Wednesday, September 27, 2006

John Rocker and Speaking English

John Rocker was a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves and had his best year in 1999. After becoming the Braves' full-time closer, he converted 38 saves and had an ERA of 2.49 in 74 games. He became controversial in the year 2000 when he made negative comments about minorities in a Sports Illustrated article, talking about New York City:
It's the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the 7 Train to the ballpark, looking like you're riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing.
He apologized but was harassed from them on in his baseball career.

Now he, along with his African-American girlfriend, are on a speaking tour promoting speaking English in America. I don’t want to defend John Rocker for the things he has said in the article, nor other remarks he made in his controversial career. I do think, though, that he is being demonized for advocating speaking English.

I continue to be amazed that this kind of thing is considered racism. Speaking English has nothing to do with race. Hispanics were at one time conquered by the Spanish, and forced to learn the language. Or, they acquired the language as a natural process over the years, because the Spanish were in power in their countries. It had nothing to do with their race. It has nothing to do with race now. “Hispanics” speak every language on earth, and a portion of them excel at these other languages. Many American “Hispanics” speak English, and some of them speak it better than the rest of us.

The term “Hispanic” of course does mean Spanish-speaking. It does not mean any race of people. Hispanics can be Blacks or Whites or Natives or any number of races. It is not connected with skin color, except by association. What I mean by this is that there are many Brown peoples who speak Spanish, so we often associate a race with the Spanish language, but this is not accurate. After all, Spaniards are “Hispanic” and they include many races, including Caucasians.

The same thing can be said for culture. There is no “Hispanic” culture. There are many “Hispanic” cultures. There are Mexicans and Spaniards and Puerto Ricans and Cubans and so on, all with different cultures.

“Hispanic” really, then, is connected with only one thing—speaking Spanish. It is not a race. The fact that Poles, Greeks, Russians, Germans etc. all came to America and learned English was not “racist” against the Poles, Greeks, et al. It was, rather, the melting pot of America, becoming one country.

Again, I don’t want to defend John Rocker’s early comments, nor his worldview. I’m not certain where he stands now anyway on all these issues. I do, though, think it is unfortunate to confuse advocating speaking English with racism. The alternative is two separate nations in America, each self-interested. We fought a civil war to unite the country and rid it of slavery. Now we are in danger of being divided by language, and you know it’s already happened.

The solutions? Slow down immigration to allow assimilation, and promote English as the language of the land. Plus, stop screaming “racist” when someone wants to preserve America as a nation. America is a good, inclusive nation, and should be kept that way, united.


(*Wikipedia is always my source unless indicated.)

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1 comment:

paz y amor said...

John Rocker was a dick with a big mouth and the SI interview was just the point at which it was revealed to the rest of the world. I'm all for saying what you want whenever you feel the need, but don't be surprised by the consequences. I think a lot of atheletes feel immune to social criticism until they get smacked in the face with it. needless to say, his career tanked after making those statements and he's out of the big leagues for good. No wet tissue here!

I think you're a little mistaken (only slightly) about the term "Hispanic" though. It doesn't refer to people who speak Spanish at all, it refers to their ethnic heritage and the region of the world they come from. If you think about it, it's an American term to deliniate a certain group (in other words, you should have scrolled all the way down to the "Hispanic as a US ethnic label" section of your link.) It's the context in which the word is used. In the same way they lump people whose heritage is mainly European into the "White race", people of African heritage into the "Black race", "Hispanic" refers to people who come from Latin American cultures- anywhere from Panama to Colombia to Mexico to Cuba. It's geographical as well as cultural. Hispanola (now Haiti and DR) was technically the first Spanish colony and the Hispanic term comes from that. Spaniards are NOT considered Hispanic because they are European and therefore White. Filipinos have Spanish names, yet they are not Hispanic. Hell, I speak Spanish but I am definitely not Hispanic and no one would consider me so unless I came from a Latin American culture. There are different Hispanic cultures as you say, but there are different Black cultures, different European cultures and different Asian cultures too, yet there are still phenotypical differences that help separate groups (not a good thing if you ask me!)

The racism in the immigration debate isn't the fact that people want immigrants to speak English- it's the harsh language that is used by the public when discussing it. "Fuckin Mexicans stealing all the jobs" "Go back to Mexico!" and "You can't take my country from me!!!" is a far cry from saying, "You should really take it upon yourself to learn English...." I've seen several people on the news shout things like this at marching crowds of legal Hispanic citizens and Hispanic illegal aliens, but their citizenship status didn't matter. They saw a large group of Hispanics and started taunting. It reminded me (and a lot of other people) of Southern Whites in the volatile 60's shouting racist epithets at marching Black protesters. The issues are very similar- there is a group of people that is unwanted in the country and people are out voicing their opinions. Granted, it's not as violent as it was then and a lot fewer people care THAT much but there are definitely racist elements to the issue. Here's what gets me though. Not ONCE have I heard illegal Europeans as the targets of the immigration debate. They come illegally as well, yet there is no one putting a focus on that.

When Russians, Poles, Italians and Germans immigrated to the country, they moved into neighborhoods of people just like them. Their words on their stores, markets and shops were written in the languages of the people who lived there and you can STILL find that in a lot of places around the country. What's the big deal? Is it a different standard because it's Spanish and the people are Latin American? Should we force all Asian restaurants to post signs and menus in English only or force all the synagogues to take down the Hebrew words written above their temple doors and in their mizuzas because non-Jews can't read it? That's ridiculous!