By Alexandrianna De La Cerda
Soon after my grandparents were married, they immigrated to the United States. My mother and her siblings, as the first generation of our family to live in the U.S., acted as translators for their parents at a young age, and still do to this day. Whether it was going to the grocery store, the bank, or the gas station, they had to be with their parents at all times.
On one occasion, my grandfather had taken my mother with him to go shopping for new shoes after work. At the time, my grandfather was working in construction, so he was dressed in a t-shirt, pants, and work boots covered with splatters of paint and cement.
In Spanish, he instructed my mom to tell the saleswoman that he would like to buy two pairs of shoes. After my mother told her, she responded in a rude manner, asking, “He does know how much these shoes are, correct?” My mother responded that he was aware of the high price of the shoes, but the lady insisted upon checking with him multiple times in the same rude manner, speaking in a condescending tone that she assumed he would not detect.
My mother remembers looking up at my grandfather and seeing shame in his eyes, embarrassed that someone had judged him by his inability to speak English. He felt degraded.
Today, interactions like the one my grandfather experienced remain sickeningly common, with videos of non-English-speaking immigrants being discriminated against in public all over the internet. They are told, “Go back to your country,” “We speak English here,” and most insultingly, “This is America. Speak English like an American.”
According to the Pew Research Center, 70% of African Americans, Latinos and Caucasians believe that speaking English is critical in establishing a person’s American identity. On the other hand, only 50% of African Americans, 28% of Latinos, and 28% of Caucasians believe that being born in the country is crucial to being “truly American.” The study said that these reviews have a lot to do with people’s educational upbringing: what they are taught, their age, and their religious morals and beliefs.
The United States has no official language. Although English is its predominant language, I don’t recall my grandparents having to learn English in order to become American citizens. In fact, the United States citizenship test comes in various languages. An immigrant’s patriotism should not be determined by their grasp of a language.
This type of discrimination can damage a person’s self esteem, resulting in an increased amount of stress as they navigate life in a country with many barriers. It is often difficult for immigrants to find the time of day to sit down and learn English when they also have to start their lives over to support their families. Moreover, many neurological and psychological scientists have found that the older people become, the harder it is for them to learn a new language. Considering that a majority of immigrants are adults, it is unrealistic to expect all immigrants to be proficient in English.
Rather than judging non-English speakers, we must treat them with empathy; discrimination and humiliation won’t teach somebody how to speak English.
The United States is one of the most diverse countries in the world, so it seems ironic for its citizens to enforce one language in the country with at least 350 languages spoken in its homes. English is just one of the 6,909 languages in the world, so instead of sticking to one, we should educate ourselves on others.
To live in a new country as a foreign immigrant, it is logical to learn its predominant language. This gives people the advantage of being able to connect more with others without a language barrier. The advantage of bilinguality goes a long way, whether it’s in everyday life or work life. However, it should not be a determinant of patriotism or nationality.