Opinion: Billboards in Spanish: Are they insensitive..or something else?

I recently joined an online, private social network called Nextdoor which promotes itself as an easier way for you to connect with your neighbors and community online to “make all of your lives better in the real world”. I joined the conversation as part of the South Hagginwood and surrounding neighborhoods. I made it clear that I write articles for the Sac Press and was looking for suggestions for stories and events to write about. One of the first responses I got back is quoted below(with the person’s permission). What follows it is an open letter response.

“One thing that frosts me is when I start seeing billboards along Marysville Blvd.,
and they are in Spanish! In America, our official language is English,
and I have often wished I could find out the
name of the advertiser or owner of the billboards to complain
about their insensitivity to English-speaking Americans.
I would expect to see billboards in Spanish if I were traveling
in a Spanish-speaking country, but not in Hagginwood!…
they need to learn English so that they can talk to you, NOT the other way around!
They moved to our country, not we to theirs! Billboards in Spanish only discourage
Mexican immigrants from learning English, which they need to learn
if they are to function in our country, or gain citizenship.”

-Steve Andrews from Hagginwood(on NextDoor.com)

I must start off by correcting you, Steve. English is NOT the official language; it is the de facto language and the predominant language of the United States and California and Sacramento and Hagginwood, yes. But we have no official language unlike many countries in the world. For example, Canada has two official languages: English and French; Switzerland has three: French, Italian, German with Romansh as a fourth national language. There have been many attempts in our country’s history to make English the OFFICIAL language, starting with the founding of the country and continuing right up to the present day.

Let’s get to the heart of your “frosting” or anger though, Steve. You find the billboards are insensitive to you as an English-speaking American. You object to what you see them as creating a Spanish-speaking country in your neighborhood, your city. I gather from some of the other email conversations we’ve had that you feel that if you are in America, you ought to speak English (or at least the California version of it—sorry, guilty Midwestern pleasure—we believe the dialect we speak in the Heartland is closer to English English than what is spoken here).

The angst you express about the speaking of Spanish and the billboards making you feel as if you are traveling in a Spanish-speaking country have been shared by many Americans over the years, and it has not been limited to just the Spanish language. At various times, it has been Dutch, German, Yiddish, Italian, Gaelic(Irish), Chinese, and a host of other languages of immigrant groups. People have also gotten “frosted” by the publication of newspapers in these foreign languages. The billboards just add to your fears and concerns.

The reality is that the assimilation of Hispanic or Latinos into the broader community is moving forward on a pace with what has occurred with other immigrant groups of the past. There are many variables today which will keep down the overall rate of change: accessibility to home countries via easy travel and technological advances are a couple. But the assimilation is occurring. It is not a matter of wanting to recreate home in their new homeland; it is a matter of cultural assimilation over time.

But, seriously, Steve, you can take heart and hope from the story of my hometown, Kenosha, Wisconsin. It is an old factory town (American Motors/Renault/Chrysler/Fiat cars and Simmons mattresses and Jockey underwear). Around three generations ago, there was a large influx of Italian immigrants into the town. They brought their language, their traditions, and their customs(including bocce ball for which there is still a local league). There was over time an assimilation of the immigrants’ children and grandchildren and now great-grandchildren into the more general American society. But the funny thing is that there are still a lot of Italian speakers among the newer generations, and it is even offered along side Spanish, French, and Chinese in the local school system. There is still a lot of advertising done in Italian by family-run businesses. There is even the odd election for the Italian Senate(seems the Italian Diaspora is represented in the Italian national legislature). There has never been any fear that Kenosha would succeed and become part of the Italian nation. The city has had both good and bad local politicians and civic leaders of Italian-descent. The thing is that first and foremost, they are loyal to the red, white and blue.

So, Steve, break out the sunlamp if you start to feel “frosty” or wrap yourself up in a nice red, white and blue blanket. Things will be fine.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: