Thanks to the Herculean efforts of some very patient teachers, I speak Spanish. Well, I speak high-school-distracted-by-the-hot-chick-in-front-of-me-in-class Spanish. All right, I speak well enough to ask directions to the bathroom, and I can order paella without the waiter delivering a gang of picadors to the table. I’m sure I sound about as fluent to the good people of Madrid as the Scandinavians who have developed an affinity for visiting my town: “Yes, please, I am asking to directions to the River Street, and you are thank you telling me?”
But I learned a smattering of Spanish because I already had finished seven years of Latin, and my parents thought it might be worthwhile for me to learn a language spoken outside the Vatican. I learned Spanish so I could order dinner in places where English was only good for curse words and baseball. Lately, I’ve noticed I might need to start brushing up on the Español, even when I’m at home.
But I live in the United States of America. Why in the hell should I have to learn anything but English? No one asks the people in Barcelona, Spain, to learn English; they choose to. Granted, it’s a wise choice, since there’s no way they’re going to convince their neighbors to spend €5 on some colorful trinket which was lovingly handcrafted by the kindly old woman down the street… in Taiwan.
As the Democratic-led U.S. Senate again tries to push through the amnesty-for-illegal-aliens DREAM Act, more and more often I’m noticing a sizable number of people who struggle with English the way I struggle with Spanish. And while no special powers of observation are required to understand the Democrats’ reasons for wanting to grant a vote to every Tomas, Ricardo and Jorge who manage to swim, tunnel or dodge his way across the border, perhaps the rest of us should consider the endgame in a country of more than 300 million souls which has abandoned a lingual standard.
Just a few weeks ago, Principal Crespin Esquivel delivered the commencement address to the graduating senior class of Whittell High School in Zephyr Cove, Nev. Actually, Esquivel delivered the address twice: once in English, y una vez en Español (and once in Spanish). Esquivel said: “I think it’s important for me to make sure all the families feel comfortable.” I have no objection to Esquivel’s manners, but I think his logic is severely twisted. By offering “comfort” to those who have yet to learn Inglés, he’s reinforcing the idea that their comfort at a commencement ceremony takes precedence over their comfort on job interviews. Letting the Nation’s youths come of age without a common tongue allows for a grim outcome. The prospect is about as appealing as it would be to serve as Chris Matthews’ designated driver after Obama gets his clock cleaned in the 2012 election. The Nation would fall into Tower of Babel-type chaos, and we would all look forward to living in blessed paradise – much like the countries our Spanish-only friends fled for our shores.
We have already seen what that looks like. Last weekend, the U.S. Soccer team lost a match to Team Mexico. Given our track record on the international soccer scene, that’s not stunning. The fact that the crowd was overwhelmingly pro-Mexico shouldn’t necessarily turn too many heads, either. And I suppose it’s not too bizarre that the officials conducted the post-match ceremony in Spanish — except that the game was played in Los Angeles (yes, L.A. is still technically in the U.S.).
People in Spanish-speaking countries learn English because it helps to speak the language of the tourists without whom they would be selling colorful trinkets from Taiwan to each other. Also, while the French might be more famous for their disdain of Americans’ mangling of their language, no one really enjoys Los Gringos’ tendency to butcher languages the way President Obama butchers the memories of fallen soldiers. I’m not suggesting Americans are blameless in this cultural equation. I think learning to speak more than one language is worthwhile, especially if you want the hedges to be straight or you want to figure out which woman Ed Schultz hates the most today.
However, here at home, English is still the lingua franca of success. Should we fail to reinforce that success, then vaya con Dios, Los Estados Unidos (“Go with God, the United States).