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Memo From Mexico | SPANISH AND THE NEW CONQUISTADORS
As an American who lives and works (legally) in Mexico, I ask for no special linguistic privileges from the Mexican government, nor from individual Mexicans. I understand that I voluntarily chose to live in a country that doesn't speak my language. It's their country and I respect that. It's not their responsibility to speak English to me, rather it's my responsibility to speak Spanish to them.
An obvious exception is that in my English classes, I speak English and require my students to hear, speak, read and write in English. As their English teacher, that's my job. But outside of my English class and in conversations with some Mexicans who want to practice English, I speak Spanish.
When I go to the store, I speak Spanish. When I answer the telephone, I answer in Spanish. I use a computer with directions in Spanish. When I attend church I speak Spanish and when I teach a Bible class in that church, I speak Spanish. When I order in a restaurant I speak Spanish. Even the Mexican immigration bureaucracy that handles the work permit allowing me to live and work here always spoke to me in Spanish.
What a contrast though, when I turn my eyes northward and see what is happening in my own country. There, Mexican immigrants and other Spanish-speakers (including those born in the U.S.) are catered to in Spanish by our government (at taxpayer expense). Politicians attempt to speak to them in Spanish and are standing in line to take Spanish lessons. Richard Gephardt, who has been to Mexico already to negotiate an amnesty with Fox is planning to return and study Spanish, while the GOP is bringing state leaders to study Spanish in Washington. In Texas, a debate in Spanish between two Democratic candidates for governor is in the works.
George W. Bush's predilection for Spanish is legendary, he speaks it as often as possible, though it didn't help him in 2000--he lost the Hispanic vote not only nationally, but in his own state. Bush is on record as being against official English – but is not, apparently, against official Spanish. At least, when a Texas town declared Spanish its official language, then-governor George W. Bush did nothing.
And, examples are already cropping up – in the largest English-speaking nation in the world – of monolingual native-born English speakers being discriminated against in the job market. Last fall, USA Today went so far as to declare that "Those Who Don't Speak Spanish May Be Left Behind".
Those who, like myself, spend time in South Texas and other border areas could share with you some interesting anecdotes. Like the time I was in a Texas border town in a restaurant, and the waitress couldn't explain to me in English how the salad bar functioned! Something really perturbed me about that. Sure, I'm bilingual, and am quite willing to talk all day in Spanish in Mexico. But why is it that in my own country the waitress can't explain to me how the salad bar functions? Why should I be forced to speak a foreign language in my own country? (I decided to vote with my feet and billfold, and took my family to another restaurant where I was spoken to in English.)
If an extra-terrestial visitor without presuppostions visited and observed the situation, he/she/it/whatever might easily conclude that a conquest was taking place–that English-speakers were being conquered by Spanish-speakers.
Outrageous? Consider a few candid statements made by a few members of Mexico's white elite.
On a visit to Venezuela, Mexican novelist and pundit Elena Poniatowska spoke quite clearly of the relation between Spanish in the United States and a "reconquista" of the Southwest (which, ironically, had relatively few speakers of Spanish during the brief period in which it was officially part of Mexico).
According to "El Imparcial" (July 3rd, 2001),
"The Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska affirmed today that Mexico is presently recovering the territories lost in the past to the United States, thanks to emigration. 'The people of the poor, the lice-ridden and the cucarachas are advancing in the United States, a country that wants to speak Spanish because 33.4 million Hispanics impose their culture' affirmed Poniatowska when presenting her novel La Piel del Cielo in Caracas."
Poniatowska contrasted her vision of Mexico with that of late author Octavio Paz:
"The writer said that the pessimistic vision that the late author Octavio Paz had of the Mexican 'losers' is a part of the past, in her judgment, and now 'Mexico is recovering the territories ceded to the United States with migratory tactics'." It sounds rather clear, does it not? According to Poniatowska,
"Maybe Octavio Paz did not foresee this phenomenon and if fills me with jubilation, because the Hispanics can have a growing force between Patagonia and Alaska."
Between Patagonia and Alaska? Sounds like even the Southwest is not enough to satisfy her.
Back in October a big get-together was held in Spain, an International Congress of the Spanish Language.
One of the literary men present, Camilo José Cela, was lamenting what he saw as the sad state of the language of Cervantes today, that nobody would defend it or properly present it in the non-Hispanic world.
But another delegate begged to differ with this gentleman's dreary assessment of the present state of the language. This delegate, a certain Vicente Fox of Mexico, presented his own country "as an example of the exportation of Spanish to the world".
According to the Siglo (October 17th, 2001): "He (Fox) put the example of the contribution of millions of Mexicans in the United States, who in cities such as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Miami or San Francisco, inject the vitality of the Spanish language and of their cultural expression."
Fox spoke of the deep cultural and linguistic loyalty of Mexicans and other Hispanics who emigrate to the United States. Because of this loyalty, asserted Fox, each Hispanic immigrant is "an important agglutinative element of his brothers in the exterior."
What Fox appeared to be saying is that the more Spanish-speakers in the United States, the easier it is for new immigrants to blend in with them and retain their Spanish. (Has Fox been reading Steve Sailer articles?)
Fox went on,
"Besides, to continue speaking Spanish in the United States is to 'hacer patria'."
Interesting expression – "hacer patria" is an idiom which means to "be patriotic", or "do a patriotic duty". So Fox is saying that when Mexican (and other Hispanic immigrants) in the United States continue to speak Spanish, they are being patriotic. To their home country, that is.
The congress's closing address was delivered by Mexican novelist and commentator Carlos Fuentes, possibly the most prominent man of letters living in Mexico today. Fuentes' speech was quite revealing.
Among other things, Fuentes dealt with the subject of "Spanglish", the mixture of Spanish and English that occurs on the U.S.-border. Most purists (of both languages) recoil in horror from this phenomenon (I find it rather irritiating myself). But Fuentes, though speaking at a conference dedicated to the defense of the Spanish language, was not overly disturbed by it. Why not?
Fuentes is looking at the big picture. After all, Spanish has received loanwords from other languages throughout its history.
Fuentes told his listeners that
"Y AHORA, FRENTE A LA RECONQUISTA SILENCIOSA DE ESTADOS UNIDOS, ESTAMOS ANTE UN NUEVO FENÓMENO LINGÜISTICO...."
(AND NOW, IN THE FACE OF THE SILENT RE-CONQUEST OF THE UNITED STATES, WE CONFRONT A NEW LINGUISTIC PHENOMENON....)
Crystal clear, but there's more. Read on:
IN THE FACE OF THE SILENT RECONQUISTA OF THE UNITED STATES, we confront a new linguistic phenomenon....a fascinating border phenomenon, sometimes dangerous, always creative, necessary or fatal as were the old encounters between Spanish and Nahuatl..."
(Siglo, October 20th, 2001).
Interesting historical analogy. Fuentes is referring to the conquest of the Aztec Empire, in which speakers of Spanish (and their many indigenous allies) conquered the Aztecs (who spoke Nahuatl). As a result of the conquest, loanwords from Nahuatl entered and enriched the Spanish language, without however altering its basic grammar, structure and vocabulary. The bottom line is, though, that the Spanish-speakers conquered the Nahuatl-speakers.
Is Fuentes predicting the same fate for the English speakers of the United States?
And how was Fuentes' address received by the assembled luminaries of the Spanish language? According to the report from Spain, Fuentes received "una intensa ovación" – an intense ovation.
Allan Wall is an American citizen who has lived and worked in Mexico since 1991. Presently employed as an English instructor, Allan has legal permission from the Mexican government to live and work in Mexico under the rubric of an FM-2 migration document. His VDARE.COM articles are archived here; his Frontpage.com articles are archived here. Allan Wall welcomes questions or comments (pro or con) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
February 21, 2002