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May 21 2006

US Senate to Hispanics: “Fuck You Mucho”

Nobody luxuriates in the English language with more vim than this spinster aunt. I’m positively French about it. But these English-as-the-official-national-language bills currently stinking up the already gross-smelling federal legislature are nothing but xenophobic racist bullshit that can only be interpreted as a giant fuck-you to anyone who mops a floor or mows a lawn or picks a grapefruit in the state of Texas and beyond.

The Senate bill—which passed with the exuberant hell-yeahs of Democrat senators from what I think we can safely say are states (Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, Florida, Nebraska) overabundant with thriving tribes of illiterate rednecks who wouldn’t know a well-turned English phrase if some moron in a beer commercial stuck his finger in it—cleverly imposes higher standards of English comprehension on would-be immigrants while providing bupkis in funding for ESL (English as a second language) programs. Thus ensuring a recursive infinite feedback loop of failure. But this and other concrete consequences of the bill pale in comparison to the blinding enormity of its symbolic subtext.

It will come as a mind-blowing shock to no one that this English-as-the-Official-Language baloney is not about language at all. It is about white supremacy and fear of Mexicans. Until recently, honkys didn’t have to notice Mexicans or other Hispanic populations if they didn’t feel like it. Their produce just magically appeared in the grocery store, and their water-hogging lawns were manicured by invisible men. But lately the invisibles have been taking to the streets, where, despite global dimming, the light of day incontrovertibly reflects actual human beings.

A lot of human beings. Over 40 million, in fact. It turns out that one out of every seven people in the United States is Hispanic. Which makes remarks like Republican senator Lamar Alexander’s jingoist “English is part of our national identity, it’s part of our blood, part of our spirit” sound incredibly parochial, to say nothing of dimwitted. Lamar needs to get a grip. He’s appealing to his Anglo constituents’ irrational, sentimentalized yearning for a happy-honky Norman Rockwell America that, if it ever existed—which it didn’t—certainly did so at the terrible expense of everyone who wasn’t an upper middle class white male motherfucker. Culture, my onions—and the aforementioned mythical culture in particular—is not worth oppressing 40 million people over. It’s nothing but a set of behaviors upon the successful assimilation of which a given party is ruthlessly judged by her prejudiced peers.

Xenophobic racist bullshit has always been a beloved cornerstone of proto-fascism, so of course it is a specialité de la maison of 21st century American patriarchy. It has been successfully implemented in selling the Iraq war. It sustains the long lines in airports in which honkys can satisfy their rekindled passion for casting suspicious glances at swarthier passengers. And now the federal government proposes it be used to oppress and control the terrifying foreign (read: Mexican) menace.

English has been the official language of California for the past 20 years. Indentured undocumented immigrant labor thrives there under appalling conditions like it does nowhere else in the states. Coincidence?

32 comments

1 ping

  1. nursepam

    This country will change whether they want it to or not. We could do it the easy way by embracing the coming changes. But thanks to people like those you describe, we most likely will do it the hard way.

  2. Mandalay

    Ironic that English is the official language of a state that has an Austrian national who gleefully mangled it in countless movies as its governor.

    It’s amazing to me how so many people rail about the Hispanics and the “foreign people” and quickly seem to forget that unless they’re an Native American THEIR families also came here from somewhere else. If you read history, the Irish in the nineteenth century were treated just as badly and often worse than Hispanic immigrants today. It’s always been the American way to bash immigrants. Yankee Doodle fucking dandy.

  3. Qusan

    I have no clue what these clowns think they are doing (and did I see that Mary Landrieu on the list of Dems who voted for this … from LA where who knows what kind of English they speak?)!

    Last week I received a sample ballot for our June election. It had translations in Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese and Tagalog. Yesterday, I receive the SAME sample ballot TOTALLY in Spanish. I have no idea why. When I vote, there are polling volunteers who speak each of those languages. My county and surrounding counties are all majority minority (how stupid does that sound?) and there are entire shopping strips where I cannot read the signs. Guess what? I don’t care!

  4. wolfa

    I always enjoy the “vote in English as the official language” ideas, because that means that, in the not too terribly distant future, there will be states with enough Spanish speakers to have a majority vote for *Spanish* as the official language. (Though most likely it will start with official bilingualism, which will, with luck, eventually mean that most civil servants have to pass Spanish tests to keep their jobs, and then maybe there will be better second language classes in the US.)

  5. dogged.

    From my exciting new state:

    When state Rep. Jack Hoogendyk introduced his bill to make English the official language of Michigan, he spoke to his fellow lawmakers in Dutch.

    No one understood what he was saying.

    Hoogendyk’s bilingual banter in a House committee was designed to make his point that in Michigan, people have a better chance at being understood, fitting in and making more money if they speak English.

    Yes indeedy. It’s all about making sure that those wacky Dutch-speakers don’t take over the UP before fruit-picking season.

    (Apologies in advance for potentially fucked-up formatting.)

  6. wolfa

    I always enjoy the “vote in English as the official language” ideas, because that means that, in the not too terribly distant future, there will be states with enough Spanish speakers to have a majority vote for *Spanish* as the official language.

    Most likely it will start with official bilingualism, which will, with luck, eventually mean that most civil servants have to pass Spanish tests to keep their jobs, and then maybe there will be better second language classes in the US.

  7. Mar Iguana

    Estos fanáticos pueden comer mierda y morir

  8. wolfa

    Gah, double comment. Sorry.

  9. e fulton

    Well, you know, the drug war meme (i.e., “fear the black people!”) was getting tired, and now our prisons are kind of croweded, so this anti-Mexican stuff (i.e., “fear the brown people!”) has a two-fold benefit: (1) it’s a shiny, new form of xenophobia and (2) it doesn’t require retiring any of the “fear the brown people!” stuff that came about in the War on Terra. The one thing the government does efficiently is cause fear.

  10. MzNicky

    As a citizen of the glorious border state of Tennessee, I feel especially qualified to point out that the best thing about Bill Frist is that he’s so overwhelmingly appalling he usually takes our minds off Lamar Alexander. That’s all I can say about the embarrassing Senatorial representation we currently offer the nation, because the very thought of further verbalizing about it makes me vomit.

  11. kathy a

    darn, i wish i’d saved the original comment, which got spamulated. [i blame the spamulator, and ultimately the spammers, not twisty.]

    for a country that prides itself on freedom, inclusion, and opportunity, we have a pretty poor historical record.

    our immigrant ancestors — invaders themselves — did not do well by the native americans who were here for thousands of years. mandalay mentioned the irish, and one could also mention germans, jews, and many other groups. chinese laborers, brought here to build the great trans-continental railway, were treated to awful legal discrimination. we imprisoned japanese-american citizens during WWII for no better reason than their ancestery. slaves freed after the civil war, and their descendants, worked nearly a century to win legal rights — not equal treatment, but fair laws. the list goes on and on.

    my own state, california, has a shameful history regarding its treatment of “outsiders.” native americans, mexican-americans [even though my state was once part of mexico], chinese, japanese, african-americans who migrated by the tens of thousands to work in the war effort during WWII — all suffered maltreatment.

    remember the grapes of wrath? when families were fleeing the dust bowl of the early 1930′s, hoping to find a way to feed their children, california sometimes met “okies” and “arkies” with armed guards at the border. those who arrived in the “promised land” often lived in squalid conditions, did back-breaking labor for the land-owners when they could find it, and many ended up owing their employers more than they could earn for the privileges of sub-standard housing and overpriced goods. the same practices persist now, more or less, with cheap immigrant labor that benefits huge agricultural entities, and offers bare subsistence or less to those who actually do the work.

    this isn’t about the sanctity of language. it is about the powerful wishing to stay that way.

  12. Betsy

    Speaking of Dutch, or *in* Dutch as the case may be, as late as the 1800′s there were enslaved black persons in the state of New York whose “native” tongue was Dutch.

    And in the South there were slaves who spoke Gaelic.

    I wonder where they got that from. Everyone “knows” this country was settled by Englishmen.

  13. Amanda Marcotte

    All things considered, I’m of the opinion now that conservatives are opposed to culture unless it is in service of oppression, period.

  14. CafeSiren

    My question: if we require a certain level of facility with the English language for would-be immigrants and residents, can we do the same of current residents and citizens?

    More to the point: could we use this law to deport the current occupant of the White House?

  15. ykcir

    “Nobody luxuriates in the English language with more vim than this spinster aunt. I’m positively French about it.”

    The Wodehouse estate here, demanding our royalties…

    :-)

  16. Shy Girl

    Cafe Siren,

    “More to the point: could we use this law to deport the current occupant of the White House”

    Love it!

    I am currently volunteering as an ESL tutor, and from what I can see many immigrants have a far greater grasp of the English language than a number of native speakers I grew up with (especially when it comes to written English) in addition to being fluent in another language.
    A common complaint I found is not that they do not know English, but that some are offended by their accents and dismiss them based solely on that (actually a friend of mine who is a university professor is frequently talked down to or ignored not based not on what she says, but because her accent is thick). I blame the patriarchy (naturally).

  17. thebewilderness

    Shy Girl
    I too teach ESL, have for many years. Perhaps the most satisfying thing I have ever done. Although I have always been interested in history and politics, I found that helping refugees go through the process was an education in and of itself. I’d like to see the bloviators in the congress learn the language and get a job within six months the way we expect refugees to do. Faugh.

  18. jc.

    In europe countries are continually trying to protect the purity of their sacred national languages (amazing how many skinheads with their own particular proud national language “in their blood” only have a working vocabulary of about 200 words)from english (except in england where they have been unsuccessfully attempting to protect english from the working class). If you were blogging from here Twisty I guess you would be “absolutely American about it”. The american entertainment industry has of course been fighting this european cultural protectionism on every possible level. I love the smell of irony in the morning.
    My father who is 85 is “raza” from New Mexico (proud invaders from the 1600s)and doesn´t have much truck with Bilingualism (his spanish is native fluent) or mexicans.
    Myself, I grew up middle class white and don´t know first hand from beans about latinos, chicanos or raza culture, however I will never forget the 60s history book I was subjected to that blithely stated “Friemont was the first white man to cross the Rockies into California.” He was of course well taken care of by my spanish forefathers who´d already been there for sometime. Ignorance is bliss.
    My own expatriate view from the language struggles in europe is Darwinian, if a language doesn´t have enough vitality to survive without legislative support it deserves to and will die.
    For really heavy duty language/culture policies and laws check out “we´re so nordic pure cultural” Iceland.

  19. Christopher

    Fuck, the Mayflower immigrants didn’t care one fuck about assimilation. They didn’t learn local languages or customs any more then they had to.

    And yet somehow they have the authority to tell future immigrants that they have to completely assimilate?

    No, fuck that bullshit. Assimilation as a concept was invented by people who had no right to invoke it, because they never, NEVER held themselves to that standard.

    In fact, they demanded at gunpoint that the culture they immigrated into change to fit their wants and needs.

    The original attitude towards immigrants was that they only do the minimum necessary to function in the dominant society. We white folks never did more then that, at our best*. So asking people to do more is just inherently racist bullshit.

    *Excepting certain extraordinary cases. It certainly happened with individuals, and occasionally with entire cities (I seem to remember this being one theory as to what happened to the Roanoke). But it was never majority policy.

  20. hedonistic

    First, I’ve got a big problem with how this subject is even framed, i.e., “The Immigrant Problem.” It’s not a problem, damn it, it’s a solution. And why does it seem that whenever The Patriarchy implements a policy to solve a “problem,” it’s always the LEAST humane of the alternatives? WTF?????????????? Why can’t we frame the issue so that it’s “How may we humanely implement the immigrant solution?”

    On a “lighter” note (sarcasm) Playboy celebrated Cinqo De Mayo by featuring Mexican p*rn stars on their “Private Calls” show. How would I even know, since I don’t watch TV? It’s a long story . . .

    Blame, blame, blame.

  21. Betsy

    Under globalsim, corporations without boundaries = workers without boundaries.

  22. kathy a

    bitch ph.d. has a link to a really interesting article about the treatment of mexican immigrants over 100 years or so:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/21/weekinreview/21bernstein.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all&oref=slogin

  23. Hattie

    http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0520-23.htm “The Framing of Immigration.”

    Lakoff and Ferguson have provided us with the proper framing for the immigration issue.
    When you have to talk about immigration with people, these are the frames to use.

  24. kathy a

    hattie, that is a very interesting article. thanks!

    i tend to forget how often language sets the framework for thinking about a situation. language’s relation to framing is clear enough when the language is “shut up, bitch” or “send ‘em back where they come from.” neither type of sentiment tends to advance human dignity, or human rights, or meaningful discussion.

  25. katheburt

    So, English is in our blood? Which part is it, do you think, says my husband. Dunno, says I, probably one of the leucocyte species. As opposed, says he, to the brunocytes? Exactly, says I.

  26. Sylvanite

    I’m too lazy to google this, but I seem to remember that at one point Illinois’ legislature voted to make “American” the official language of Illinois. One of the sterling legislators defended this move by saying something to the effect that if “American” was good enough for Jesus, it was good enough for him. Lordy, I hope I’m misremembering, because it’s painful to think that someone could be so ignorant, yet electable.

  27. grrr kitty

    As the proud granddaughter of immigrants, the whole xenophobia thing gives me heartburn. I’d prefer it if future immigrants did *not* have to endure the same miseries my folks did. And since English is a polyglot and a bastardization of lots of other languages, what’s the objection? Although I’m lucky enough that my last name (15 letters) did not get smith or jonesified coming through Ellis Island, I wish my parents had maintained the ties to their parents’ mother tongues.

  28. saltyC

    It’s probably not necessary here, but to dispell some major myths about immigrants:

    Immigrants pay taxes. There are no special Government grants or loans for immigrants. The US Government did not give money to Vietnamese immigrants to start grocery stores. Immigrants actually have less access to grants and loans.

    Immigrant labor is a net gain for American economy. They use fewer services than citizens.

    So, what’s the crisis? Just who would benefit from scapegoating an easily recognizable population in order to gain power with the majority? Oh, I forgot.

  29. Enrique Phillips

    It’s unbelievable – the Mexicans have completed an almost total invasion of our country – without a single shot.

    Presidente Fox commends these illegal immigrants as heroes. There are Mexican border patrols – who’s job is to help the illegal immigrants cross. Mexico banking institutions are set-up to allow easy transfer of the $60 billion wired into Mexico from the US every year.

    Congratulations Mexico. You’ve outsmarted us!

  30. Enrique Phillips

    Presidente Fox commends these illegal immigrants as heroes. There are Mexican border patrols – who’s job is to help the illegal immigrants cross. Mexico banking institutions are set-up to allow easy transfer of the $60 billion wired into Mexico from the US every year.

    Congratulations Mexico. You’ve outsmarted us!It’s unbelievable – the Mexicans have completed an almost total invasion of our country – without a single shot.

  31. Enrique Phillips

    Presidente Fox commends these illegal immigrants as heroes. There are Mexican border patrols – who’s job is to help the illegal immigrants cross. Mexico banking institutions are set-up to allow easy transfer of the $60 billion wired into Mexico from the US every year.

    Congratulations Mexico. You’ve outsmarted us!

    It’s unbelievable – the Mexicans have completed an almost total invasion of our country – without a single shot.

  32. Mar Iguana

    Tenemos un problema ilegal del patrón, no un problema extranjero ilegal

  1. Liberal Serving

    “Xenophobic racist bullshit has always been a beloved cornerstone of proto-fascism”…

    Just go read. Too, too good to miss:Xenophobic racist bullshit has always been a beloved cornerstone of proto-fascism, so of course it is a specialité de la maison of 21st century American patriarchy. It has been successfully implemented in selling…

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