This statement came across my tumblr dashboard today w/o any further explanation, information, etc. I haven’t received a response to my simple question of “Why?”. This post isn’t a direct response to the OP, so much as my thoughts around this sentiment, as I’ve heard it plenty of times in many situations in my life, and I’ll consider some basic assumptions based on what I know about the OP, namely that he is a white man living in San Diego, California which has a considerable resident population of people born outside of the US—from Mexico, largely.
First, I can’t imagine a situation in which it is not xenophobic to make a generalised statement to an un-named group of people in which one demands that this group of people should learn your language.
This is not to say that life in general would not be simpler if everyone involved had a common language. That goes without saying, but statements like this imply that the subject of your statement hasn’t already considered that this is probably a good idea. I guarantee you, someone who is in a situation in which a lot of people speak a language that they don’t speak has considered how much easier it would be if they all spoke the same language. Telling people that they should learn your language is patronising, narcissistic, and rude.
Learning a foreign language is not easy for many people. If you’re one of those for whom this comes naturally, consider yourself lucky and learn one. For the others, learning a new language becomes more difficult as one approaches adulthood. English is considered to be one of the harder languages for non-native speakers to learn, owing to its many “exceptions to the rule” when it comes to spelling and pronunciation. These are, themselves, the result of the English Language’s history of absorbing words from literally all over the world (following the path of colonisation, naturally).
Also, when people say this, there’s an underlying assumption (sometimes outrightly stated) that people who are in the US and who don’t speak English are somehow being inconsiderate or disrespectful or that they’ve at some point made a decision to not learn English. My first-thought reaction to this is always: It’s not all about you! Again, English isn’t easy to learn. People who don’t speak English are in the US for lots of reasons. People who migrate to the US without fluency in English do so for many more reasons, and not a single one of them is so they can be a nuisance to Ugly Americans. These people generally understand (in my admittedly limited, though representative, experience) that their assimilation into and success in US society would be simpler with fluency in the common language. Many of the people you encounter who have immigrated to the US from Mexico and who don’t speak English are likely poor people who might be working more than one low-wage job in the US. Even someone who has only one low-wage job might not have the resources (ie, money for classes) to learn a foreign language.
Immigrants historically settle in communities with people of similar background, reducing the need to learn a foreign language. This is true throughout history, around the world, and is not likely to change any time soon.
People who say things like this (and other, sometimes more blatantly racist statements) often say, “But my friend/spouse/sibling-in-law is [insert type of Brown Person] and agrees/doesn’t get mad/thinks this is OK to say!”.
I believe you. I do.
I believe you without a doubt, without qualification, and without even needing to confirm that this person you described exists and, in fact, doesn’t mind when you say these incredibly dehumanizing things. I believe this because People of Color (POC) are all individuals and all have different ways of managing the racism that is directed at us consistently and constantly when we live in the US. Many of us start to agree with parts of it, or tell ourselves it’s “not that bad”, or “that’s just how things are”, etc. This doesn’t make it The Right Thing To Do. Also, don’t use your friend/spouse/sibling-in-law as a human shield. Fight your own goddamned fight & try to understand this on your own.
“But English is the Official Language of America.”
No, it’s not.
English is the Common Tongue, really. Besides the fact that the US just doesn’t have an Official Language, nothing would really change if it did. When a country has an Official Language, this generally means that matters of Law & Business are conducted in that language. In the US, these are already conducted in English, & it’s already required that those petitioning for US citizenship should demonstrate fluency in English so… what is there to gain from declaring an Official Language, really? You can’t really penalise people for speaking another language—what would that do for tourism and foreign relations?
In closing: It’s not all about you. Quit being a jerk. If it bothers you that much, then take some Spanish classes. I say that knowing more languages means you can talk to more people. The French say, “La personne qui parle deux langues en vaut deux!”
This makes me so angry. My parents came to the U.S. when they were well into adulthood and learning a second language was a slow and painful process. They are still not fluent, though their comprehension is pretty good. They don’t primarily speak in their native language to piss off racists, but because it’s easier for them. Why should they have to make things more difficult for themselves in order to make an American bigot feel more comfortable?
Also, the are-you-making-fun-of-us? issue that sometimes seems to be at the heart of these English-only campaigns:
We don’t spend all our time talking about you. Your nail techs, gardeners, servers, taxi drivers, dry cleaners, etc. are probably talking about things that are far more interesting than your Anglo ass. Quit being so paranoid.
But there might be occasions when we are talking shit about you. We have to deal with your racism. I think you can deal with being made fun of in a language you can’t understand anyway.