(Published in The Record of Hackensack, NJ. on September 12, 1993)
The Archie Bunkers of North Jersey are throwing tantrums. Three columns opposing the movement to make English the country's official language – because it carries a hidden anti-Latino agenda – and some bigots are going berserk.
“When youse come in this country, you're supposed to learn English,” shouted a woman into my telephone message recorder, obviously unaware that she should also take time to learn her favorite language. Ignorance is universal.
All three of my columns stressed the points that most Latinos place a high priority on learning English immediately after arriving in this country, that no one is trying to impose Spanish on non-Latinos, and that all we want is the freedom to speak our own language.
But these people are so narrow-minded that their hatred of Latinos makes them skip over those points. Latinos are opposed to laws meant to repress their language, but opponents assume that Latinos are trying to replace English. They grab pen and paper and write letters that could make classic routines for "All in the Family." Their writing demonstrates their xenophobia, but they think they're the cat's meow.
“You and your Latinos’ attitude are an affront to America,” wrote a German immigrant who came here 41 years ago and has since forgotten that this is a nation of immigrants like himself. “You are the only people who came here and expected us to speak your language.”
This is a person who apparently feels superior to Latinos because he “started taking English lessons as soon as I applied for immigration in Berlin” and because he “started to work in the third week after my arrival here.”
Of course, that last statement has nothing to do with language, but with another prevailing misconception among anti-Latino racists – the stereotype that says Latinos don't come here to work, but to collect welfare.
“You are an affront to everything that is fair and right,” wrote another Bunker who calls himself a REAL AMERICAN. “It is scum like you that will eventually bring this country down into the toilet where you and your kind reside.”
Many people refuse to believe that this kind of racism and ethnic prejudice still exist in America. Even some Latinos will tell you they have never encountered it. They may be sitting in a bus next to a Bunker, but they will never know it, because these bigots don't even have the dignity to sign their letters or to leave their name and number when they curse after listening to my bilingual phone greeting.
“Wow, I don't know what you said,” noted a man who heard my message, although it was first recorded in English and then in Spanish. “If you wanted to keep your language and your culture, why did you come to this country? If this country, isn't good enough, then the Latino should stay where he came from.”
For the record, sir, this is the greatest country in the universe. But what made it so great was its influx of immigrants and the languages and cultures they were able to preserve. It has never been a melting pot, but a salad bowl in which all the ingredients retain their own rich, ethnic flavor.
As for the REAL AMERICAN who classified me as a “low-life, left-wing, anti-American,” you should know that, having escaped communism, I consider myself a pro-American right-winger. You should also know that all of us who were born in this continent are as “American” as you, and that Spanish was spoken in this country more than a century before a word of English was uttered.
“There's no such thing that we have to have a second language,” said the scholar who calls Latinos youse people. “This is America. America is the first language.”
I say, all right I give in. If I must speak American, I'll learn Navaho.