When someone breaks up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, he or she sometimes says, “It’s not you. It’s me.”
Well, when it comes to white people who want America to be “English-only” going ballistic because Spanish is spoken in their presence, I hope those folks are clear about who is the problem. It’s most certainly not us. It’s definitely you.
The person with the problem is the angry white man who was recently caught on video insulting and threatening two women for speaking Spanish at a New York restaurant. Aaron Schlossberg threatened to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement on them because, he said, he didn’t want to hear Spanish spoken.
He shouted: “Every person I listen to — he’s speaking it, she’s speaking it. This is America!” When confronted by a manager, the man continued his tirade, saying, “Your clients and your staff are speaking Spanish to staff when they should be speaking English. My guess is they’re undocumented, so my next call is to ICE to have each one of them taken out of my country. I pay for their welfare. I pay for their ability to be here.”
The man was thrown out of the restaurant.
The people with the problem are the folks who run a grocery store in San Diego that, according to officials with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), recently subjected Hispanic employees to “harassment” and “a hostile work environment by implementing a no-Spanish language policy.”
The EEOC filed a lawsuit alleging store managers at Albertsons publicly reprimanded Hispanic employees for speaking Spanish. The workers were prohibited from speaking Spanish around non-Spanish speakers — even during breaks or when talking to Spanish-speaking customers, the lawsuit charged. Employees complained about the language ban but nothing was done.
Albertsons — one of the largest food and drug retailers in the U.S., employing about 280,000 people in 35 states — had no comment on the lawsuit, but said in a statement that it has no formal policy requiring employees to only speak English.
In fact, the statement said, “Albertsons serves a diverse customer population and encourages employees with foreign language abilities to use those skills to serve its customers.”
What is going on? Where is this anti-Spanish bigotry and hostility coming from? And why is it rearing its ugly head now?
Part of the blame goes to conservative talk radio, Fox News and President Trump — all of whom trade regularly on fear of immigrants to push their respective agendas.
From the sound of it, the fearmongers are especially rattled by brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking immigrants from Mexico and the rest of Latin America. That’s because, while they don’t know much about immigration from that part of the world and the positive contribution it makes to the United States, they do seem to understand the concept of changing demographics.
With Latinos expected to make up 30 percent of the U.S. population by 2050, many whites are feeling pushed aside by something that sociologists call cultural displacement. Simply put, some white people are panicked that the world their grandchildren will live in will bear not even a passing resemblance to the one in which they grew up.
And one cultural indicator is language. Certainly, English doesn’t exactly need a life raft. It’s more than holding its own in the United States against, let’s see, German, Italian, Chinese, Portuguese, French and, yes, even Spanish.
Americans have been hassling one another over language since the mid-1770s, when German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania.
The new arrivals promptly got crossways with Benjamin Franklin because — at least in the first generation — they held on to the German language, even printing newspapers in German, which really rubbed Franklin the wrong way, since he was a newspaper publisher in his own right.
In fact, it’s worth noting that the nation’s first English-only laws had nothing to do with Spanish. They were aimed at punishing and marginalizing German immigrants who, Franklin warned his fellow Englishmen, would “establish their language and manners to the exclusion of ours” and “soon be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them.”
So how did that turn out? You could ask the German-American descendants of those early German immigrants. But if so, make sure you ask in English. After all, it’s a safe bet that not many of them speak a word of German.
One thing I hear a lot is that the proponents of English-only are afraid that, when someone is speaking Spanish, that someone is talking about them.
You caught us. You’re right. Most of the time, we are talking about you.
And, given how you’re behaving, it’s just as well that you don’t understand. Because we don’t have a lot of nice things to say.
Ruben Navarrette, a contributing editor to Angelus News, is a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group, a contributor to USA Today and the Daily Beast, author of “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano” and the host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.”
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