“Does Your Child Speak Another Language at Home? Reflections of a Bilingual American”

[Authors Note:  This essay was originally published in Bilingual Games: Some Literary Investigations, by Doris Sommer (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) under the title “Found in Translation: Reflections of a Bilingual American” ]

“Does Your Child Speak Another Language at Home?                Reflections of a Bilingual American

by Julio Marzán

Does your child speak another language at home? To begin my daughter̓s education in a New York City public school kindergarten I had to answer this question, which really inquired if her parents spoke another language at home and also asked if those parents were of the kind who obstructed their child̓s capacity to learn in an English-speaking classroom. Of course, even though at home my daughter did speak Spanish—because it was her Ecuadorean mother̓s first language and because Spanish was another intellectual enrichment to impart and as a household rule my wife and I didn̓t celebrate ignorance, not even ignorance that posed as superiority—I answered “No.”

My authority to read into that question came from having lived more than fifty years, since the age of four months, in polyglot New York City and having devoted, in one fashion or another, my professional biography to observing American culture, as speaker and writer of English. For this reason, even though my written answer came as reflex, afterwards I found myself rewinding and playing back old introspection on my bilingualism only this time to better understand its effect on my daughter̓s future. I didn̓t want to endanger her ability to achieve in the classroom, but I didn̓t want her to grow unable to communicate with her cultural legacy. After all, lacking material wealth to pass on, I wanted to leave her the best I had gleaned. In the matter of languages, that meant I wanted to bestow on her the gift of literacy in two languages.

Good language management: Like her, I began learning it upon entering school, and I refined it in the course of my education toward a writing career. Steeped in that education in Anglo roots back to Chaucer and Beowulf, at first I believed that my writing resulted by willing dormant the Spanish-informed part of my psyche. For the most part (or at least so I thought) I succeeded, except for moments of linguistic interference or lacunae of lore or common sayings that I would not have heard in my particular upbringing by a Puerto Rican mother and an American stepfather.
But even as I edited to pave those bumps on my career path, I began to appreciate them as external signs of the bicultural, unconscious threads I was weaving into writing my particular language. What I consciously expressed in English was experience also being filtered through my other language, which to some unknown extent I was translating.
In Jorge Luis Borges̓s story on the fictive titular planet, “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” the inhabitants practice the art of reproducing things, simply making a duplicate they call a rhon. The most highly prized reproduction has no original, being a reproduction “from inspiration, from hope.” Borges̓s first intention may have been to parody human reproduction, a hallmark theme, but I realized that my poems were like those reproductions, translations from pure inspiration, and not just because I was bilingual but because all art is rhon. Looking to summarize this mysterious translation inside me, from Borgcs̓s metaphor I spun off my own as the title of my first poetry book, Translations without Originals, which contained no translations or poems  having to do with being bilingual, the only linguistic connection being my given name, which suggested that I as a child spoke another language at home.

Over a decade later, while doing research for my book, The Spanish American Roots of William Carlos Williams, and therefore closely reading Williams̓ complete works for the first time, I stumbled on another antecedent in two poems titled “Translation.” Combining my autobiographical condition and the universal condition of creativity, these figurative translations, like my own poems, were neither literally translations nor explicitly referred to any other language. Rather, their titles reminded us that they were translations from another Williams cultural persona. Reading on, I came upon a third poem, “Hymn to Love Ended” (every Quevedoesque pun—Hymn/Him—is intended by Williams), whose subtitle was a gloss on his two poems titled “Translation”: “Imaginary Translation from the Spanish.”Like Williams̓s, my own imaginary translations didn̓t need to dwell explicitly on translation as either subject or theme, as I am doing now, any more than a poet or novelist needs to verbalize that what he or she is writing is concomitantly a lesson on how to write a poem or novel. I simply wrote poems, at that time only in English, and asking what rang true, what clanged false in American culture. Among the latter, the most threatening to me as aspirant writer was the mythos through which the mainstream culture customized Spanish speakers or anyone perceived as one.

For according to that mythos̓s teachings, reliable narrators can be only ethnically nondescript monolingual writers or bilinguals whose other language English deemed prestigious. Any association with Spanish, even if I never spoke it, made mc intellectually unreliable as narrator and implicitly as anything else, a pretension posturing as truth and proselytized as an upscale superstition. I have witnessed its power over the brains of graduate school professors, editors, and colleagues who, after admitting to some minor flattery, cleared their throats to assume the pose of innate authority that they had nothing to gain by examining and that they felt compelled to celebrate with me as acolyte.
And so my writing as an American became like my being an American, an epistemologjcal puzzle. For, if someone whose mere name evokes Spanish could produce such absurdity, imagine the effect of a thick accent. In an unprestigious language, of course: the key is prestige.

n contrast, no such limitation attended the accents of Nixon̓s Secretary of State
Henry Kissinger and Carter̓s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski or the poets Joseph Brodsky and André Codrescu and Charles Simic. Against this cultural affront my parental duty was both to armor and arm my daughter.
Does your child speak another language at home? I must confess to having become functionally bilingual only after youthful years of being serially monolingual. Raised in most my early childhood in a Spanish-speaking household, I still spoke a fluent Spanish before starting school. After that, school and the new gadget, television (which only my aunt owned), and even more influential radio, changed my linguistic preference. By the age of ten, when I came under the tutelage of an americano stepfather, my de facto adoptive father, I had already begun willfully to forget my Spanish, a shedding that continued despite my growing up still hearing it at home and breezing through high school Spanish classes. This decline stopped in my second undergraduate year as an English major when, required to take a “foreign language,” I took a Spanish courses again and finally learned the grammar as if I had stepped out of a stupor. Then after graduating, inspired by the late sixties. and early seventies, I submerged myself in revolution and Spanish, making it my political purpose to become as literate in it as I had become in English.

I must rush to clarify that the waning of my childhood Spanish was not owing to any bad influence from my dad, who as a lover of Puerto Rican culture had mastered Spanish and even how to dance like a Latin to Latin music. Upon my mother̓s marriage, in fact, we moved to Puerto Rico, where we lived for half a year. After a business deal fell through, we subsequently returned, this time to the North Bronx. So if my stepfather—born Jewish but a lapsed Christian Scientist; born Ashkenazic but more comfortable around Sephardim—did remove us from the immediate New York Puerto Rican community, he actually brought us closer to my family in Puerto Rico, which we visited often, and where my father worked tirelessly on naturalizing his Spanish. Ironically, because he worked in El Barrio as a furniture salesman, he was also our conduit to the latest Puerto Rican community̓s news, rumors, and musical releases. Years later, when I rescued my moribund Spanish, I had to credit the influence of his unwavering Americanness as my model for feeling comfortable about possessing Spanish and English unselfconsciously.

So not from my stepfather did I feel tile original pressure to lose Spanish: that pressure came from my socialization as a Latino American kid. Brought in diapers from Puerto Rico, I am a first-generation cultural immigrant, whose story is the familiar one of learning to forsake one̓s parents̓ culture and also learning that true Americans are loath to speak a foreign language. Consequently, even though Spanish was the language of home, growing up here meant interpreting the world through English. Such has been the norm for immigrants whose home countries, for a myriad of reasons, bad failed them, and despite being born U.S. citizens, culturally speaking, Puerto Ricans were no different.

Our post World War II migration consisted mainly of hill people and urban poor strongly encouraged to leave the island by an industrialization initiative. When they were suddenly thrust into New York̓s hostile reception, the less than sophisticated response of some gave rise to stereotypes that distorted the public image of the gentle people that the majority had always been. Consequently, even though this community predated Miami̓s most recent wave of exiled Cubans, a working-class exodus, in retrospect it can be called Puerto Rico̓s Marielitos, whose presence clashed not only with New York bigots but also with the post-industrial culture of Puerto Rico.

An earlier, smaller Puerto Rican migration of skilled, educated workers—the generation described in Bernardo Vega̓s Memoirs had also encountered hostility, but its class and cultural resources made it possible to organize politically, whether working toward the island̓s independence or toward socialism. The great actor José Ferrer belonged to that demographic, if not to the New York community. Also the Afro-Puerto Rican Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, who, angered by his fellow islanders̓ racism, moved to black Harlem and devoted his life to writing and researching black history. His extensive library became the New York Public Library̓s Schomberg Collection. The socialist Vega himself was a fervent supporter of Italian Harlem̓s legendary Congressman Vito Marcantonio during F. D. L̓s administration.

But those of my generation had to come of age, get an education, and investigate much before we were to learn of that history and realize as well that our New York selves were as much emblems of class as of culture. The mainly cultured, if much fewer, among of the prewar Puerto Rican migrants, to illustrate, were put off by the new arrivals̓ jíbaro ways and the emergent youth-gang culture (its impact eventually romanticized in the musical West Side Story), prompting Vega to offer his inability to identify with the newcomers as the reason for leaving behind the struggles of the changed “Barrio Latino” and moving to Long Island. Unlike the more culturally secure Vega, however, as children, future newyoricans only had le gloomy images of their stigmatized and violently reactive community to defend against American culture̓s persuasion that they adopt English as the means of improving their lot by becoming something else.

I had tile advantage of having spent almost every summer of my childhood back on the island, where for two months I was sheltered from New York̓s influence. Perhaps for this reason, no matter how humble my associations with Spanish and despite the allure of a world whose English I have no memory of having spoken, I also followed it hard to warm up to a comparatively faded-color dullness about americano that made me gravitate to the tropical sheen and warm sensuousness of Caribbean Spanish. Nevertheless, my inner conflict continued its gestation as for tell months I was ininformed by New York, where I couldn̓t help stockpiling years of resentment toward Spanish̓s inexplicable inferiority passed on to me.

Many years later, when working for a bilingual education program, I asked a Puerto Rican boy his name. He answered “Efrem.” I added, “Do you mean Efraín?” His answer took me back to when I was his age: “Don̓t speak to me in that horrible language!” Clearly, Efrem was angry, and he had yet to discover that when he grew up, savvier island-based, ostensibly fellow Puerto Ricans would dismiss him, flaunting a gold plumage of one-upmanship because they were not angry, because they had not passed through that baptism of self-doubt and were sure that they could address americanos eye-to-eye. Behind them would parade equally deluded continental Latin Americans who immunized themselves from self-doubt by reasoning that Puerto Ricans, being tropicales to begin with, were naturally selected to find themselves in their pathetic social standing.

Does your child speak another language at home? The true answer would affix my daughter on a scale or grid or an index card, and from that point on any common English mistake that might routinely be said by any non-Hispanic, non-Asian, you know, American kid, out of my daughter̓s mouth would give the teacher license to wax anthropological, attributing my daughter̓s error to her problem of being able to speak another language. I thought back to the Irish priest, the high-school English teacher who gave me a failing grade, arbitrarily discounting accumulated scores. In our classroom argument he got tripped up by a rhetorical trap I had set and, frustrated, roared for all to hear that “Yes, I lowered your grade to what I thought you deserved.” Days later, so blinded by his arrogance, he didn̓t realize what he was saying to my stepfather, whose riposte had no peer, when by rote the priest ascribed my deficiency as probably due “to the neighborhood [I] lived ill.” Dad let him know that our North Bronx neighborhood was considerably better than where this priest had ever lived.

I hooked around the Public School lunchroom in which I filled out the questionnaire. A few other parents sat at my table: a couple of Jewish parents, a few Latino mothers. Farther removed, separated from ours by two empty tables, Koreans were crowded together, laughing and chatting. Those parents had been waved over to that table in Korean by an officer of the strictly Korean PTA. For in this Queens elementary school, on of the city̓s best, the dominant cultural power had shifted in the past decade from Jewish to Korean. Korean clout was such that the parents ran their own PTA and, after bringing a civil rights suit against the city, managed to postpone testing for a year so that their children, who spoke only Korean at home, could improve their English and have a fair opportunity to enter tile gifted-children̓s program.
Highly protective of their childrens’ Korean identity, those parents rarely allowed them to attend—or even answer invitations to—birthday parties. They hired Korean school buses to transport the children home or to Korean after-school programs. Their protectionism reminded me of my mother̓s early—although far more modest but comparatively just as Herculean—efforts to insulate me from the worst influences of Bronx sidewalks and keep me connected to island family.

Another important similarity between Puerto Ricans and Koreans was the emphatic message sent by Koreans—not only in this school but in their business and real estate practices throughout Queens— that, conveying more than a desire to gather around the hearth of the familiar, they promoted among them a mythos of the inadequacy of American culture. To be fair, many previous immigrants have demonstrated the same ethnocentricism, and in certain matters Spanish speakers too address a superior air at Anglo America. My own sister was returned to an elementary school on the island to prevent her acquiring the looser morals of American girls. But unlike the more upscale Koreans, Spanish-speakers̓ snootiness only goes so for, undermined by an inevitable realismo. Then, reiterating José Enrique Rodó̓s trade-off, they admit to the great material achievements of American culture while holding on to a claim of superior Latin humanism. Strengthened by this sort of balance, most Spanish speakers work to become good, socially mobile, bilingual American citizens.

But the pull to capitulate absolutely to English overwhelms a large number, like those Latino mothers who sat among us non-Koreans. Those women embodied a prevalent pattern among the handful of Latinas in this virtually suburban, small-town-like neighborhood in which, except for my wife, all were married to middle-class gringos— high-school teachers, middle-level managers and salesmen—and discouraged their children from speaking Spanish or mixing with children like mine who still did. This de-Latinization is paradoxically so Latino. Racializing their own culture in the intellectually lowest American tradition, mothers of a darker complexion than mine or my child̓s behaved as if getting too close to Spanish or someone associated with Spanish would culturally darken them even more. Of course, others whose complexion was no lighter than mine, mainly South Americans, reacted the same but not just because of Spanish:
the gossip spread, I would subsequently learn, that the husband who had just moved in was the neighborhood̓s only “Puerto Rican.”

In sum, with their de rigeur lightened hair, their unvaried, un-Latin dressing down in jogging clothes and sneakers, their redundantly repeating their children̓s polysyllabic mainstream-sounding given names (Jeremy, Christopher, Priscilla) these mothers seemed to live obsessively self-conscious of their repressed Latin identity, a persona kept alive by their vigilance that it did not betray them. Sitting a few feet from each other, we were really miles apart. I can only extrapolate from their attitude that, besides whatever risible notion they had of my being Puerto Rican and a Latin male, the highier and more rationalized barrier between us was my still having a Spanish-speaking disposition as evidenced by my child, whom they heard converse with me. From my perspective, of course, the major differences were that I had long been where they wanted to take their children and, unlike me, they could answer truthfully that their children spoke no other language at home.

 Does your child speak another language at home? How inspiring it would have been if the question were intended to profile the embarking kindergartner, so the school could provide lessons in literacy in that language, a recognition of that child̓s being linguistically gifted. But that intention would not have genuinely reflected real American linguistic attitudes. Instead, behind the doubtless high-toned reasons for asking–to better understand the child and to provide the necessary resources–the question was actually part of a hidden agenda to teach American children to want to understand only English.

The traditional argument for monolingualism is not altogether without merit: a country composed of diffuse European subcultures with a history of internecine warfare had to discourage other languages from hastening the nation̓s dissolution or sowing clashes of regional ethnocentricities. According to this Platonic argument, ever hovering above us is a national unity Idea more close to being attained at the n-ton-tent that the country exclusively speaks English. Also implicitly argued is the notion that English-speaking communities become ethnically nondescript, American.
In reality, however, the nation is a coalescing of competing subcultures that preserve their ethnic identities even after adopting English. Among those subcultures, the “mainstream” is the mythically-defined ethnicity to judge the Americanness of other ethnicities. For the mainstream the symbol of national unity is a presumably unifying English, overlooking its historical proclivity to defame non-Europeans and prompt those groups to preserve their identity and heritage, creating today̓s fragmentation. Simply put, the argument sees nothing disharmonious about the collective self-portrait of the country starring its select cultural citizens supported by a cast of purely civic citizens whose exotic cultural lives they are free to exercise on a plane that neither changes nor informs the officially recognized blend called American culture.

The controversy, of course, is strictly limited to group dynamics: the U.S. government offers informational materials as well as a full range of services in other languages, especially acknowledging the demographic importance of Spanish. This cooperation takes place without either legally enforcing English as the national language or declaring the country officially bilingual. This government̓s practice partakes of an old tradition: Thomas Jefferson is known to have taught himself Spanish and on occasion address the Congress in Spanish. My purpose is not to attack English as the dominant language, nor am I advocating a bilingual country; I am juxtaposing American linguistic reality beside its long-sustained Anglophone myth. Jefferson did no less in addressing the issue with his contemporaries and in ordaining that Spanish must be taught at the University of Virginia.

Unfortunately, Jefferson̓s linguistic openness was not passed down; Americans are conflicted about languages. A powerful monolingual tradition subverts modern educational curricula that pretend to teach foreign languages. In the late 1990s, to illustrate, New Jersey̓s newly elevated educational standards required that students pass a foreign language exam to graduate from high school. Given the fashion value attached to continental languages, we might imagine that if students are being made to study a language, French-and Itaiian might be favorites. But if today, more than at any time, continental European iconography lines the major avenues and dominates the couture labels, French (which in parts of New York has been resuscitated by Haitian students) and Italian have been disappearing as available subjects in school curricula, in which the big ticket has been Spanish, whose culture enjoys neither pedigree nor prestige in the ears of English speakers.

The reasons why Spanish resoundingly succeeds in schools are legendarily two: (1) its phonetic consistency has earned it the reputation of being the easiest language to study, and (2) the large, domestic Spanish-speaking populations allow for the rhetoric that Spanish is eminently “useful.” To these I append a third: As any foreign language goes against the grain of a culture that doesn̓t encourage such speaking, students forced to learn a foreign language that they have determined they will never use–least of all to communicate with local Hispanics–have undertood the language requirement to be largely ceremonial. Over-whelmingly and quite sensibly, therefore, students choose the language that will neither wreak havoc on their cumulative grade nor leave thern traumatized.

In most schools, “taking Spanish” is a purely symbolic act, and teachers, schools, and the entire culture all collaborate to deliver that encoded wisdom surreptitiously by celebrating the ethnocentrism that keeps Spanish far away and foreign. For even though Spanish pre-dates the arrival of English on North America by a century and is spoken across a third of the nation’s landmass, and is either the first or second language of the nation̓s largest composite ethnic citizenry, it is still taught as the language of some other place. Spanish and that other place are kept distant from the too-familiar gibberish spoken in the popular anthropology about local Hispanics, whose neighborhoods students–who are taught about foods and music and lovely sights of places like Spain and Chile–would no more think of visiting to practice their skills than their teachers would dare make that suggestion, inducing an outbreak of parental hysteria.

One arguably understandable reason for this mental cordoning off is both the merely perceived or possibly real danger: Most “Spanish” neighborhoods are working-class, if not paradigmatic ghettos. Some are even infested with violent gangs. In all events, be they neighborhoods peaceful or violent, a complete demarcation from such “minority neighborhoods” defines non-Latino, white middle class identity.
Another arguably understandable reason for separating foreign from local is that the socioeconomic disparity between the respective cultural bases of English and domestic Spanish invokes in speakers of the former a Calvinist streak that subtly damns those usually poorer and therefore ordained Hispanic Others to their own impoverished figment nationalities. Hence the whiff of predestination that allows for routinely associating Spanish-speakers with “the help.” Newly arriving, hipper middle-class Latin American immigrants, especially those more purely Euro-descended, rapidly know to avoid being confused with stigmatized “minority,” often Caribbean if not Mextype Latinos and, in extreme cases, with stigmatized Spanish itself. Consider: If this culture can convince native Spanish speakers to drop Spanish altogether, how should we expect non-Spanish speakers to be disposed to learning it?

And the greatest irony is that behind Anglo peacocking before Hispanic culture and the bluster against bilingual education, the mainstream posture toward Spanish is also a very effective, self-defensive canard. For however imbalanced the images evoked by the juxtaposed cultures, the fact remains that the United States̓s first and oldest Cold War has been over language and its Anglophone self-preservation amid the ubiquitousness and persistence of American Spanish. Thus the danger sensed in Spanish̓s resistance to fading into its speakers̓ “past,” which it cannot do because it too is an American language of an American Hispanic present, whose Old Country is America itself. Bigotry, racism, superiority may have operated in English̓s traditional putting down of local Spanish, but ultimately it did so in the service of a historical consciousness trying to delimit a national identity against the threat of being swallowed up by its hemispheric American roots.

The long-running Anglo American superiority in just about anything one can name may have veiled this competition in a total wash but at the end of the twentieth century that competition became increasingly visible with the voluminous increase of Latin American immigration at a time of Anglo American cultural decline. Today Latin America may still be “emerging” but it has evolved measurably. Tellingly, in the face of Latinos as both the largest minority and the newest politically influential ethnic block, a counterforce shrilly warns of a cultural invasion and cries out for the formalization of English as the national language. The criers may sound as if they know what they want, but what they produce is a question: what is American Culture?

Does your child speak another language at home? Five years have passed since I encountered that question as portal to my daughter̓s schooling. Today she sits among gifted fourth-grade peers and no teacher has brought up the issue of her speaking another language. While, like their parents, her few Latino classmates seem to have set as the pinnacle of their formative achievement their becoming mono-lingual in English, she remains unimpressed. A voracious reader in English, from browsing through Spanish books in the house she taught herself to read Spanish phonetics and began writing notes to her grandmother in Spanish. She enthusiastically awaits our sitting down so we can start her with basic Spanish grammar–all this mimicking her older sister.

For the younger child̓s American rite of resisting Spanish was  mercifully avoided as a consequence of earlier strategies plied on her now teenage sister, my stepdaughter, who at home resisted being made to answer in Spanish as much as being ordered to practice piano. Today she says she loves both although she formally studies high school French, which she has picked up with agility, as there is no point to her wasting time going through school Spanish, whose basic levels she had already come to know. French came into our lives as a byproduct of my shaking up her defiance against anything not English–the lesson she seemed to be getting throughout the school year from her peers–by our taking summer family trips to Quebec. When both girls were young, trips to Puerto Rico were helpful, but those trips got increasingly expensive. An economical way of widening the girls̓ linguistic horizons was visiting Montreal, where the older girl observed how different but familiarly “Latin” those Quebecois were in their manners, taste in clothes, and, later, flirting. Four years into French, out of the blue, she asked me when I could teach her Spanish grammar because she had made a decision to sound fluent and intelligent in Spanish.

My family̓s mentored bilingualism is, of course, an expression of who I am, but more than teaching them Spanish my objective was help them rise above an ultimately banal American socio-politico-racial discourse that sows self-doubts, wastes creative energy, and isolates one from the wider world. Both girls strongly identity with the United States as their country but aec learning to discern its dimensions of greatness from its occasions of smallness, notably in its attitude toward Spanisli. Personally, I can̓t help seeing their comfort with Spanish amid peer pressure to be monolingual as the legacy of my stepfather̓s Whitmanesque American consciousness, thanks to which they see no inner conflict in being American and speaking both Spanish and English.

Does your child speak another language at home? As I write this section it is two months to the day since New York̓s World Trade Center was toppled by terrorist  plane hijackers. The entire country senses a change, transformed by so many haunting images. Among them, striking a special chord in me, was the televised head-hunt by Attorney General Ashcroft, who announced immediate employment for native speakers of Arabic and Farsi. His appeal prompted public conversations on the importance of human over technologically gathered intelligence and the value to national security that its citizens learn foreign languages. Ironically, after a call for jihad drew thousands o)f Pakistani, Chechnens, and Chinese Muslims to resist the United States in Afghanistan, news reports described the movement of those linguistically diverse volunteer Taliban forces in trucks on each of which also rode a translator.

At first President Bush mistakenly described the coalition forces he had organized against the “forces of evil” as a “crusade,” evoking the last Christian-Western effort to wipe out heathen-Eastern Islam. To correct this misnomer, subsequent propaganda underscored American determination to pursue certain Muslims or being terrorists but not for being Muslim. The news media also made us aware of the growing Islamic population on American soil, suggesting a future Islamic influence on American culture. Appeals were made to misguided citizens not to harm innocent American Mitslims. Overnight we had all changed: one extreme interpretation of Islam resulted in mass murder, and the destruction of those monumental twin metaphors forced the West to take stock of itself as a civilization.

Old, familiar conflicts were demoted in importance. On the day of the attack in New York, Fidel Castro offered to help however Cuba could. Within weeks the formerly outcast Westernized Pakistani leader was “persuaded” to cooperate against former fundamentalist allies. Also the new, West-looking Russia–fighting its own war with Islam in Chechnya–discovered how much it had in common with the United States. Later, as if loyal to battle lines drawn, Mexico and Russia refused to help OPEC, dominated by Saudi oil, by not cutting production and raising oil prices. Notwithstanding these acts as political posturings, the West wore a veil of  solidarity while at home, throughout these two months, a citizenry that had paid scant attention to international news now eagerly waited to hear from fraternal terrorist hunters in Germany, Spain, England, France, Italy.

In other words, Americans who had prided themselves in not having to know much beyond their sources of income discovered an international dependency that underwrote the peace that made possible their collective financial stability. The world once contained to the dimensions of a television screen was now directly connected to daily lives, anti to protect ourselves from its human failing, we needed the services of foreign languages. Ashcrofts̓s appeal to find Americans who also spoke Arabic and Farsi implied a change that would doubtless manifest itself in those school curricula tihat had been steadily eliminating foreign language classes.

Suddenly too the familiar xenophobia was replaceif by another, this time at the level of civilization. Now at border crossings, where national security operated at the highest level alert, agents kept an eye out for a different kind of interloper. Mexicans entering the country illegally were no longer hard news. Surely the smuggler̓s trade continued unabated across hot dangerous terrain that no cell phone-carrying, car-renting terrorist would choose to endure. But Mexicans risk their lives to sell flowers or work in restaurants or dig ditches, not to harm Americans. Next to, unfortunately, the demonized Middle Eastern languages, even Spanish begins to sound downright like home.

This distracted mood, a transient wartime mood perhaps, seems rife with possibilities, auguring a new American regard for the world and its languages, even though the intuited, inner revolution of such a change seems to underlie the desire to return to normal, a nostalgia for an America gone with the wind, like New York̓s former skyline and the license to reassuringly, self-interestedly customize reality. That is why I fear that for many rebuilding implies re-erecting familiar barriers, reinventing the isolationism that was part of pre-September eleven peace. For now I will argue that since that momentous day I have witnessed that Americans are capable of seeing kinship where they once saw foreignness and demonstrated the capacity to see a gift in those who answer “Yes” to the question of whether one̓s child speaks another language at home.

  1. I really like your writing style, superb information, thankyou for posting : D.

  2. Keep working ,impressive job!

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