ENGLISH WITH A DASH OF SALSA

July 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

A requirement in the latest “comprehensive immigration reform bill” (some call it Amnesty International) is that illegal immigrants who qualify to stay here legally must be “proficient in English.” I think being able to spell proficient is qualification enough. But there is another word that doesn’t seem to be part of any immigration requirement. It is assimilation. This is tricky. We are told constantly assimilation takes time, that previous waves of immigrants gradually learned English, played baseball, cheated on their taxes, eventually gave up their old ways from Warsaw or Hong Kong and became immersed in Americana. Our new immigrants from south of the border don’t have to assimilate. (They think Roe versus Wade is a debate over how best to cross the Rio.) You go to East Houston or parts of any other Texas city and you’d think you are in Matamoros. You will see Spanish language magazines and newspapers and Spanish editions of English-language newspapers. I can receive 39 Spanish language TV channels and four more carrying Latino music. Does your car radio speak Spanish? We have bi-lingual voting ballots and legal documents, broadcasts of sporting events in two languages. How many times have you called a business or government office and heard a recording in English, or press 2 for not in English? In 1999, in the town of El Cenizo, a dusty village without a single paved street on the Texas side of the Rio Grande down near Laredo, the mayor and two commissioners voted to make Spanish the town’s official language. We must assume they took this action in Spanish since the mayor spoke no English. Then there are the street marches of a thousand youths demanding U.S. citizenship while waving the Mexican flag. Been to a U.S.-Mexico soccer match here? There is no reason for any Spanish-speaker to assimilate, not in Texas. There is also the proximity factor. Those earlier immigrants couldn’t take the bus for a weekend in Hamburg. Our later newcomers couldn’t easily pop over to Saigon for Christmas. They had to cut close ties with their former homelands, although some still held on to a few remnants. Several years ago I was in a Hill Country newspaper office talking to the editor when a woman came in and wanted to place an ad. They spoke in German. I noticed a photo on the editor’s office wall showing the crew of a WW II bomber. You know the usual shot: a dozens or so smiling young men in their heavy leather bomber jackets kneeling and standing in front of their warplane. “That was my older brother,” said the editor. “He was shot down and killed by the Germans over Holland.” Now that’s assimilation. As late as the 1940s some 150,000 Texans spoke what is called Texas German, a unique language spoken no where else on earth. What happened was that in the mid-1800s immigrants from all over the Germanic states came to Texas and mingled their various dialects to create their own special blend. (Ich bin ein Longhorn?) Today only about 8,000 people still speak Texas German, but they are old and dying out. Linguists, who are busily recording everybody in the biergartens, say the language will be completely gone in 30 years. My wife has Czech cousins all over central Texas. They make great sausages and kolochies. Over in Louisiana, for a long time the state tried to keep Cajuns from speaking their version of French. Same thing with Native Americans, aka Indians, in their schools. Another consideration: The new “comprehensive immigration reform bill” sends thousands more border guards to the ramparts, but of the estimated 11 million undocumented aliens that our crack immigration officials say are here — without telling us just how they came up with that number, it could be 22 million — they believe 4.4 million arrived perfectly legally, then disappeared. So we have those who came on student visas, business visas or told our customs agents they were seeking asylum or were just touring and plan to spend lots of money at Yellowstone, then they simply disappear. We don’t know who they are, where they are or anything else. More border guards won’t help that problem. Meantime we’re losing ground on this English thing: Today 51 percent of our foreign born residents say they do not know English “very well” while 8.1 percent of them say they can speak no English at all. In 1980 that figure was 1 percent. So what to do? I guess we could pass an English only law, but that would rob us of some beautiful languages, dialects and obscenities. Check out the Institute of Texan Cultures which is part of the UT System and is located near the base of San Antonio’s space needle. That collection of Texas’s varying backgrounds, differences and similarities is enough to give multi-culturalism a good name. So, no, we don’t want our beloved Texas to be one blob of lock-stepped lookalikes. “Texan” is a title, not a color. I like the various ethnic restaurants we have in Texas. Have you ever seen an Anglo try to cook crawfish etouffee, soy miso steak with sichuan pickles or even good cheese enchiladas? Disastrous. We’re not a melting pot, we’re a cafeteria. What would the San Antonio Spurs be without their lineup straight from the UN Security Council? But if we don’t assimilate we’ll end up like so many other lands where warring tribes spend most of their time killing one another. When in Rome, watch your purse. When in America, speak English. Otherwise, you’re doomed to mow our yards and wash our dishes. I’ve told this story before, but it’s worth repeating. Once, when flying back from Paris to Houston, our plane went right over Montreal. I turned to a Frenchman sitting next to me and said, “Do you know that Montreal is the second largest French-speaking city in the world?” He nodded and replied, “Yes, and isn’t it a shame.” Ashby is monolingual at ashby2@comcast.net

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