To the Lady Who Said, “We Speak English in America”
A Guest Post by Angie Riascos
October 31, 2018
My husband and nine-year-old daughter browsed the wares at an estate sale not long ago. While they shopped, they spoke to each other about everyday things. Then you, hearing their voices, came up to my husband and scolded him. “We speak English in America,” you said.
I’ve been thinking of that moment, wondering why you felt it was okay to say this to my husband and daughter.
I have fantasized for days about what I would have said to you had I been there. At first, my thoughts were guided by anger and disgust. How dare you? But the more I thought about it I realized I was not really angry, but disappointed.
Up to that day, when we ran into you, we had never been subjected to such disrespect on the basis of speaking a different language. For the most part, we have been met with encouragement. Many people wish they could raise bilingual kids or wish they had not lost the Spanish they picked up while in high school or college. I assume most people know, to some degree, about the benefits of raising bilingual kids. If you don’t, I encourage you to search the internet. Perhaps then you will have a better idea of why, by choice, we speak to our children in Spanish every opportunity we have.
Since when did it become a problem–or your problem–if someone chooses to speak Spanish near you? Since when did it become a problem to publicly raise bilingual children with the hope they become comfortable speaking a language other than English while living in the U.S.? If they were speaking German, Russian, French, Japanese or Chinese, would you have also discouraged them from speaking any of those languages? Or was the problem that they were speaking Spanish and you most likely assumed they were illegal, uneducated immigrants you could wound with your words? And what if they were? What threat do two people speaking Spanish to each other pose to you? Whatever were you thinking? You had no right to intrude in their conversation and offer such unwelcome, offensive and uneducated advice.
I was quick to share this experience with close family and friends, mainly because I could not believe this had happened to us. However, it has taken me some time to discern an explanation that makes sense of your actions in my head. I keep coming back to this question: Why would anyone think it is okay to tell another human being in what language they should communicate? The only answer I arrive at is: These types of spoken words must be fueled by feelings of entitlement, fear, and resentment or by ignorance and incorrect assumptions. I can only wonder if you would have felt compelled to say those words if you knew our story or background. But, I shouldn’t have to tell my story to have you see me or my family as human and worthy of your respect. We shouldn’t have to defend our choices and our history to strangers at an estate sale.
As parents, my husband and I refuse to stop speaking to our children in Spanish. We have experienced, first hand, the amazing things that come with being fluent in two languages. When we travel, work, or are simply out and about, we communicate and relate to others in a way that is only possible when you speak two or more languages. This is one of our greatest gifts to our children and we are not about to hide it from the world. You may want to take a language lesson or two yourself. Maybe then, you’d understand.
Your turn: What do you do when someone is speaking another language near you? Are you bilingual or wish you were? What other reasons can you think of for why a person would approach a stranger with a comment like, “We speak English in America”?
If you’d like to get to know Angie better, you can read a little more about her here.