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Topic #10
If I talk loudly and slowly, will you understand?



Blame it on my cold… blame it on living in living in the Land of Multiculturalism that is called San Francisco, California… but I am sick and tired of hearing every language OTHER THAN ENGLISH every time I leave my house.

Now, before I come off sounding half-cocked… I know that in the United States, there is no "Legal or Official" language. Thanks to an error made by our Founding Framers (which up until a few years ago were called our Founding Fathers, but all of those neo-Californian PC putzes screwed that up&#41, there was never a constitutional reference to a National Language… therefore people cannot be legally discriminated against due to their inability to speak English.

Ok, this is where Avery starts to get a little pissed off. People can legally emigrate to the United States without a complete grasp of the English Language. People can get drivers licenses, open up businesses and vote without understanding the English Language.

Does anyone else think that this is as preposterous as I do? You see, though there is no National Language, the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights are all written in English. All state and municipal laws are written in English. Traffic signs are written in English.

So, how can you be a functional member of American Society if you can't understand the freaking language?

Back when Janet and I were rebellious youths, we fell in love with the city of Montreal. We loved it there, and since we were going through our "America Sucks" period, we started the paperwork to emigrate to the Province of Quebec in the Nation of Canada.

When we sent in our paperwork, we were almost immediately declined. The reason? We didn't speak both of the National Languages of Canada, and since we were looking to move to a French-speaking province and we didn't speak French, we didn't even have a chance to emigrate.

I completely understand their reasoning. Since we didn't understand the Lengua Franca (common language&#41 of the Province, it would be nearly impossible for us to function. We wouldn't be able to read the signs. We wouldn't be able to get a job. If we broke a law that we didn't translate properly, we wouldn't be able to converse with a police officer without an interpreter.

Now, I am not against bi-lingual people… as long as their comprehension of the English Language is at a 12th Grade Level. Any resident of the United States (aside, I suppose, from students and political refugees&#41 should be able to understand a police officer, or a bank teller, or a Presidential Address.

I have a friend at the office, who was raised in Chile. He speaks both English and Spanish fluently. His wife, who I also work with, is bilingual as well. When we are at the office, only English is spoken. When we double date, they only speak English with us. Now, I know when they are alone, they probably primarily speak Spanish. But that is when they are alone.

You see, when the common language is English, when you speak any other language in public, it's akin to whispering. About a year ago, Janet and I were out with a group of friends, two of which who were fluent in Japanese and English. At one point in the conversation, my friend's significant other started talking to my friend in Japanese. Essentially, she was stating to the table "Hey, I'm basically talking about the people at the table behind your backs… but in front of your faces at the same time!" I hope she felt stupid when she realised that both Janet and I spoke enough Japanese to understand the gist of what she was talking about.

I'm not saying that all bi-lingual people are rude, but you don't tend to hear two English speaking people on other ends of the bus yelling at each other at the top of their lungs, unless they are saying something like "Get off at the next stop!" or "Jim, I have an extra seat here, hurry!" However, every time I take the 2 Clement bus, packs of people come on, yelling at each other… no wait… carrying on full blown conversations with each other in Mandarin for 5 or 10 minutes. That's just plain rude.

I believe that there is a place where people can speak their mother tongue. When I'm in certain areas of the Mission, I expect to hear mostly Spanish, and if I am in Japan Town, I expect to hear primarily Japanese… and I don't care what anybody speaks in their own house. But once you leave those private enclaves, it's time to speak English.

I'll get off of my soap box now, but when it comes to hearing anything other than English when I'm on the bus or in my office, I just have to say No Mas!

Going backwards, here is my conclusion:

If you move to America and become an American citizen, than you must learn the language and the customs of the United States. If you love the idea of America so much that you actually want to pack up your life and move here, chances are you're going to have to leave some of your old ways of life behind.

The following is my second attempt at trying to formulate and express my thoughts on this topic, after spending upwards of 3 hours on my first attempt:

Perhaps you can tell by my many attempts at writing my portion of this particular Topic of the Week that I didn't choose the topic this time around. I find that a topic such as this is an extremely difficult one for me to write about in a fair and objective manner without sounding like a complete intolerant person. The gist of my thoughts is this: I am not a die-hard, flag-waving vehement American. I don't own an American flag or clothing embroidered with red, white and blue patriotic imagery. I do know, however, that I was born in this country, and the chances of me living anywhere but here in my lifetime are slim to none. My basic concern with people who immigrate to the USA is that at times I feel that some are packing up their lives, languages, customs and behaviors, moving to America and simply adding freedom and opportunity to their already-constructed package. They live amongst themselves, segregated by their own decision. They have everything that their homeland offered them, plus all of the bonuses of living under the United States Constitution. But don't you have to give up a little something to gain a little something else?

The rest of what follows is my first frustrating attempt, written late Monday night:

I remember learning all about tolerance from Schoolhouse Rock's Great American Melting Pot. I enjoyed learning about other countries and cultures throughout my education and from public television. I also believe, however, that just as all of the other nations of the world have their own acceptable behaviours and languages and ways of life, so does the United States of America.

Countless numbers of people from all over the world make it their goal to come to the United States to start new lives. They may envy our freedom or envision better financial opportunities for themselves and their families. Whatever the case, a great many do get to realize their dreams, and they eagerly begin their new lives in America. But although they become American citizens on paper, do they really become Americans?

When I walk down the streets of Chinatown, though I have never visited China, I get a sense of how life might be in a Chinese city. The food, the language, the dress, the music and the culture itself is a home away from home for all of the Chinese Americans who live here. But what happens about outside the dragon gates of Chinatown?

On the day that these Chinese immigrants decided to become Chinese-Americans is the day that they made a conscious choice to leave their homeland behind and begin their new lives as American citizens. No one is asking them to renounce their culture, just to embrace their new one. There is a difference between simply being a Chinese person living in America and being a Chinese-American.

I don't expect people to come to the US and transform themselves into a stereotypical American ideal: wearing Gap clothes and dying their hair blonde, I just expect a little respect for American culture. Take time to learn the language. Learn how to function within society. Become involved in the culture of the land that you have adopted as your new home. Don't isolate yourselves into secluded ethnic enclaves.

When I go into a dim sum restaurant in Chinatown, I am expected to abide by the rules of their culture. Likewise, when they ride public transportation, they should abide by ours. I have spent many a bus ride amidst the noisy yelling and spastic shoving of our Chinese-American  citizens, and I have to say, enough is enough.

Postscript, or Forward, depending on how you look at it:

This was a toughie. It's hard to express the thoughts in your head about politically/emotionally charged subjects without presenting yourself as something you're not. It's especially difficult as a caucasian: one misplaced or poorly stated word, and you run the risk of sounding like a supremacist. Are the ingredients in the Great American Melting Pot oil and vinegar? Is America too diverse?

By the way… if you have any topics that you would like us to take on in next week's Topic of the Week, Go to the Message Boards and use the Topic of the Week Conference.

Posted in Topics of the Week (1990s).

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