Obama or not Obama, is NOT the right question

Below post started out as a comment in response to a blog post over at my friend Murder of Ravens. Since it got too long, I am choosing to post my opinion on my own blog, very aware that this is not the usual type of post I’d write on this platform. But it’s a matter dear to my heart and therefore in a round about way shall be allowed on Spasmicallyperfect.

I strongly suggest you go over and read this post before continuing here, so that the following lines can be taken in context.

Sorry, have to give my five cents worth regarding your Obama comment. Like any statements taken out of a larger context, it is very difficult to assess someone or someone’s capability on two sentences like that. But if I had to, here’s what I’d think.

For me, that would be a reason to vote for him, and here’s why.
a) He’s not saying immigrants should not learn English
b) He’s not saying English isn’t America’s language and that it shouldn’t remain that way
c) He’s not even talking about what is taught in school.

He IS saying that
1) rather than focusing so much on what you cannot control and deferring responsibility think about what you CAN do.
After all, rather than just complain how foreigners don’t learn English, think about whether if given the choice, you’d rather speak English or Spanish should you ever end up in Mexico, whether you’d prefer to have Mexicans accuse you of disrespecting them by not learning quickly enough, well enough, plain simple sucking at speaking Spanish or whether you’d appreciate your new neighbour, colleague, customer, sales person, law enforcement officer help you learn Spanish, take you to a local cultural event, invite you over for dinner and be honestly interested in where you came from, what you miss, what you are struggling with.

2) rather than have others understand you, try and understand others, you may be surprised at the similarities and common goals

3) rather than make everybody else speak English, why not extend the courtesy and make an honest attempt and put yourself in the adapter position for once.

The first step in creating a relationship and resolving conflict (longterm) is communication.
My own ‘mother tongue’ (forgive me Mum) is spoken by 6 million people worldwide of which 95% reside in Switzerland. This compared to an estimated current world population of 6,680 million people. If I wanted to interact with anybody outside of my country or anybody from outside coming into my country, I had no choice but to not speak my language.

English speaking people nowadays don’t know what that feels like unless they travel to (or lets be daring have to live in) a country that’s either big enough not to have to rely on other countries or to a remote area where the local residents don’t have to, don’t learn to speak anything else. How many places can the English / American travel to, expecting to get by with maybe a few words like ‘una cerveza por favor’, ‘gracias’ and ‘donde esta la playa?’ compared to a Swiss German? Why, because you can. Because you are fortunate to be born English speaking.

Fortunate in that regard but unfortunate because you fail to understand what it feels like not to born into an English speaking country. Unfortunate because you don’t realise how much effort it takes to deliver what you already take for granted, English as a global language. Unfortunate because you don’t really understand what other nations and their people are saying, because you’ve only heard the English translations of what they believe in, how they feel, what their hopes and fears are.

Unless you learn another language, not just how to conjugate it and spell it, but understand when to say ‘te quiero’ and when to use ‘te amo’, how are you ever going to know who you are interacting with? We misunderstand each other speaking the same language, consider how difficult it is to misunderstand when one is translating and the other has no clue about languages.

Yes, wars aren’t started because of a lack of language skills, but wars are started due to a lack of willingness to understand the other side.

So, if I were American and had to base my decision on those two sentences only, that’s why I’d be voting for Obama. Because he has understood that keeping America safe and American is not done by worrying about immigrants learning English but by working with friends rather than against enemies. And that the first step towards that is learning Spanish.

P.S. I have traveled the world quite a bit and in my experience the number of English speaking emigrants abroad that have chosen to learn and live the local language is small. In France most can’t even order a meal in a restaurant fully in French despite having lived in the country for over 15 years, in Spain they expect government forms to be printed in English because the local Anglo-mob justifies it by the number of local non-Spanish residents who have ‘bought’ their way into the country, in Switzerland American CEOs expect their meetings to be held in English, since it’s the global language and it’s easier to have a whole company learn English rather than him learn German.

So anybody who says to me ‘If I were living in another country, I’d be learning and speaking Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi you name it’, is full of crap unless he/she is a language aficionado. Yes you’d try but you’d go the path of least resistance. And unless you couldn’t stand your fellow country(wo)men or married into a local family, you’d be much more comfortable interacting with ‘your’ people, you’d find a job at an Anglo company, you’d join Anglo Associations, you’d subscribe to an English paper, order English Satellite TV. Why? Because you can. Because your ancestors weren’t willing to adapt to the countries they settled in.

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~ by spasmicallyperfect on July 22, 2008.

8 Responses to “Obama or not Obama, is NOT the right question”

  1. In all actuality, learning conversational Spanish would help quite a bit in my job. The crap I learned in college had very little to do with how it is actually spoken and therefore I retained squat.

    But if I moved to Mexico, I would consider myself an idiot not to learn their language. Shouldn’t they have the same consideration?

    I put the toilet seat down every day, shouldn’t he have the same consideration? 😉

  2. Mmm,I think you should go and join the Thatchers and the Merkels of this world.If you can speak like you write you are wasted,even in your office.

    I shall ponder this while I rush to my 9-5 job 😉 .

  3. The whole discussion about a “new global language” seems to leave out Esperanto.

    As English fades, and as Mandarin Chinese is in the ascendancy, the problem still remains unresolved.

    Which brings me back to Esperanto 🙄

    Interestingly, however nine British MP’s have nominated Esperanto for the Nobel Peace Prize 2008.

    You can see detail on http://www.lernu.net

    Welcome and thanks for sharing. I’m afraid I haven’t really looked into the Esperanto idea too much, and at this point I’m not sure I support the idea. But I’ll think about that a little more.

  4. Hey Spaz,
    I see Smith has pissed you off again. Frankly, I think you give Obama too much credit, he certainly didn’t mean what you are expressing here. Since he is an oily politician like the rest of him, I suspect that statement was based on the idea that ALL politicians want a larger voting bloc and the spanish speaking seem the most accessible.

    As to your point about language, I agree and yet disagree at the same time. Yes, I agree that if you were to move to live in another country you should learn the language like the natives, so to speak and respect and observe there laws, etc. And if I were going to do that, which btw, I’m not interested in doing, I would in fact learn the language, customs, etc.I wouldn’t however, illegally enter the country, live there, take advantage of all the social services and then try to make the natives change to my culture or country beliefs. I do believe this is the issue which has SMith and so many up in arms about the Obama statement – that it’s a pander not a heartfelt statement on his part.

    As to English being an international language, it’s how it turned out. If Switzerland or Germany had become the center that the western english speaking world had become we’d all be speaking German. It starts because of business and then trickles down from there. Not from arrogance but commerce.

    Annie

    Hey Annie! Was wondering when you’d be honouring me with your five cents 😉 .
    For the record, Mr. Smith does not piss me off, he may provoke some counter arguments at times.

    Regarding Senator Obama, I am afraid that the only knowledge I have about him is what I hear and read in the media, and we all know who owns it. I was intrigued by Smith’s reaction to that one language quote of Obama, because I didn’t hear what he heard at all.
    “I don’t understand when people say ‘We want English only’. Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English–they’ll learn English–you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish!”

    And no matter how many times I read this, I can’t help but agreeing with this statement. You are right, I too am left only with an assumptive interpretation of what Obama meant. But I have a very hard time believing that he’s suggesting to learn Spanish to ‘accommodate’ the Spanish speaking immigrants or to have a second national language. And yes, he may be fishing for the Spanish votes, but then as you said everybody is fishing for votes, it’s election time.

    But let’s just give him the benefit of doubt, just for these two lines and just for this moment. That was not a ‘seller’ thing to say, I’d assume the majority of Americans are about as peeved at that as Smith is. So why would he risk upsetting the American majority, especially the type of voters that he will need to beat McCain, by saying something like that, unless he was quoting his beliefs? What I do see in those two lines is a man who has a vision. From the outside looking in, it seems that America needs a leader with a vision that speaks to the true greatness of its people and the things they are able to accomplish. Whether it’s a vision the American people will want to sign up for or not, will be up to them.

    And I did stumble over something you said: ‘Yes, I agree that if you were to move to live in another country you should learn the language like the natives, so to speak and respect and observe there laws, etc.’ I guess that ‘duty’ only got established after it was decided to ignore/eradicate the true native American languages, cultures and ‘law’. I maybe unfair to make that comparison, but isn’t this just a tiny little bit ironic?

  5. Hey Spaz,
    Well, you’re certainly entitled to your opinion about Obama, but having read quite a bit about him and read his own platform, I respectfully disagree with your assessment of him. Yes, it’s true that statement would piss off a certain faction of the American public, but not the public who would vote for him and since at least in California, the spanish speaking population is about 40% there are plenty who would be celebrating at this concept.

    I’m not really clear on the last part and what you mean about it. But if you are referring to the English and other Europeans settling in America and conquering the American Indian – okay – point taken but all cultures have done that to other cultures over the centuries – Germany being a very good example for instance. My only beef is why America always gets called on it and there is never any reference to the history of any other country and their arrogance. Germany wanted to take over the world and annihilate a specific group of people – yet you rarely hear about their arrogance. Odd to me, but then, that’s me.
    Annie

    Don’t get me wrong Annie, I’m not pro Obama, quite frankly since I don’t have to make that voting choice, I haven’t been thinking about it too much. Other than finding it interesting what and why people like, dislike certain candidates. Obviously you are much more aware of what he or any of the other candidates stand for than I do.

    And yes I was talking about the Europeans settling in America. Re Germany, I believe that they too still live with the Nazi Regime burden and will for a long time, and at least from being born in the neighbouring country, believe me, Germany gets their share of calling on. For me it’s not about finger pointing as much as it is about being aware that we may not have as white a vest as we’d like to believe. And that maybe, just maybe there is a chance that what we ask from others, when in the same situation, we could not deliver either. As much as we would try.

    Nuff of politics. Should no better than to get into your hair! 😉 .

  6. Where do I begin here? Actually, Annie said most of what I would have said, so I’ll say “me too” to that part and leave it at that.

    Let me tell you a story, instead. My Grandfather emigrated to this country when he was about ten, in 1914. He and his family did it legally: they got jobs, and learned the language.

    But here’s the main point: even though both he and my grandmother (another immigrant) could speak Italian and English fluently, he did not teach his daughters (my mother and two aunts) Italian. The reason for this is he did not want them to see themselves as “Italian-Americans”. He saw himself as an American, and wanted his daughters to do the same.

    I don’t blame anyone for wanting to live in America. With all it’s problems, it’s still a much better place to live than most. But if you’re going to live here, you have to change more than your address. I’m not saying you have to give up your cultural identity; I am saying it’s wrong to expect this country to give up IT’S cultural identity. For better or worse, this is an English speaking country. People who come here (or any country for that matter) need to adapt to that country, not the other way around.

    -smith

    I get what you’re saying. Not sure you got what I’m saying……. but then, it’s ok, we agree to disagree…… same with Annie.

  7. i read over there, then came here.
    Both opinions are presented respectfully, comments were the same.

    i guess what gets me about this volatile issue is what, to me, makes it volatile and that is the assumption that all illegal immigrants speak Spanish and therefore are from south of the border.

    Welcome to this debate as well C. Yes, I am blessed to have online friends who are willing to participate openly yet do so in a respectful manner. As far as all illegal immigrants being of Spanish decent goes, . Although I can’t speak for Murder of Ravens (yet I do think I know him well enough to say this), I do not believe that this is the belief of either of us. But I can understand that due to the volume of Spanish speaking immigrants, who may not be masters American English, the two in my opinion separate issues do get confused by the public.

  8. I get what you’re saying. Not sure you got what I’m saying……. but then, it’s ok, we agree to disagree…… same with Annie.

    Oh, I get what you’re saying. I even agree with it up to a point. In politics, what candidates say gets taken out of context all the time, and this wouldn’t be the first time Michael Graham has done this.

    But this seemed like a convenient spot to make my point, so there it is. As always, thanks for being fair and listening.

    -smith

    Oooooooo….. you what? “Agree with me up to a point?” Giggle, you should see my little victory dance! 🙂

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