By Michael d’Oliveira
“This is America, speak English” is a common response to someone speaking Spanish or another language. The person issuing the demand is half right. This is America, so speak whatever language you want. Late last year, a teacher in new Jersey told her students that the men and women of the military were fighting for their right “to speak American” not Spanish.
Putting aside the fact that American isn’t a language, the men and women of our military do serve and fight for our rights. Again, half right. But one of those rights is the right to speak whatever language we want. We can speak Spanish, French, English, Russian, or whatever other languages we want. We can even speak made up languages, like Klingon or Dothraki.
Recently, two incidents have brought the whole Spanish debate back to the forefront. An attorney in Manhattan, Aaron Schlossberg, made national headlines when he threatened to call immigration because some employees were speaking Spanish in a restaurant.
In Montana, two American citizens were questioned by an ICE agent just because they were speaking Spanish. ICE agents shouldn’t be stopping people just because they speak Spanish. That should go without saying.
As for the incident with Schlossberg, if you find yourself in a business where an employee is only speaking Spanish or another language other than English, calmly try to find an employee who does speak your language. As a customer, you have the right to expect to be accommodated. At least one employee should be able to speak English.
You even have the right to be mad about it. But, again, there’s no reason to issue blanket threats just based on language skills. Think before your act, even if it’s just for your own sake. The attorney in Manhattan has been criticized heavily and has become famous in all the ways no one wants to be famous. Clam nerves can save you a lot of hassle and heartache. That’s not to say I condone or condemn how he’s being treated. It’s just a statement of how the world works today.
Should people who come to this country make an effort to learn English? Yes. But everyone here already should exercise patience and hospitality.
A woman in the building I work in doesn’t have very good English skills. To be honest, it’s a little frustrating. But I’m not going to yell at her for it. Her English is better than my Spanish and I don’t know how long she’s been in this country. It takes a while to learn a new language in a new country. Instead of being the next angry asshole to appear on YouTube, I’m going to try and treat her like I would have wanted my Portuguese ancestors to have been treated when they first arrived in America in the 20s and 30s.
That’s something we should all strive to live by: Treat today’s immigrants like you would have wanted your ancestors to be treated when they were strangers in the home they made possible for you.