German down in Berrien County, where I grew up (plus, again, the migrant Hispanic population), and there's a HUGE concentration of Arabic on the east side. Plus more Polish. I could talk about this all day if you let me. ;)

I don't know about exactly where Wycliffe is based, but my dad tried to get me to go to the language school down there when I got out of college. I ended up where I was supposed to be, but it was an option. I still need to get my hands on my grandparents' book; it's a fascinating story and I've never heard all of it in sequence before.

I would never have guessed that France's concentration was so low! I've heard Italy, too, shares a similarly low percentage. I was astounded when I found out; I'd never even thought about it before!

Date: 2010-08-13 11:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] padawansguide.livejournal.com
But if you're Canadian you don't say North American, right? You say you're Canadian. And if you're from South America, you'd probably say you're Peruvian or Bolivian or whatever country you're from - we're from the United States of America, which gets shortened to American since United Statesian doesn't really work. I've been to a couple of different countries and you either get called American or "from the US" - and I've never had any sort of reaction of presumed arrogance for using the term "American". I think it's pretty colloquial....

Date: 2010-08-13 05:30 pm (UTC)
ext_8695: Self portrait 2007 (Default)
From: [identity profile] jauncourt.livejournal.com
Best. Post. Title. EVAR.

Also, thank you.

UScentric ideas are dumb. Why is it so hard for these people to make an effort at understanding and be courteous in return when someone else is obviously making an effort to communicate and being courteous about it. I've never quite been able to wrap my head around this disconnect.

Date: 2010-08-13 06:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ktlovely.livejournal.com
Haha, thank you. I thought it was fun. ;)

I've yammered on above, but I think what it comes down to is a mutual lack of respect from extreme opposite ends of the spectrum. A good faith effort on both sides would be really, really nice.

Date: 2010-08-16 11:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] saraquill.livejournal.com
I usually attribute the "English only" schitck to both laziness and people being twits. Learning and knowing multiple languages is quite useful.

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