Immigration Debate

I know this has been cited all over, but I can only plead Dumb Sheltered Middle Class Girl in saying I was surprised by this:

The Pew Center for Hispanic research shows that by the third generation all immigrant grandchildren – NO MATTER WHERE THEY ARE FROM OR THE LEGAL STATUS OF THEIR ANCESTORS – are COMPLETELY ASSIMILATED ENGLISH SPEAKERS.

There is not a single third-generation Hispanic in the United States whose primary or dominant language is Spanish. NOT ONE.

This is precisely the same assimilation pattern followed by the Germans, Italians, French and every other linguistic minority immigrant group to this nation.

I actually did not know that. I’m not surprised by the fact that the illegal immigrants used as examples by racist wingnuts are as stuffed with straw as a scarecrow in a field, but I’m surprised the parallel is so exact. I plan to keep this fact on file and use it in every Long Suffering Discussion With a Moron I’m going to have in the next several weeks.

I’m interested in this whole language issue because I’ve got a tin ear for languages, can’t speak any worth a damn. Mr. A, who used to travel quite extensively in a former job and has friends from all over the world, picks up languages like he’s born to them: Spanish, Portugese, French, even some German. I took four years of high school French and another year in college and can’t speak a word anymore. I used to know a few words of Reporter Spanish and I stumble through some Tourist Arabic, but not enough to ever fool anybody into thinking I lived anything other than the usual ignorant-ass American life.

My point is this: learning another language is hard, and there’s aptitude involved to a certain extent. I think of it like music. I can practice the piano every day for years and never play as well as my baby sister, who picks out songs by ear and has been doing it since before she could talk. I simply don’t have the innate skill.

And don’t get me started on English. How many people, who are now bitching loudly about people who don’t want to learn English, even speak their native language well? In an age of AOL kiddiespeak when grown men and women can’t resist using text-message abbreviations in business correspondence or use “like” as a comma? I’ve been sorely tempted in recent days to tell several acquaintances I will only respond to their e-mail if they start capitalizing, and that “lolz” is not a period.

How many of those people complaining about having to overhear Spanish in the grocery store (the horror) have ever learned another language, ever struggled with French grammar or tried, God save us all, to read Russian?

How many of those muttering to the Polish-speaking lady in line in front of them at the DMV, “learn English goddammit” have taken a plane or a ship to another country and asked, cluelessly, plaintively, “How much is that in dollars?”

Language cops, arrest thyselves.