Speaking to Each Other on Immigration

A relative of mine who lives in Texas was venting about Mexican-Americans. We had been writing back and forth about immigration reform, and she expressed frustration particularly over issues of language and national identity.

At one point it dawned on me to ask, “How many Mexicans do you know personally?”

My point is not to single out my relative. I haven’t befriended any Tea Partiers, and they make my blood boil in the same way. No, this simply came to mind with the enactment of the immigration law in Arizona and the firestorm surrounding it. The point here is to ask a question:

Who is talking in the Southwest? More important, who’s listening?

What would they find out? If they talked with my relative, Latinos would hear why Texans’ ardent patriotism—perhaps a product of their unique history—makes it hard to swallow Mexican-Americans’ self-identifying as Mexican (and not American). They might hear about the Anglos who can’t find work in the Southwest because they don’t speak Spanish.

On the other side, Anglos might hear how extraordinarily difficult it is to learn English, how the economic hardship that brought many Mexicans here plagues them still, how humiliating it is to be stopped for DWL (driving while Latino).

These are guesses. I live in the Northeast, so I don’t see the struggles of these folks every day. What I have seen, in my own life, is how my preconceptions of a group melt away when I come face to face with a member of that group. My friendship with Frank changed my thinking about gay people. My friendship with Jane cleared away misconceptions about born-again Christians.

I ran a cursory Google search to find out who’s talking in the Southwest, but it came up empty. What have you heard? Are you aware of dialogue between Anglos and Latinos in Arizona, Texas, California, New Mexico? What kind of progress are they making? Click on Comments beneath this post and let us know.

5 Responses to “Speaking to Each Other on Immigration”

  • Alicia says:

    Just the other day I was discussing the shift in the perspective of immigrants over the past few generations. A co-worker mentioned that her mother came to America from the Netherlands and had to learn English to survive. She later refused to teach her native language to her children since they were “now American.”

    Today it appears that trend has shifted and immigrants are scared of losing their cultural heritage and personal identity.

    Personally, I feel if you live and work in another country you should be able to communicate in their language. That does not mean one should strip themselves of the values one holds dear.

  • admin says:

    I find this such a thorny issue. I see your point about speaking the native language: when we visited France over Christmas, I went out of my way to brush up on my French and speak it as much as possible. But then I just adore language, so that’s easy for me to say. On the other hand, I’m so painfully aware of how monolingual most Americans are, and how that may well contribute to our own Anglocentrism–so a trend that nudges us all toward becoming bilingual is very appealing to me. Because different languages reflect different cultures and ways of seeing the world, imagine how much broader one’s perspective becomes when one adds Spanish, or Russian, or Chinese to one’s repertoire.

    Then there’s the issue of how long it takes to learn a language–really, we’re talking years here–and how much more difficult it is for adults as opposed to children. If you’re a Spanish-speaker immigrating to the U.S., you’re going to be speaking predominantly Spanish for several years no matter what, even if you start English classes on your first day.

    Difficult stuff, and I think civil dialogue on this issue could help us work our way through some of it. Thanks for a good comment.

  • Jen-Lin says:

    RE “Today it appears that trend has shifted and immigrants are scared of losing their cultural heritage and personal identity.”

    I don’t think the trend has shifted. I think most folks hold onto their family and cultural traditions, although their predominance may diminish in successive generations. My grandmother and her family emmigrated from Sweden when she was 13. She was young, went to public school, and as my grandfather proudly said, “She went through 8 grades in one year!” as she learned to speak English. You can trace my grandfather’s ancestry back to the revolution. And yet, the cultural heritage with which I was raised is swedish. swedish cooking, swedish Christmas traditions, and a few key phrases for a little girl such as (phonetically) “Vas so gud” (literally “If you be so kind” and intended “If you be so kind as to come and eat at my table”. It was my job to tell the family that it was time to eat. I also learned ‘drive safely’ and ‘I have to pee!’ Grandma died when I was 8 and I didn’t learn more Swedish. Although, my mom & aunts would speak in Swedish when they didn’t want the kids to understand. I passed on my favorite images to my children, the swedish tomtem — the elves pictured in the holiday posters. And I rant about the food at the Scandifest, “It’s not like my grandmother’s; it’s been americanized!”

    As a teenager, I used to rant against my parents’ desire to know my friends’ last names, as if that belied an ethnic prejudice. Growing up in/around Hartford, Connecticut, there was the Italian neighborhood, the Jewish neighborhood, the Polish neighborhood, and later, the Puerto Rican neighborhood — bigger cities, more ethnic neighborhoods. Living in Eugene, Oregon I miss that dynamic multi-cultural weft in our American fabric. It is most evident in our restaurants and a handful of ethnic stores.

  • Jen-Lin says:

    RE: On the other side, Anglos might hear how extraordinarily difficult it is to learn English, how the economic hardship that brought many Mexicans here plagues them still, how humiliating it is to be stopped for DWL (driving while Latino).

    Yes. And. what is missing in the dialogue about immigration is the inherent racism. An issue most of us would like to believe is non-existent in our more enlightened age, such that our country cannot dialogue without the predominant (white) culture feeling threatened.

    The immigration issue is fresh and personal. My daughter has been in a relationship with a Mexican man for 10 years, married for 6, and now they have a 2-year-old daughter. (My granddaughter!) My son-in-law continues to experience prejudice — being passed over at the deli counter, fear of being pulled over, etc. He comes from the state of Oaxaca and has Aztec ancestry, features, and coloring. Sadly, he has internalized racial oppression. When Madison was born, he expressed concern that her skin color was dark. I, and other extended-family aunties, replied, ‘but she has such a lovely color, a beautiful latte’ and ‘Angla women are killing themselves in tanning booths for this color.’

    I confess, I harbored my own prejudiced concerns based upon my experience attending university in Spain and Mexico thirty years ago. It seemed to be the cultural norm that men married, had families, and had mistress on the side. There would have been more broken families if divorce was sanctioned by the Catholic church. I was concerned for my daughter. I have since come to know and love my son-in-law for his faithfulness, love and care for my daughter and granddaughter — his family. He believes his role is to provide and protect them, a quality I wish many American men practiced. He came to this country as an elder male child to work so he could send $$ home to his family. His parents are farmers who haul cilantro to the mercado by burro cart. He bought for his mom, her first electric stove. His earnings helped put his sister and brother through college, although he has yet to attend himself. (He would like to go to school, but family comes first.) His earnings helped his parents pay for medical bills because they did not have insurance. He recently visited his hometown. Many things have changed — the streets are paved and there is a medical clinic. On the other hand, his parents do not have a telephone, nor cell phone… One thing that amazed me from his photos, Madison looks just like her cousins! My kids are struggling now, like so many of us, to keep their jobs (they both work as cooks) pay their mortgage, worry about medical and daycare bills, etc.

    And, they are saving $$ so they can travel to Mexico so Madison may meet the rest of her family!

  • Jen-Lin says:

    And, lastly, more food for thought, watching the PBS show ‘Faces of America’ with Henry Louis Gates, Jr, that traces celebrities’ ancestry, I was struck by Eva Longoria’s story. Eva’s comment when asked by others when did her family cross the border, “We didn’t; the border crossed us.” …excerpted from the website, ” The Longoria family’s roots in Texas run back to a time before Texas even existed. Lorenzo Longoria, Eva’s first ancestor to arrive in the New World, sailed from Spain in 1603. Through the generations, Lorenzo’s descendants moved north to the modern US-Mexico border. In 1767, Pedro Longoria, Eva’s 7th great-grandfather, received almost 4000 acres along the Rio Grande in a land grant from the King of Spain. This land stayed in the family for over a century, enduring even the influx of Anglo settlers in the aftermath of the Civil War.” I think the show noted how that piece of land had been claimed under 3 or 4 different countries before it finally became US territory and then a state.

    And, a later comment posted to the show’s website, And who gave the King of Spain the right to grant the land?

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