Saturday, August 18, 2007

Xenoglossophobia*

*Xenoglossophobia - fear of foreign languages

I'm writing a new op-ed about immigration and the real linguistic danger ... i.e., not the fact that immigrant languages are "taking over," but rather that they are being lost .... and I cited the story of my friend, who was chided at her own son's birthday party for speaking to him in Spanish.

I wondered how many other Spanish-speakers (or speakers of any language, really) had received similar treatment, so I put out a call on the Las Comadres New York network.

Here is a sampling of some of the responses I received:

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This is a very interesting subject. I have to say that in my case, I've got all kinds of looks when I speak Spanish - some good, but most bad, especially from very ignorant Americans. I am a blond, blue eyed woman who gets very good reception until I open my mouth, and then I get the " you don't look Spanish" or "What language is that?" When I say it is Spanish, people say it sounds different. I think that they cannot believe a very American looking woman can be Spanish and be proud of it.

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This is a really touchy point in my psyche. Adversion to Spanish speaker is not a new issue, especially on the West Coast. I am in my early 40's, second generation on my father's side, third generation mother's side, we were discouraged in a socially condoned approach (as were many before me). I am Mexican, Spanish, Native American - both my parents were bilingual. I have written stories (unpublished) about my experiences growing up being told not to speak Spanish.

As a Chicana, I consider it important to contextualize the reality that it is not just recent immigrants and/or immigrants which have suffered from this racism.

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Hi, yes a few years ago my and my sorority sisters were doing a community service at a church near Columbia University, and we were speaking spanish in between ourselves. The other people at the community service complained and the organizers there told us that we should not speak spanish anymore. What happened to freedom of speech? eh? it never mentioned it was to be only English speech!

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It has happened to a lot of us. In the midst of "friends", when I have spoken in Spanish, non-Spanish speakers have said "that's rude". I just keep on speaking in Spanish. It is my language and if the more languages we know..the better. I'm so glad you are writing this piece.

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When I was in high school about 6 years ago, I was speaking in Spanish to one of my friends (the classroom was half Hispanic, a third black, the rest South-East Asian, one person was white), and as soon as the ASSISTANT teacher heard me start up a conversation in Spanish, this one time she told me to stop speaking in Spanish, and didn't stop there. Instead she added: "Welcome to America." I feel that her perception of America does not recognize the diversity that we have, and instead, ignorantly rejects it. Secondly, look at the classroom statistics and think about how many other people were offended besides me. I was extremely offended to the point that look how many years have passed and it still bugs me. I wish I would have said something then!

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Thanks for asking about this. I have been chided and have also chided close relatives for speaking Spanish. The situation is the same, usually. My mother used to reprimand me for speaking Spanish when we were in English-speaking company that didn't understand. She found it rude. At first I was offended (but why? Spanish is our language!!), but then I understand that her intention was not to stifle me, but to be inclusive and speak in the language that all of us could participate in. I found myself doing the same to my husband recently when he started a side conversation (already rude) in Spanish with me while we were in company that spoke only English (ruder).

So that's that. I think you have to look at people's intentions when incidents like this happen. We're all doing the best we can and sometimes the question is one of education or misinformation. Perhaps I worry too much about seeming rude to others, but I would rather speak plainly to a family member or close friend than come across as anything less than being clear, comprehensible, and present in the company I might be keeping.

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Soy profesora de español para adultros en Manhattan. Con mi esposo tenemos nuestro propio centro de aprendizaje, y hemos tenido la oportunidad de ver casos muy interesantes relñacionados con el idioma.

El que mas nos llama la atención es el target de estudiantes que llamamos "Spanish Heritage students" cuyas edades oscilan entre los 25 y 40 años. Hijos de hispanos de segunda generación, con características físicas claramente hispanas, que entienden el idioma pero que no lo hablan. Ellos han sido criados por padres (la mayoría con escasos recursos academicos y económicos) que han promovido que sus hijos solo hable inglés por el miedo y complejo de ser estigmatizados o discriminados en sus comunidades por hablar español. Ahora esos mismos niños son los que, en busca de su propia identidad, pagan para aprender lo que sus padres debieron haberles enseñado desde chicos. El tema de hablar español en los hogares es tan importante porque el idioma va relacionado intimamente con la personalidad y la identidad del niño.

Entonces sería interesante que en tu nota detallaras el tema de que muchas veces el que no se hable español en las familias no solamente es por parte de los "blancos" sino por ignorancia y desconocimiento de los propios padres.

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I have a couple of stories for you...they may be too old...meaning they happened in the 60's but I feel must tell you.

May 1965 Brownsville, Texas (a border town) Matamoros being on the other side of elementary school, Ebony
Heights, on Stanford Street. We were alway told NOT to ever speak Spanish at school. We were told this by the teachers and administrators. One afternoon while I was playing in the school yard during recess...there were a couple of girls playing with a ball beside me. They were speaking spanish and having fun. In a moment that I will never forget, a teacher strides over to them and grabs on girl by the arm and slaps her in the face. Everyone on the school yard was stunned. The teacher dragged both of the girls off yelling at them that they are NOT to speak spanish on the school grounds. I felt so bad because I spoke spanish to my grandparents....and this is where another story begins.

Just after that incident. I was, in my mother's place, going to Delaware to my Aunt's wedding. On that trip, travelling through the south, I noticed people looking at my Aunt Yolanda a bit different. She is morena.

But what happened next is very telling. We went to Washington DC and saw all of the monuments...going over our constitution and re-reading how all men are created equal. After that...we went to the New York Worlds Fair. I was in heaven, so I thought. But at one point I said I had to go to the ladies room. My maternal grandomother...who always dressed so elegantly in Christian Dior took me to the bathroom. I went into the stall, I then heard my grandmother ask in Spanish if I was hungry. I answered her in English that I was. She then asked me again in Spanish what I wanted to eat..I answered her in English that I'd like a hamburger. When I walked out of the stall....my very elegant grandmother grabbed me and asked me Why I was speaking to her in english...I said to her that I was speaking in English because we're in the United States. She tightened her grip on me and said to me "Don't you ever feel ashamed of who you are, where your family comes from. You speak two languages. Most people can't even speak one! Never be ashamed of who you are and where you come from! Be proud of your
history".

Whoa....I heard her loud and clear. My ability to speak spanish has helped me in my career. In fact...I feel I should have been paid more for being bi-lingual. I think that is still an issue.

Anyway....I don't know if this is anywhere near what you were really needing...but it's my story.

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Cuando vine a Upstate New York, me encontré con un grupo grande de
amigas españolas. Así es que siempre hablabamos en español.
Cuando estabamos afuera de los "dorms", algunos chicos gritaban:
"English- English."

Por supuesto que seguía hablando español (a mucha honra!)

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It's interesting how this post meshes with the one below, about the BBC reporters travelling across the US for two weeks, speaking only Spanish.

I can very definitely say that this type of attitude is the reason I grew up speaking only English, even though all four of my grandparents were immigrants. The sad thing is, my grandparents immigrated here 100 years ago. How is it possible that these attitudes are still the same, one century later?

And yes, as one writer notes, many heritage language learners are on a search to recapture a part of their soul that was lost, when these languages disappeared.

In my op-ed, I'm writing about how these language capabilities are so necessary to our future economic and political strength as a nation. What I didn't add, but will in a future article, is how this country's soul is in danger as well.

There's so much more to write on this subject ...

1 comment:

Daisy said...

During WWI, German-Americans forbade their children from even speaking German AT HOME. By God, they said, you learn English and don't look back. Too risky not to do it.

And now, we have people named Schmidt everywhere, with only one language, when they (we) MIGHT have had two.

Such a waste. :(