05 May 2010

America's Unspeakable Tragedy-- Having to Press One For English

I've become aware over the years that a great number of Americans are upset about having to press 1 for English when dealing with an automated voice system. These objections are quite understandable. We're all acquainted with the difficulty of raising a digit to push a number. I know, I know, its the idea of it that Americans object to. Making accommodations for others is, evidently, un-American.

There seems to be an increase in these type of complaints in the wake of the controversy surrounding Arizona's decision to enact Jim Crow laws in the pursuit of illegal immigrants.

This country has never been particularly kind to newcomers despite it's invitations for anyone and everyone to drop in and stay awhile. To quote the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

The original illegal immigrants were, of course, those plucky European settlers of the 16th and 17th centuries who terrorized the natives, stole their land and slaughtered any one of them who proved an inconvenience. 

In the early days of the republic, indeed even in colonial times, it was the Irish who came to these fair shores only to be pushed around by the natives. They stayed and made the best of it. Then it was Germans who arrived here only to face harsh discrimination. They stayed and made the best of it. Later Italians showed up only to suffer ill treatment. They stayed and made the best of it. Finally Eastern Europeans, many of them Jews, sought a better life in America and were given a less than warm welcome. They stayed and made the best of it. Asians were next to flock to the land of the free only to be told to get lost. They stayed and made the best of it. Now it is Mexicans and others from Central and South American countries looking for a better life in the US of A. They are suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous discrimination. I venture they'll stay and make the best of it. It is as if there was a sort of unspoken hazing process for newcomers.

America is a melting pot full of xenophobes. Just as it was the home of democracy and equality and yet maintained slavery. That is to say the U.S. continues its paradoxical, contradictory utterly dumbfounding ways.

The harshest thing I can say about this country is, I believe, also one of the truest: it is a nation chock full of whiny babies. A proposed two cent tax on soda, as with any minor tax increases will get hordes of citizens off their sofas and away from their TV sets to scream "socialism!" in mass rallies. No matter who would benefit (sometimes because of) Americans will object to any raise in taxes. Indeed the very notion of any sort of self sacrifice for the greater good seems an anathema to far too many Americans. These are people who object to having to push the 1 on their telephone. It is a far cry from the US during World War II when Americans sacrificed many luxuries without complaint and gladly maintained victory gardens. And it is the polar opposite of John F. Kennedy's call for people to "ask not what their country could do for you but what you could do for your country." You could maybe press one.

I conclude with this scenario: Pedro has moved -- legally -- from Mexico to the U.S. He is gainfully employed as a carpenter. Pedro is good at his work, he's a law abiding citizen and pays his taxes. In addition to working all day he goes to ESL classes every night to improve his English. He is determined to speak and write better English. But when he calls the local cable company to inquire about a bill or a possible change in service he knows that the English voice instructions and menu will be a bit too complicated to understand. So he presses two (it's an option!) and gets all he needs to know in his native tongue. He is thus able to handle his business. Pedro hopes that someday he'll be able to push 1 for English. When that day comes, he'll be proud to do so.


Jess said...

That was an amazing editorial! Well said, and I thank you for saying it so well.

Univarn said...

Awesome post! I think a lot of people complaining about this has less to do with what is actually happen, and more to do with what they perceive to be happening....

Well, by perceive, I mean what the television has told them is happening. Hell if they dare think something before a news correspondent gives them the O.K.

Sandalina said...

People living in Canada are used to this! Press 1 for English, press 2 for French. No big deal.

Charlene said...

Great critical thinking and writing, as always! It's funny that the same Americans who (if they dared to venture outside our borders) want to speak English in foreign lands can't seem to understand that ESL-speakers might feel more comfortable working in THEIR native tongue when possible.

Lucas said...

Great job! I particularly like the example you gave of the recent immigrant. This first time a conservative relative sent me one of those emails complaining about pressing one for English I thought it must be a joke.

Tim said...

Wow! An opinion that reeks of fairness, compassion, and empathy. You must be some kind of Communist! If these dark skinned Spanish speaking immigrants want to come to our country, they need to learn bigotry, ignorance, and selfishness, as well as English. Then, they can truly be American.