May 18, 2001

Commentary

English and Spanish = the USA

By Raoul Lowery Contreras

Ola, como esta usted? Donde esta la biblioteca? Everyone who took high school Spanish knows that those phrases are probably all they recognize from their teenaged efforts to learn one of three most spoken languages in the world.

Nonetheless, almost everyone knows how to order tacos, fajitas and jalapenos; almost everyone can actually pronounce San Francisco or San Diego, or El Paso or San Antonio; almost everyone can pronounce Antonio Banderas' name, or Julio Iglesias' name.

Our politicians and their strategists are described as politicos and are crafty and "savvy." Savvy, of curse, comes from the Spanish verb - saber, to know.

Well, we now know (sabemos) that the campaign to make the United States of America an official English-speaking country is only an exercise for a fringe lobby group of nutcases existing out of the American mainstream. They carry the names of the usual suspects - Dr. John Tanton, founder of U.S. English and the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform, (FAIR) and Roy Beck, a Tanton protégé. Glenn Spencer of the virulently anti-Mexican group in Los Angeles, The American Patrol, and Barbara Coe, the former civil service clerk, and founder of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR) lead the English-only fight in California.

Another leader, a Chilean immigrant, hired by the fringe to make it look like Hispanics demand English-only, is sought out by the media to capture a heavily accented immigrant spouting words that he is paid to utter. He was hired after the famous Linda Chavez, yes the same Linda Chavez President-elect Bush named Labor Secretary, resigned the U.S. English post because comments made by the group's founder (Tanton) in a secret memorandum struck her as racist in tone and content. She was not alone. Famous newscaster Walter Cronkite also resigned from the organization's Board of Directors when the memo surfaced. So, Tanton searched out the Chilean immigrant and he has represented Tanton's anti-Hispanic view with a heavy Spanish accent-for money, of course.

According to public Internal Revenue filings of non-profit groups, Tanton has made a career of raising money for anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic causes from the Pioneer Fund, a non-profit group founded by the same people who founded the American Nazi Party in the 1930s. Those founders were also the prime movers of the immigration restriction bills of 1922 and 1923 that passed an almost all white (one black) and Protestant Congress of the United States. These bills were designed to keep more Jewish and Italian immigrants out of America.

Despite the efforts of "English-Only," a campaign directed by extremists and full of irritated average English-only speaking Americans, the country appears to have adopted Spanish as an unofficial second language. This phenomenon is not limited to Spanish-speaking immigrants or their American born children. Many, many non-Hispanic Americans are diving into Spanish lessons in order to work with and supervise Spanish-speaking workers, or to work in businesses exporting billions of dollars worth of goods and services to Latin America, a trading area with almost 400-million Spanish-speaking potential customers.

Certainly, the huge influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants has influenced the spread of Spanish throughout the country, nonetheless, I believe it is the spread of Mexican food that has influenced most of Spanish usage in recent years. Almost every supermarket I have visited in urban areas outside of California have sections of "Hispanic" food, meaning, of course, mostly Mexican foodstuffs.

For the benefit of those fringe English-only people, let me lay on some mainstream American words like the "whole enchilada." It may be that I'm full of "beans" being a "beaner" or, as more sophisticated people say, a frijolero. It may be that I am so wrong I should be hauled off to the "hoosgow" or, in real Spanish, juzgado-bar of justice, or to the "calaboose" which originally was the Spanish, calaboso, jail.

There was a time in which only the American elite or the newest immigrants to America spoke anything other than English. The elite spoke French or German. The immigrants spoke their native languages until they learned English - if they ever did, and few did, or their children did. A few Yiddish words made it into mainstream American English, but only a few. So did some French and German words, but not many.

Will Spanish overtake English in our everyday America? No. Will Spanish enrich American English? Yes. Will the Spanish language become America's second language? Yes. If that is not in the cards, how did cowboy become such a driving cultural word and way of life? Cowboy is a direct translation of the Spanish/Mexican word for men who ride herd on cattle - vaquero, which comes from the Spanish word for cow, vaca.

You see, Spanish language usage by Americans isn't even a recent occurrence. It goes back to the very birth of the country, Los Estados Unidos de America.

Contreras can be emailed at: sdraoul@att.net.

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