Thousands of students of Southwestern College are gifted with the ability to speak multiple languages. Many students of Hispanic descent are able to speak their ancestral language and operate in two cultures, another gift.
This blending of cultures sometimes comes with conflict. Discomfort, some bigotry and occasional violence are still problems as some people around America refuse to accept a new bilingual reality. People with linguistic skills are often accused of being an invading force instead of the global future of this country.
A 2011 analysis by the Pew Research Center concluded that 37.5 million Americans five years and older speak Spanish at home. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world and in America. With the rising number of Spanish-speakers, some states have taken measures to facilitate services to newcomers still adjusting to the English language.
Reactionary English-only elements still exist in the new America. In 2006 a restaurant in Philadelphia was under fire for a sign that informed customers that all orders must be in English. This poster was decorated with a bald eagle and a waving Old Glory in the background, insinuating that English is the official language of the United States and others are “foreign.”
Not so. America has no official language, but plenty of old racists. “English Only” signs are reminiscent of signs from the 1960s that read “Whites Only.”
Bilingual people usually limit their use of Spanish to family, acquaintances and folks they are reasonably certain are also Spanish speakers. Few barge into a business like a restaurant speaking Spanish and expecting everyone else to.
Right-wing extremists are claiming that if left unchecked, the influx of immigrants from Latin America will impose Spanish as the official language of this country. While the annoyance of some English speakers over accommodations for Spanish speakers is understandable, they are missing the larger picture. Studies by Pew have predicted that by 2050 there will be more Spanish speakers in the U.S. than anywhere in the world and those new generations of Americans will be fluent in more than one language. Bilingualism is a common skill in most parts of the industrial world.
Anti-Spanish Americans fail to acknowledge the work Latino citizens put into learning English and American culture. This group of immigrants has mastered English faster than any other new Americans from Europe, Asia or Africa ever. Latinos practice their English, even if they have an accent, and employ the dictionary whenever a word or sentence is unfamiliar to them.
In the 1970s conservatives warned that as Spanish pushed in, English would be pushed out. Hasn’t happened. Won’t happen. Bilingual people know the importance of understanding and speaking English. Our South Bay community is living proof that Spanish and English can co-exist.
Language is a gift, not a threat. Bilingualism strengthens and empowers communities. English is the great equalizer. Bilingual Latinos get it. Maybe others will soon.