God's Politics

God's Politics


The Spanish Debate (by Gabriel Salguero)

posted by God's Politics

On Sunday evening, Univision, the nation’s largest Spanish-language network, aired what I believe is the first Spanish-language presidential candidates’ debate. The University of Miami became the locale for this historic event that has many political implications. The courting of Latino voters is no surprise to many, as projections by the Pew Hispanic Center are that 10 percent of the U.S. electorate will be Hispanic in the 2008 election. Both Democrats and Republicans have made some efforts in the last decade to appeal to Latino/a voters. In 2004, 40 percent of Hispanics voted Republican. In the 2006 midterm elections, 30 percent of Hispanics voted Republican. In recent presidential history, both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations made concerted efforts to reach out to Latino voters.


Many polls and pundits seek to understand and measure the influence of the Hispanic vote in such swing states as New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, and Ohio. While some people see a presidential debate that is translated into Spanish (the candidates all spoke in English) as an ominous, threatening act to “American culture,” may I suggest a different interpretation? When candidates, be they Republican, Democrat, or Independent, choose to speak in a language other than English (Mandarin, Spanish, Korean, Italian, etc.) they are embracing a fundamental motto of U.S. self-understanding, namely, “e pluribus unum — out of many, one.”


The powerful vision behind democracy is that it allows for diversity while holding to unity. Still, it would be a critical mistake to understand unity as uniformity. Addressing the multiple concerns of U.S. Latinos (such as U.S. foreign policy in Latin America and the Caribbean, educational and housing challenges, immigration reform, and the men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan) means that one holds a fundamental appreciation for the principles of genuine democracy, namely, a plurality of voices. These concerns are not just Latino concerns; they have implications for the whole country. For me the question continues to be, how do we as a country continue to hear the concerns and promise of all no matter what language they speak?


Politics in Spanish is a model of what “democracy in America” (to borrow a phrase from Tocqueville) could be. Politics in Spanish/Korean/Italian/English, etc. (speaking metaphorically), may be a small step to moving beyond a national debate that demonizes the other into a civil discourse where people disagree respectfully. I learned something when services in my local congregation were translated from English to Spanish and Mandarin. You must allow time for people to hear, digest, and respond. Perhaps this small case study can help the country move beyond polarizing rhetoric that dehumanizes Republicans, Democrats, Independents, or nonvoters. Perhaps the practice of listening to others may allow us to be more civil to one another. We are at a great juncture in our political history where we can choose the road of civil discourse or go down the path of escalating, hurtful rhetoric. I believe our faith calls us to be prophetic and priestly simultaneously. May this be the model we leave for our children and the next generation. May my own words challenge me first.


Rev. Gabriel Salguero is the pastor of the Lamb’s Church of the Nazarene in New York City, a Ph.D. candidate at Union Theological Seminary, and the director of the Hispanic Leadership Program at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is also a board member for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.



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kevin s.

posted September 13, 2007 at 12:03 pm


It’s okay. Most of our students barely even learn English these days. The debates of tomorrow will consist of candidate beating their heads on their podiums: Once for “yes”, two for “no, three times for “That’s an excellent question. What we need is to build a bridge to a better tomorrow for our children.”



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Donny

posted September 13, 2007 at 12:26 pm


Hispanics that refuse to speak English are 100% racist. Hopefully honest hispanics will reject this disrespectful display of anti-Americanism.



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Wolverine

posted September 13, 2007 at 12:28 pm


Politics in Spanish/Korean/Italian/English, etc. (speaking metaphorically), may be a small step to moving beyond a national debate that demonizes the other into a civil discourse where people disagree respectfully.
Actually, politics was more civilized when it was primarily in English. Practically the entire civil rights movement was done in English. Communications are improved, and opportunities for understanding enhanced, when debates are held in one language. Multilingualism introduces the risk of things being lost in translation, and creates the potential that different messages are being given to different ethnic groups, aggravating suspicions among them.
Nothing against Spanish, but one language is infinitely preferable to two.
Wolverine



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Don

posted September 13, 2007 at 12:51 pm


“Hispanics that refuse to speak English are 100% racist.”
English-speaking Americans who assume that Spanish-speakers will find English easy to learn and should therefore be expected to know it immediately upon arrival in the US are 100% motivated by irrational fear.
Hopefully, fair-minded Christian Americans will reject Donny’s disrespectful display of xenophobia and callousness toward his Spanish-speaking neighbors.
¡Sea la paz del Señor Jesucristo con todos de ustedes!



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Don

posted September 13, 2007 at 1:04 pm


“Multilingualism introduces the risk of things being lost in translation, and creates the potential that different messages are being given to different ethnic groups, aggravating suspicions among them.”
If this is true, how then have the Belgians and Swiss (to name only two multi-lingual nation states) managed to live together with relatively little conflict for as long as they have?
What is it about speaking a different language that makes English-speaking Americans so nervous?
D



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Aaron McCarroll Gallegos

posted September 13, 2007 at 2:04 pm


Some people still consider Dora the Explorer to be “an ominous, threatening act to ‘American culture'” as well. But we can’t allow those opinions to stop the spread of democracy in America. Thanks for the nice article.



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sangerinde

posted September 13, 2007 at 3:01 pm


Don, I do think you have a useful point, but fear Belgium may not be the best example to support it. See this article:
http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9767681
From which a useful highlight is:
“when a French-language television programme was interrupted last December with a spoof news flash announcing that the Flemish parliament had declared independence, the king had fled and Belgium had dissolved, it was widely believed.”
I understand Wolverine’s fear of different messages in two different languages. It’s a reasonable fear. Although I think that in this “information age” any two-faced politicking would get exposed pretty quickly.
I think reaching out to these voting blocs is important…not just as a vote-getting measure (though it obviously is that, too), but as a way of engaging them in the political process. The more voting, the more integration, the less Spanish maybe you need to use over time.



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sangerinde

posted September 13, 2007 at 3:05 pm


Sorry…in describing the text at the far end of my link in the previous post, I should have used the word “editorial,” not “article.” It’s an opinion piece.



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Payshun

posted September 13, 2007 at 3:11 pm


Donny,
In order for our latin brothers and sisters to be racist they must believe that english speakers are inferior. I don’t see that (even though there are some exceptions) but most I know are not. Some don’t see the point (like if you live in East LA your whole life and go nowhere)others don’t feel like they should have to aclimate. To be fair I agree w/ them in that. They should not. That said most do learn english and if they are to have any hope of interacting w/ other cultures then they have to. Can you speak spanish?
p



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bill

posted September 13, 2007 at 4:06 pm


I speak Spanish, and enjoy Hispanic culture. My kids and wife have spent their Spring Breaks building houses for the poor in the barrios of Tijuana and Tecate. I have the greatest respect for Hispanics. But I gotta say I am appalled that US presidential candidates appeared in a Spanish language debate. Sorry, but there is one language of politics in this country, and it is English. Otherwise, we are on the slippery slope to a multiplicity of languages and the division and balkanization that brings. The politically correct concept of “diversity” does not work. We are fast losing any cohesive element in our society, instead becoming a quickly-multiplying constellation of identity groups, each insisting that politics be conducted in its own language. The melting pot, as unfashionable as it may be, is our only hope of getting along. In my veins flows the blood of many European ethnicities that historically have been at each others’ throats. But because of my acculturation as an American (and not as a hyphenated-American), those ancient hostilities mean nothing to me. Oh yeah, and I have always been a registered Democrat. This is not a “Republican” issue. The ancestral leaders of the Democratic party are turning in their graves, because “identity politics” is the death of everything they fought for.



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Bill

posted September 13, 2007 at 4:30 pm


Oh, and a comment about the Swiss as a model for a multilingual society: I have spent a lot of time in Switzerland, and my daughter lived there for a while. There are two factors to consider. First, multilingualism was a product of a confederation of peoples who already lived there. They voluntarily chose to build a nation from various language groups. That’s different from what is happening in the US now, where a surge of (mostly illegal) immigrants is forcing multilingualism on a populace that (mostly) does not want it. Second, the language issue in Switzerland is still a sticky wicket. There is constant tension between the German speakers and those who speak “minority languages.” It does not work as smoothly as one might think. The real issue in the US is whether (given the dozens of language groups represented here) we can afford to start indulging each group’s language preference in official settings. Consider the recent study that found that in “diverse” neighborhoods there is significantly less interaction among neighbors. If you don’t share a common language, getting along is much harder. Again, I am coming at this as a populist Democrat and a Christian.



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Don

posted September 13, 2007 at 4:48 pm


Bill, first of all, you are incorrect that we’re experiencing a surge of “mostly illegal” immigration. A majority of immigrants to the US–even a majority of Latino immigrants–are here legally.
And don’t forget, there were Spanish speakers in the SW United States before we annexed the territory from Mexico. And we’re not even talking about the hundreds of native American languages that were spoken here before Europeans were here. While English has had hegemony in North America since the time of the Puritans, it has never been the sole language spoken here.
Second, your point about Switzerland (and Sangerinde’s about Belgium) are well taken, but that doesn’t change my opinion that complaining about a political debate in Spanish seems to be a tempest in a teapot. Foreign language learning has been on the wane in the US for a long time. Perhaps more Americans should be taking steps to learn other peoples’ languages, rather than just simply expecting the whole world to learn English (which, to a degree, is happening anyway).
Peace,



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Donny

posted September 14, 2007 at 10:55 am


La Raza? El Conquistador? Those newspapers speak only to one people.
Spanish only is racism. Pure racism. They exclude others as if it were their right. Well it isn’t. If anyone is xenophobic it is hispanics. This is going to lead to a civil war. Of course the socialists on the Left – which of course IS the Left – want that anyway. I don’t.



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Donny

posted September 14, 2007 at 10:57 am


And Democrats are now pure socialists. Not a one isn’t.



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wayne

posted September 14, 2007 at 1:26 pm


If only all of you were like me then I could be happy and get along with you. If you only all spoke my native tongue then we could understand each other and divisions among us would just disappear. If only none of you were members of the left or right but just stayed in the middle.
I think our Democracy was set up in such a way that the majority would have a hard time enforcing such thoughts.
We would all do ourselves a favor if we learned another language but in the end we will still be tempted to separate and hate each other. You do not need a reason to fear but if you think you have one doesn’t the Bible say love does away with it. If you find yourself fearing the answer seems simple, does it not?
Courage demands love and acceptance. A courageous person would not be afraid of Spanish being spoken here. They might try to learn it. They would reach out, not cast out. There is a place for cowardice, it just isn’t the kind of place we really want to live.



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Bill L.

posted September 14, 2007 at 1:42 pm


I don’t usually comment on public issues like this, but feel that I must, here. Why must we always divide issues, political social, and religious as either/or, but never consider both/and? Is there no longer room for middle ground in public debates? I’ve taken up the study of Spanish in my old age (now 68) because I want to know more about all Spanish-speakers (Spain, the U.S., North to S. America) and their culture(s) and I want to be able to speak to Spanish-speakers in the U.S. and Nicaragua, where I go on mission trips. Let’s revel in our diverse cultures, learn to accept and try to understand one another in love, and try to put a stop to fear-and-hate mongering in our country and the world, as Christ would have us to do!



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Bill L.

posted September 14, 2007 at 1:43 pm


I don’t usually comment on public issues like this, but feel that I must, here. Why must we always divide issues, political social, and religious as either/or, but never consider both/and? Is there no longer room for middle ground in public debates? I’ve taken up the study of Spanish in my old age (now 68) because I want to know more about all Spanish-speakers (Spain, the U.S., North to S. America) and their culture(s) and I want to be able to speak to Spanish-speakers in the U.S. and Nicaragua, where I go on mission trips. Let’s revel in our diverse cultures, learn to accept and try to understand one another in love, and try to put a stop to fear-and-hate mongering in our country and the world, as Christ would have us to do!



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squeaky

posted September 14, 2007 at 1:50 pm


Donny,
I’m a democrat. But I’m not a “pure socialist”. How do you explain that?



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squeaky

posted September 14, 2007 at 1:52 pm


Amen Bill.



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carl mcintire

posted September 14, 2007 at 4:51 pm


Donny: “And Democrats are now pure socialists. Not a one isn’t.”
Donny, get behind me Satan.



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Payshun

posted September 14, 2007 at 5:36 pm


Donny said:
La Raza? El Conquistador? Those newspapers speak only to one people.
Spanish only is racism. Pure racism. They exclude others as if it were their right. Well it isn’t. If anyone is xenophobic it is hispanics. This is going to lead to a civil war. Of course the socialists on the Left – which of course IS the Left – want that anyway. I don’t.
Me:
BS YOU DON’T!! Your comment is all about a verses ideal. US VS. THEM. You don’t know what you are talking about. You don’t know what racism is. Having a spanish speaking only newspaper is about reflecting on their culture w/o having other people in it. That doesn’t mean others are inferior it just focuses on their story.
You are paranoid and I mean horribly paranoid. This civil War will not be btwn Latins and the rest of us. I used to spend a lot of time in the Latin community and I can tell you there is not a broad plan to take over the united states via force. It’s just not going to happen.
p



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Don

posted September 14, 2007 at 6:30 pm


“La Raza? El Conquistador? Those newspapers speak only to one people.”
Donny:
How do you explain the German newspapers, Polish newspapers, Italian newspapers, Hungarian newspapers, etc, etc, that once were published right here in the USA? (If you ever come to Ohio, I could take you to the Ohio Historical Society archives, where they have preserved many of these ethnic newspapers.) They only spoke to one people. Most of those people lived in ethnic enclaves in major cities like Chicago, New York, Cleveland, or Detroit, and most spoke their own language daily. They shopped at stores where that language was spoken. They went to church with speakers of their language, and the worship service was conducted in that language.
I had schoolmates whose parents couldn’t speak English. One family I knew was from Hungary; they were refugees from the 1956 revolt. Were they being racist by not speaking English at home? But you know what? They made sure their kids learned English! If you don’t think that’s happening in Latino neighborhoods today, you haven’t been paying attention.
Donny, have you ever tried to learn a foreign language? Do you have any idea how difficult 8it is? Don’t you have even the tiniest bit of compassion for those who are trying to learn English, but are finding it extremely difficult? Can’t you give them even a bit of a break?
You, like most of us who post here, don’t give your last name. Where did your family come from? What language did they speak?
Payshun is correct. You are paranoid.
Peace,



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Wayne

posted September 14, 2007 at 7:34 pm


Amen Don
English is one hard language. Spanish has apprx 250,000 words while English has (i think) over 750,000, and many are quite confusing. hear, here and then we jump to “there”. The language is difficult for non native speakers but their children do learn and all this hub bub over those who refuse to do so just doesn’t take into account how hard it is to learn.
Perhaps if you made Hispanics feel welcome there wouldn’t be any of the antagonism all you English only guys seem to run into. I never seem to get this reaction and I have worked with Hispanics for over 25 years. I have never met someone who isn’t a little ashamed over their (there?) ability to master English. But my Spanish is very “Mal” and I always refer to myself as a stupid gringo. I wonder if that has anything to do with our differing experience on this subject. I dare say that if I was from Latin America and ran into Donny I do not think I would speak English either, even if I held a degree in the subject. The irony is that if Donny is running into Hispanics who refuse to learn English he is just seeing a mirror of himself.



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Hali

posted September 14, 2007 at 8:45 pm


kevin s. wrote,
“Most of our students barely even learn English these days.”
Scary, sad, and true :( I’m not sure it’s an entirely American or Anglophone phenomenon, though. I know a lot of French people who can’t write to save their lives. The worst thing is that sloppy language and sloppy thinking go hand in hand.
Don wrote,
“¡Sea la paz del Señor Jesucristo con todos de ustedes!”
And also with you :)
Shana tova and Ramadan mubarak, everybody!



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bren

posted September 14, 2007 at 9:32 pm


Donny, you made me laugh! Democrats are Socialists? You clearly have never met a real Socialist.
I am fluent in two languages. Still, if I were to listen to a candidates’ debate, I would want to hear it in my mother tongue because an election is such an important event. I wouldn’t want to take the risk of misunderstanding some nuance, or some words specific to an issue, that I hadn’t learned. All of which is to say: don’t assume that a candidates’ forum in Spanish means that the audience is opposed to learning English; they may simply want to become as informed as possible before voting in an election.



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squeaky

posted September 14, 2007 at 9:47 pm


Wayne–you reminded me of George Carlin’s “7 Dirty Words You Can’t Say on Television” routine.
“there are 400,000 words in the English language, and there are seven of them that you can’t say on television….What a ratio that is! three hundred ninety nine thousand. Nine hundred ninety three. to… seven.”
750,000 now, is it? With technology, I’m not surprised that we have nearly doubled the words in the English language since Mr. Carlin’s routine.
By the way, I had to google the transcript to get that quote, and I read the routine I hadn’t heard in years–thanks for inspiring my trip down memory lane. I had a good laugh. Of course, I’m not recommending anyone look up the transcript–this being a Christian blog and all–besides, much is lost in reading it if you haven’t heard his delivery.



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jerry

posted September 15, 2007 at 10:47 am


the rev. salguero has a nice post. we as a country must recognize the surge of “new” hispanics. problem is a lot of us are miffed about the illegals, so we tend to let that negative influence our outlook on language, education, and social/services problems. thus, tainting our tolerance for the differences. the more we acknowledge immigrants the better the chances are that they will assimilate into the society. sojo and their supporters are always talking fear. what are you afraid of, they say? what most americans are afraid of is loosing their way of life. and hearing a conversation at the supermarket in a language that one does not understand seems strange and sorta threatening. when i speak english in a supermarket in mexico the locals look at me and sorta stare. they have the same feelings about me as i have about them here. so….as the rev. says “you must allow time for people to hear, digest and respond.”
beware, however, the politicians will lie in spanish just like they lie in english. the language they speak is money, dinero.



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James

posted September 15, 2007 at 10:51 am


Spanish only is racism. Pure racism. They exclude others as if it were their right. Well it isn’t. If anyone is xenophobic it is hispanics. This is going to lead to a civil war. Of course the socialists on the Left – which of course IS the Left – want that anyway. I don’t.Posted by: Donny
Hey Donny, why don’t you go back to Jesus Camp for a while to get your batteries recharged?



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Kyle

posted September 15, 2007 at 8:39 pm


I have no problem with debates being in spanish. They are public forums for ideas and ANYONE should be able to understand them. Anyway, it takes a while for immigrant groups to assimilate. They should, eventually. This is not Mexico. We are the United States of America. If they prefer to live in Mexico, they should stay there.



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Joyce Antila Phipps

posted September 16, 2007 at 5:57 am


It is sad that people are threatened by the use of other languages in discussing politics or in providing services. Historically, the U.S. conquered Spanish speaking areas (southwest, Texas, and Puerto Rico)and then imposed an Anglocentric culture on these areas. We should respect the culture of the many peoples who have come here. What makes the American experiment unique is that it is based on allegiance to a principle, not a race, not a language, not an ethnic group — but on a belief that all people are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights.



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Silima

posted September 16, 2007 at 12:06 pm


While debates should be understandable by all, the idea that the US needs to treat illegals as citizens is preposterous. Of course they are “second class citizens.” Actually, they are not citizens at all. And, as this is an english speaking country, all government documents should be in english only. It is not our job to become like immigrants. It is their job to become like us-learn english. If they are unwilling to become a part of the US they should not come here.



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Don

posted September 16, 2007 at 2:37 pm


Silma, did you read what I wrote earlier in this thread? We’re not talking about illegal immigrants here. A clear majority of Latinos living in the USA are here legally. And further, why would candidates take the time to participate in a debate geared for illegal immigrants, since they can’t vote?
English is not our official language; the United States doesn’t have an official language. We have freedoms here in the US. That includes the freedom not to speak English if we want. But almost all immigrants already understand that they need to learn English to live here. We don’t need to have “English-only” laws and regulations to get them to realize that!
The problem, as I also wrote earlier, is that English isn’t all that easy for most people to learn as a second language. Also, the older one is, the more difficult it is to learn a foreign language. Further, there is more demand for English-learning classes than there are seats in those classes. Imagine that! So many English-speaking Americans like you are demanding that immigrants learn English, but we haven’t been very good at providing them with the resources to do that.
Silma, are you willing to help people learn English, either by helping fund classes or by volunteering your time and talents to help someone learn? If not, you have no right to complain about people who are living here but who can’t speak English.
Where’s your sense of Christian compassion, Silma?
Peace,



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Payshun

posted September 16, 2007 at 11:22 pm


Silima did you know that the California state constitution was origninally written in English and Spanish?
p



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Vicki

posted September 17, 2007 at 2:26 pm


Every time I hear or read “Why don’t THEY just learn English?” I remember the stories my mom used to tell about my German-speaking, Mennonite immigrant ancestors. They certainly made what I think most of us would call positive contributions to this country.
They spent 100 years or more roaming around Central and Eastern Europe looking for religious freedom, and nearly another 100 years in what was then South Russia (now the Ukraine and Crimea) at the invitation of Catherine the Great (an ethnic German). When their separate identity was threatened by later Russian governments, many of them chose to leave, beginning in 1874, and came to the US Midwest. There they introduced the Hard Red Winter Wheat that made Kansas and other states in that region into the “Bread Basket of the Nation.” We all like our bread and pasta (or should I say, “noodles”?), don’t we? ;-)
Mom told me about her grandmother, the immigrant, who never learned English because after all, her Bible was written in German, so that must be God’s preferred language, right?
My grandparents, born and raised in the Midwestern US, learned some English, but always used “Low German” (dialect) as their native, everyday language, and “High German” as what was properly spoken in church.
My mother’s generation, also born and raised in the Midwest, spoke Low German at home and High German at church, and began to learn English only when they started elementary school. Even my older cousins spoke Low German first. It was we younger cousins — the ones born after WWII, not surprisingly — who were first raised to consider English our native language. That’s FOUR generations into our lives here!
Most of the Hispanics I’ve known over the years have assimilated a lot faster than that. Usually, the immigrant parents have difficulty with English, and form their own communities as much as possible. The first generation born here, or who came here very young, is usually bilingual, having been educated in English. Sometimes the grandchildren don’t speak Spanish at all. I am a translator and interpreter working for a religious organization, and often I see a similar pattern when I come into contact with some of our Hispanic congregations in this country. I’m also a former foreign-language teacher, and yes, English IS very difficult for others to learn. I’m impressed by how quickly many recent immigrants ARE learning it!
Certainly more impressed than I am by many (not all) North Americans I’ve seen who move to places like Mexico and Costa Rica for a warmer climate and lower cost of living, but who show no respect for the local culture and make little or no attempt to learn the local language and customs. Maybe they assume their money does all the talking needed.
By the way, to those who say things like “If they are unwilling to become a part of the US they should not come here,” I ask you, what about the Cuban community-in-exile? I’ve become acquainted with various members of that community in different parts of the US, especially in a few visits to South Florida, and certainly, no one can accuse them of being pro-socialist or anti-US Government! And yet, I’ve met people who’ve lived for years in Cuban communities in the US and don’t speak a word of English. Where would you suggest they “go home” to?
Sorry to be so long-winded. I’ll just close by saying that I believe, as a Christian, that God loves all God’s children equally, and it is incumbent on us to try to do the same.



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Don

posted September 17, 2007 at 2:37 pm


Thank you, Vicki. Your family’s example demonstrates some of the things I was trying to say.
¡Bendiciones! (or should I say, Segenswünsche!)
D



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