— Counter-Currents —

Bilingual Bad Manners

y8d7e [1]1,512 words

While discussing this VDare article [2] about Fox News’s recent attempt to sell its public on bilingual education, James O’Meara pointed out that conservatives used to complain when Lloyd Bentsen [3] spoke Spanish on the campaign trail. But what got them antsy wasn’t their knuckle-dragging hate for Hispanics; it was that he was being condescending, “like the old Gringo rulers, who spoke Spanish to their peons but didn’t expect them to be smart enough to learn English.”

A good point; it’s rather rude to imply that Hispanics alone are too stupid to learn English, as every other non-British immigrant to the United States had to do. Then again, since I’m writing in a publication on the Right, that’s going to sound like concern trolling, innit? Fine, then: Let’s talk about how fuckin’ rude it is for Spanish speakers to not bother to learn English.

It’s obviously obnoxious to barge into another civilization and demand that they treat you specially; even Leftists agree that it’s bad when White people do it, and what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. But more insidiously (and snidely), accommodating monolingual Spanish speakers robs Americans of time—which, ironically, robs us of opportunities to learn languages that aren’t Spanish or English, should we be so inclined.

Language learning is time-consuming—this wouldn’t be an issue, after all, if it were quick and easy—and there are only so many free hours in a lifetime, particularly for working people. (You know, like the ones who are being milked for their new neighbors’ Section Eight housing.) For the most part, hours and effort put toward language learning are well-expended; there’s no question in my mind that a multilingual life is a rich one. But it’s much richer if one gets to pick the foreign language into which one wants to pour all those precious hours. A forced march doesn’t pique the curiosity.

Unfortunately, for English-speaking young Americans, language number two is increasingly being prescribed in advance. “Bilingual” never means, say, English-Russian; it is code for “you must learn Spanish.” If you don’t want to, you’re a xenophobe—never mind the fact that Latin America is our boring old next-door neighbor, Spanish and English are tiresomely close cousins, and maybe some of us are more interested in cultures that aren’t right over the damn river. (Canada hardly fascinates me either.) And heaven help you if you’re thrilled by the idea of a dead language; that’s not practical.

But how practical is Spanish? How is learning it from a textbook going to do non-Hispanic students any good in the job market, where they’ll have to compete with people who get immersion in Spanish at home and in English at school, and who have the ethnic credentials to boot? Why should kids be hamstrung from striking out into linguistic fields where they might get a fair fight?

Speaking of immersion programs, I refuse to believe that there are functional bipeds who cannot learn at least the rudiments of a second language once they’re living in another country. After years of merely glancing at increasing amounts of bilingual signage in Chicago, for example, I found I no longer needed the English version myself—even before I had to deliberately learn more Spanish for my job. Do people not bother to notice their surroundings unless it’s a matter of life and death? Or is going for a walk beyond welfare moms’ humble means?

Under some circumstances, the Left can manage to grasp the boorishness of such behavior: they seem quite down with the stereotype of the ugly American, for example, who goes on vacation and expects everyone everywhere to know English. And I agree; before I go to a non-English-speaking country, I put a great deal of effort into learning enough to avoid making a pain in the butt of myself. (Another side effect of “bilingual” equaling “Spanish” is that it limits everyone else’s ability to travel politely.) I’m not asking everyone to be able to do this [4]. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect individuals to be considerate enough to learn to communicate with civilization upon which they decide to inflict themselves.

So if we can agree that it’s rude not to learn the language when you’re interrupting your 70-hour American work week for six days of frantic sightseeing—then how is it not considered ruder still to dump your entire existence plus your kids on a foreign civilization, demand welfare, and ask that they rearrange their linguistic setup to kowtow to your convenience?

Not to mention your sense of pride. We often hear that Hispanics want to keep their linguistic patrimony for the sake of their feels [5]. When we’re discussing how many Latin American immigrants we should welcome in, the Left never tires of repeating that we’re a nation of immigrants. But why is it that when it comes to discussing bilingual education, they suddenly forget about everyone else’s immigrant past? There are millions of Japanese-, Italian- and German-Americans, for example, who might like to talk to Grandma in the mother tongue before she passes on and that bit of history is lost; how many high schools today teach any of those languages? It’s like we’re still being punished for World War II.

And by the way: please stop calling all white people who are able to speak English “Anglos”—as though Continental European-Americans deserved further punishment and insults after mastering the godforsaken language of the godforsaken English. Do you like it when some idiot assumes you’re all Mexicans, or all Cubans? Especially when half of you hate Mexicans and/or Cubans. So how do you think French-Americans, for example, feel when you insinuate that they’re Anglo-Americans? There’s a tiny bit of bad blood [6] there. So quit being an asshole.

And while we’re on the subject of not all members of any given race being alike: From whom, exactly, are these rude demands for bilingual education emanating? Most of the Hispanics I meet on a daily basis who have jobs and are going about them not only speak serviceable English, they’re fairly courteous and friendly. (Exceptions include a particular bunch of monolinguals with whom I used to bus tables, who would loudly discuss my lady parts in Spanish, sometimes in front of the customers—apparently under the assumption that everyone else was as linguistically retarded as they were—but I suppose that job could turn anyone into a jerk.)

So whence the assholism? My guess is: college kids, welfare parasites, professional political junkies, and other oiks who are too discourteous or stupid to learn a second language even upon switching countries; the rude-jerk contingent, in other words, that lurks within every demographic. Under ideal circumstances, the disdain of others keeps rude jerks in check. Unfortunately, the doctrine of the Moral Superiority of the Oppressed [7] has allowed certain cross-sections of knuckle-draggers far too much leeway—nay, encouragement—in recent decades.

This is what you get when you don’t hold all groups to the same standards: the jag-bags in the crowd will gleefully test everybody’s patience till somebody snaps.

But wait! Maybe there’s another explanation. Check this out: According to the Pew Research Center [8], the current trend is for more Hispanics, particularly second- or third-generation, to be proficient in English, or even to speak English at home. So why start pushing Spanish now? Just as the problem is beginning to resolve itself, somebody has decided to make it worse. This implies that at least part of the driving force behind Spanglish public schooling is—why am I remotely surprised?—guilt-besotted white Leftists.

Oh, for Christ’s sake, you guys. Do you think this is helping anyone? If Hispanics want to integrate instead of colonizing—with all the upheaval and violence the latter has historically engendered; why do people never learn?—for the love of Shakespeare, don’t get in the way! 

Stop telling them that they’re a collective snowflake, stop insinuating that their heritage is more important than that of other waves of immigration, stop condescending to them (there’s that concern trolling again), stop pooh-poohing politeness—and for that matter, why not give the old politesse a go yourself? The white Leftists I encounter are typically about as charming as Daleks [9]. Maybe if you were kind and pleasant to the actual people you encounter in your day-to-day life, instead of staking your identity on keyboard-warring for ressentiment, you wouldn’t be oppressed by the vague guilt that makes you act so weird.

Then you can quit trying to force the same not-terribly-foreign language down everybody’s throat, so we can spend our time learning whatever we’re passionate about: Chinese, Romanian, Sanskrit, Old Norse, Aramaic; there’s a whole world, and millennia of written history, out there.

Or we could even—I’ll admit this is for the sake of my own sanity—invest that time in improving our English skills. If being a writer in the 21st century means that I have to be plugged into the Internet matrix all day every day listening to yahoos caterwaul, it would be marginally less putrid if the ad hominems were competent.