By Linda Vega
Tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves – Abraham Lincoln
The absolute perfect version of immigration in the U.S. is the following: every immigrant should enter legally, learn the language, the history of the U.S. and if working in this country, pay taxes. Every immigrant should acculturate and then assimilate into what the “founding fathers” thought to be the United States. Those who immigrate can, then, learn to slowly forget their country of origin. After all, this is a question that is asked and required when someone is naturalizing into the United States. “Would you give up all allegiance to your country of origin?”
The reality is more complex than this. We can no more forget where we originated than we can our mother and where we were raised. These are memories that we cannot erase in an instant and it is this suppression of identity that is causing our great nation to be on life support. My vision is to advance understanding and meaningful discourse so that we can rise up to the level for us to remember what makes THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA the greatest country in the world.
The America as we have known it is fighting for her life. Where the Statute of Liberty symbolized a new way of life for those immigrants coming to the United States, many have turned her into a tired old threatening woman holding a big billy club ready to pounce on any foreigner that tries to enter the U.S. Uncle Sam is not fairing any better, he’s a cranky old curmudgeon without courage, fearful of all kinds of illusionary enemies while the real ones steal, bomb, and have us feuding among ourselves over the most minute detail.
These two polar opposites is what is creating all kinds of spirited debate in the political theater. One recent example is of State Senator Chris Harris being offended by a Mr. Antolin Aguirre giving testimony in Spanish as reported by Bob Price.
While I cannot speak for Mr. Aguirre, there is a strong possibility that he was self conscious of not speaking flawless English and, therefore fearful of being misunderstood. While this is no excuse, afterall he has lived in the United States long enough to know how to communicate in English, his perception of hear was real. Moreover, from what we could hear, he speaks functional English and has the ability to communicate in the language. Being self conscious of his accent and being ridiculed for it, was no excuse. He had something to say. He had something to offer and like all of us who speak publicly, we prepare in advance to give the best articulated statement whether it is for a speech in class, to colleagues, or in this case a testimony before a Committee. We should be prepared in all instances to be effective enough to convey our message. A translator could have been used only as a last resource. Communication is all about what you say, and more importantly, how it is received and processed in the listener’s mind. Now many are upset that Senator Harris was a little rough when asking Mr. Aguirre if he spoke English. While I know that a long day listening to testimony can be grueling and may leave one with a short patience level, it was not necessary to humiliate someone while they were attempting something for the first time. Yet I agree with Senator Harris that if you can speak English, please provide your testimony in the language, even if you speak with an accent. Yet it was the manner in how that was conveyed to Mr. Aguirre that is being perceived as “mean.”
Hispanics in this great country are capable of many things. Yet we treat each other with careful white gloves, and take the pobrecito (poor me) attitude as a handicap almost as an excuse for not being able to accomplish something. We are not pobrecitos. We are a resilient people. We are a people of many talents, language abilities, and intelligence. If we don’t believe it, however, we will never learn to assimilate and command the respect that we deserve. This respect comes from learning how to communicate in a language of the land where we choose to live. We live in the twenty first century and in a country that offers freedoms and unlimited “pursuits of happiness.”
Immigrants continue to come to the U.S. seeking the American dream of freedom, prosperity, and a better future for their families. We as Latinos can still have that dream if we meet halfway and learn to acculturate and assimilate into this great country. We Latinos can have so much to offer, if we shed that pobrecito attitude and accept and learn to overcome the challenges necessary to be an Americano.
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