Hispanics/Latinos · immigration · language · New York


My grandmothers were immigrants to this country. They brought my parents here as children. Funny enough, my parents were from the same city in the Dominican Republic but they didn’t meet until they were in high school together in Washington Heights.

I didn’t get to spend too much time with my father’s mother but my mother’s mother has always been a hard worker. She came here not knowing the language but very quickly, she put herself to work doing whatever she could: everything from factory work to hair dressing to working with the elderly. She’s gone through so many moves and career changes, it’s really quite incredible and kind of terrifying to someone on the outside looking in. I don’t think I’ll ever be that flexible.

No, my grandmother’s English isn’t great but despite this, she managed to raise children who were fluent in the language, who went to top colleges and landed great careers. Save for my mother whose career options I believe were seriously hampered by having to drop out of college to take care of me and from dealing with a lifetime of chronic mental illness, all of my grandmother’s children, whether they were born here or not, are true-blue Americans.

There’s something I find really disturbing about the stuff I read people are writing about “illegal aliens.” No, my family came here legally but I can sympathize with why people are willing to risk everything–life, limb, securityto come to America. But too often while I’m reading about illegal immigration, I find that the conversation turns too quickly into anti-immigrant rhetoric that doesn’t distinguish between those who come here legally and those who don’t.

People seem most disturbingly obsessed with taking away birthright citizenship and I can’t see how if that happened, it would be too far a jump to take away the rights of legal immigrants like my parents who were legal residents when they had children here who became first-generation Americans at birth. Like me. Does anyone remember that the founding fathers were immigrants themselves? Was that just over emphasized in my education?

People just want to stop “those Mexicans” from stealing their jobs! (Usually, those jobs they don’t want!) They want “those Mexicans” to stop procreating more than whites! And if you think it’s just white Republicans who are angry about “those Mexicans,” apparently you’re wrong. Working class blacks fear that “those Mexicans” are stealing their jobs, too. Hate crimes against Hispanics have escalated since Obama became president because of these stories people tell themselves when the economy downward spirals and the demographics of the country begin to change.

A friend sent me a very controversial documentary by a man who seems to be nothing more than white nationalist—the kinder, gentler word for white supremacist. He thought the video would teach me something about racism. Well, it didn’t teach me anything I didn’t already know. It just made me sad and angry that someone I call a friend would send me something like that. Instead, I ended up on the website of a black professor who had given the film a good review. On her website, I found this:

“Moreover, immigrant-supporters do themselves and their country a disfavor when they fail to consider all aspects of the problem and the national obligations to historically disadvantaged groups such as Native Americans and African Americans, and poor whites who struggle to get ahead in sometimes adverse circumstances. Further disservice emerges when groups are encouraged to cling to group identities, old-world languages, and cultural practices condemned by “civilized” society. A better tactic would include encouraging immigrants to become fully American by learning the language and the history of the host nation where most will be embraced with open arms.”

Professor Carol Mswain

It’s people like this that are the reason that America really isn’t a melting pot. We don’t love multiculturalism no matter how much we pretend to celebrate it. We don’t want people to blend. What we really want is everyone to be like everyone else: guns, hotdogs, hamburgers, blue jeans and Jesus! America is hell-bent on making sure everyone assimilates to American culture at the expense of their native cultures.

Forget being bilingual or even multilingual as many folks in European countries are. In elementary school, they told our parents that speaking to us in anything but English would make us dumb and by college, they were telling us that being bilingual would get us better jobs. Huh?

Sure, it’s okay for white people to teach their white children Chinese but for Spanish people to continue speaking Spanish? No way. When you hear even children of Israeli immigrants talking about how “those Mexicans” need to learn English, I worry. Sometimes, I forget that many whites and blacks don’t remember immigrating here (or in some cases being forced here) so they can’t fathom the nuances of the immigrant experience. Sometimes I forget that other things, like racism and religion, cut between people who should otherwise hang together because of almost glaring commonalities.

I remember vividly when a couple of Hispanics got together a couple of years back and did a lovely rendition in Spanish of the national anthem. The Jews at the Shabbos table that week were pretty freaked out about it. “They’re trying to take over! Those people need to learn English! This is America! We speak English in America!” Obviously their English was good enough that they could translate the song into Spanish. So, I asked them, these American Jews, how they would feel if people forced them to stop speaking Hebrew, to stop being Jewish because it takes away from them being fully American. How would that feel?

Well, folks, we know how that turned out for some people. When American Jews came here, they didn’t have the “choice” of not working on Saturdays. There wasn’t a kosher restaurant at every corner. Many forced themselves to cut all ties to Eastern European culture in an effort to assimilate into American culture and that is just one of the many reasons why we have so many Jews who know more about Christianity than Judaism. Arguable American Jews are in a good place now but at what cost when so many have forgotten where they came from?

As for pitting poor immigrants (they’re not just from Mexico, they’re white, black and other) against poor whites, poor blacks and even in this quote, poor Native Americans, I think it’s just sad. So sad. And I can’t help thinking that someone out there believes that if they turn us all against each other then we’ll just kill each other and they’ll be done with us.

Read: “Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing” by Mexican-American Jewish editor Ilan Stavans


“Police officers giving drivers $204 tickets for not speaking English? It sounds like a rejected Monty Python sketch. Except the grim reality is that it has happened at least 39 times in Dallas since January 2007….All but one of the drivers were Hispanic.”

8 thoughts on “Anti-Immigration=Anti-America

  1. My parents immigrated to this country legally in the 70's and have spent their whole adult lives here. My mother doesn't speak english very well but she tries very hard ( she understands almost everything, as a teenager that got me in trouble a few times for underestimating her ability) and she raised 4 children who speak perfect american english and speak, read, and write spanish at a high level. I thank g-d every day that my mother made sure that we learned how to speak and converse in spanish because I finally understand why it was so important to her that we speak it and I am so grateful for that. Learning other languages helps our country to be more diverse and educated, on par with the most of the rest of the world that speaks at least two.

    Thank you for writing this, I completely agree. It's scary to think there are people out there who think this way. Having a second culture or speaking a second language doesn't make me or anyone any less American. I was born and raised here, this is my home and I am very proud of where I am from. Everyone has forgotten that almost every person in this country has family that immigrated from somewhere, its especially worrying when recent immigrants or children of recent immigrants also feel that way.


  2. Hey Aliza – we have the same problem here in the UK, which similarly has been made up of immigrants for hundreds and hundreds of years. Immigrants (legal or otherwise) take the jobs that nobody else wants, for pay that nobody else will accept. If they all downed-tools for a day, I am convinced many minds would be changed.



  3. An email response from the very sarcastic Nick McCatty:

    How could any white people think that Al Sharpton's our leader? Everybody knows it's really Farrakhan. Sharpton's James Brown's god son, which makes him the God Son of Seoul. Next time some anglo comments about Hispanics' (or, more precisely, Latinos, since it probably doesn't sound as bad to them when the speaker looks white) pronunciation of English words, feed them a Spanish tongue-twister, and then laugh at how bad they sound. (Or, if there's an Israeli in the room, ask that person to say something slightly difficult in Ivrit, and let the Israeli make some good faces in front Monsieur or Madame Linguist.)

    If you you haven't already given the offender a knock-out joc-slap after their economic observations about Obama, ask 'em why the world's two biggest capitalists endorsed his candidacy. Since, sin duda, they don't know the answer, you can then tell them that one, Warren Buffett, is a publican who voted for W twice, and the other, George Soros, is a member of the tribe in good standing. (Obama was born in Tanzania and I can prove it, but I'm keeping it under wraps, since I want him to get re-elected.)

    All Latinas are sexy, so that statement is redundant. Always encourage brevity in speech, it fosters better retention of the message. Speaking of stupid remarks from “friends,” did you ever read Caucasia or Symptomatic? They both illustrate similar situations in dramatically effective ways.


  4. My Israeli-born mother read all the baby books, taught me to read when I was 2 years old (or so she says), put me in toddler music classes, ballet, the works, everything to set me up for my future Ivy League college education. Surely she had seen the studies that bilingual education is quite valuable for young children? Nope, she thought that if she taught me Hebrew as a first language, she would mess up my English, despite my having an American father.

    (Figures that I would end up living in Israel of course. I had to work my butt off to learn the language. And I really enjoy speaking Hebrew with my mom now too.) I really see American immigrants from an entirely new perspective now – it's hard to move to a new country, new culture, especially when you struggle with the language.

    Also – what they say about Hispanics now, they said before about the Jews, Irish, Italians, Poles, you name it. So America will be more Taco Bell, less McDonald's. (Mmm, Taco Bell… when are they going to open up a kosher one in Israel? It's the only fast food chain I miss after going kosher, way better than McDonald's or Burger King… oh, sorry, where was I?)

    It's still the same country founded on the same ideals and principles. If we're a melting pot (or a mixed salad or whatever), why can't America absorb Hispanic immigrants too? In 100 years this will be so passe, and everyone will be moaning about them dastardly immigrants from Inner Mongolia or Timbuktu.


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