Friday, May 05, 2006
Somos Hermanos, Es Nuestro Himno

This week's bullshit controversy (because obviously we can't talk about anything that's actually important):

There are several things that have to occur before we can become a one-world nation: first we have to be brought down to ground-level (make that ground-zero) submissiveness. We have to relinquish our guns; we have to get "in God we trust" off of our currency; we have to forget about equal rights unless we are in America waving flags from another country -- demanding amnesty for breaking laws, and waving signs for Americans to get off of their continent. And before too much longer, we should be getting Pesos and the Euro in place of American money. Next, they will be singing the new "Nuestro Himno" in place of our National Anthem at the opening session of congress. And I'll bet you donuts to a dollar -- children will be singing the Spanish version in public schools before long.

While Mexicans are on a roll -- somebody needs to implement a Spanish Pledge, and then the United States of America can be renamed Mexico. How's that for progress?

(ah, that welcoming smile)

My first thought upon reading this was, "exchange dollars for Euros? Where do I sign up?!" My second thought was, "how fucking scared are y'all of having to take foreign language classes, anyway?" And my third thought was, "why do you take the idea of a Spanish-language anthem as an insult, when it is so clearly intended as an overwhelming compliment?"

I marvel at the mindset that views the necessity of speaking a second language as a humiliation; it's the same mindset that views reading books as punishment. Foreign languages were one of my favorite subjects in school -- I studied Spanish, Russian and Latin, and I've done some French on my own as an adult. High up on my life's agenda is a desire to live in another language for some period of time -- which is exactly what millions of immigrants have found the courage to do, in the face of not only the inherent challenges of a world in which they can barely communicate, but also outright hostility from people who lack their own courage and resourcefulness. Anyone who doubts that it's one of the most difficult challenges an individual can undertake clearly hasn't bothered to try it for themselves -- and they should be able to muster up at least some grudging respect for those determined enough to carve out a life for themselves under such conditions.

As I have always said, one of the biggest social and cultural flaws our nation possesses is the absolute ignorance of our place in the larger world. We don't regard non-Americans as our equals because the vast majority of us have never bothered to get to know them on their own turf -- we don't travel, we don't speak their languages, we don't attempt to understand their cultures; we don't even attempt to understand that there are other, equally valid ways in which to live. Living abroad was one of the most humbling, transformative experiences of my life, one which I strongly recommend to everyone (especially other Americans), and which I'm eager to repeat. Through it, I learned about my relationship to my own culture, about the difference between life and habit, about the truth of essential human dignity; and I had all my assumptions, all the the little things I take for granted, pointed out and called into question. It's an experience that shakes you to your core, but leaves you stronger and wiser -- and it's an experience that every single immigrant to the Unites States shares. But for most Americans, the 95% of the world's people who live outside our country remain an abstract idea: they are people to look down upon to varying degrees, people who exist only in relation to our own needs and interests, as either people who supply our wants or obstruct our access to them. It's a supremely narcissistic, destructive way to regard our world, and the very definition of a global sociopath. It's not our freedom they hate, it's our arrogance and willful ignorance.

If and when I ever have kids, it won't even be under discussion -- fluency in a second and third language and a minimum one-year trip abroad (ideally to a non-English speaking country) will be obligatory for any sprog of mine. In this day and age, they should both be a necessary requirement for responsible citizenship; I wish I'd had the benefit of multilingualism growing up. Mandatory education in Spanish should be a given for every American schoolkid -- not to replace whatever culture they already possess, but to enrich it. And it would protect them from the pitfalls of this particularly all-American brand of ignorance. They might come to understand that the ability to communicate across cultural lines is not submission, but a valuable source of strength. Making sure a child enters adulthood with a few other ways to see and interact with the world is, I think, one of the most valuable and far-reaching legacies a parent can provide.

Regardless of the language, the meaning of the thing remains the same. And look at it this way: maybe our immigrant brothers and sisters will actually make an effort to learn all the words, or even a second verse... which, in my experience, is more than I can expect from the average American. Our immigrants are doing what they have always done: bringing us a gift of a stronger, more vibrant culture and society. And people who doubt their benevolence and good will might remind themselves of another foreign-lanugage phrase that has been enormously important in our history: e pluribus, unum.

PS: And we mustn't forget the often-noted tendency of people who bitch about people who wave Mexican flags to wave their own Confederate flags. It's irony on a base level, but I like it.
1:12 PM ::
Amy :: permalink