By Julito, Latino Rebels
Yes, familia, even opinion writers in blue state Massachusetts show their cultural ignorance once in a while. Take the case of The Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby, a conservative columnist who today penned the following opinion piece, “Americans speak every language, but only English unites us.”
The column focuses on Gabriel Gómez, a second-generation Colombian American and former Navy SEAL who is running in the Massachusetts GOP primary for Senate. Apparently Jacoby had an issue with Gómez kicking off his campaign in Spanish, instead of English. Sure, Jacoby praises Gómez for his bilingual skills, it’s the whole Spanish part that bothers him. It just felt so unAmerican. Just like when Florida Senator Marco Rubio gave his response to the State of the Union in both English and Spanish. Gasp.
Jacoby’s main argument is this one (FYI: I wanted so badly to add an accent to the “o” in Gómez in the following excerpt, but I was afraid that Jacoby would report me to the authorities):
But if that’s the case, why didn’t Republicans arrange for a full-blown response to the State of the Union address in Chinese or French or Vietnamese? Why hasn’t Gomez made a point of introducing himself in Portuguese or Italian or Russian? Spanish may be the second-most common language spoken in the United States, but there are dozens of other languages used daily by millions of American voters. Don’t those voters also need to be reassured that we’re all “part of the same community”?
English has always been integral to the American identity. Without a common language, the miracle of E Pluribus Unum would never have been possible. Americans come from every corner of the globe; they represent a vast array of cultural, ethnic, and linguistic traditions. Yet they have been able, by and large, to form a single nation — to mold an American mainstream, despite such a hodgepodge of incompatible origins. They couldn’t have done it without a commitment to English as the national tongue.
After using the example of Doral, Florida, rejecting a measure to become an official bilingual city as his definitive “proof” that elevating Spanish to the same level as English is just wrong and bad for America, Jacoby closed with this: “Spanish is a beautiful language. But pandering to Hispanics by privileging Spanish in public life is a dangerous strategy for partisan success, and a reckless way to treat American unity.”
Now besides the irony that Jacoby used a Latin phrase to celebrate American unity, what is Jacoby so afraid of? Actual Spanish-speaking voters who might be more engaged in the political process because someone like Rubio or Gómez can communicate in another language besides English?
And what does he mean by “partisan success?” Is he really worried that the GOP will be too inclusive for him and that it might win a major election any time soon? Will that upset his apple cart and his perceived loss of American unity? He does know that the United States is the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, sí? Did anyone inform Jacoby about the 2012 election and the U.S. Latino vote?
So there has to be something more. And I think I know: it is this whole notion that in Jacoby’s eyes, people who speak Spanish are seen as dividers. Spanish doesn’t reassure people that “we’re all ‘part of the same community’.” Don’t you know that there is a Reconquista going on and that Spanish speakers in the U.S. are just going to raid your homes, steal your jobs, and destroy America? (That was sarcasm.) Need I remind Jacoby that Spanish was the first European language spoken in North America?
Here is the deal: Rubio and Gómez represent a new type of Americano politician, one who is looking at the changing demographics and realizing that communicating in Spanish is no longer a novelty. It is a possible vote-getter. Having English be the main language of business and government is one thing, being able to connect and communicate with voters through a different language is an entirely different concept. Jacoby’s column muddies that distinction.
To suggest that politicians speaking Spanish will only divide the country reeks of neo-nativism. If Jacoby really wants unity, he could start by getting over his fears and understand that making political parties more diverse is really what America is all about.
This article was first published in Latino Rebels.
Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77 on Twitter) founded LatinoRebels.com (part of Latino Rebels, LLC) in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. In the last 12 months, Julito represented the Rebeldes on CBS’ Face the Nation, NPR, Univision, Forbes, and The New York Times.[Image by templarioart]