Sunday, January 17, 2010

… to continue in English, press two

I went to pay a ticket the other day and, although paying online is an option, when searching for my ticket number the database returned “no citation found.” So I called the police to see what the deal is. (Side note: found out that the ticket will post sometime in 30-45 days; however, you have to have paid your ticket or requested a court date within 21 days of receiving the citation, otherwise a bench warrant is issued. Your tax dollars at work.)

So I call this number (214-670-0109) as directed on the Dallas City Hall webpage (http://www.dallascityhall.com/courts/court_online_payments.html). As usual an automated message picks up and confirms, yes, I’ve called the Dallas Court Services line, just as expected. Next, it launched into the exact same speech in Spanish. Ok, this is a 50/50 proposition these days, but not a surprise when calling the DPD. What happened next made my jaw drop. In Spanish the message continued on passed the greeting and asked you to press one (1) if you wanted to continue in Spanish. Then, in English, it came back and asked you to press two (2) if you wanted to proceed in English. Yes, you read that right, one for Spanish, two for English. Call it for yourself; again, 214-670-0109.

Now I’m no foe to diversity and I believe in most tenants of the various equal rights organizations, and even support some of them monetarily and with my time. But isn’t this the United States of America? I know full well that the United States has no “official” language, but you can also note that, as of this writing, 28 states do, in fact, have English as their “official” language. And official or not, there is no disputing English is the language of commerce and law of this land.

Are my expectations so out of whack? If I were to move to another country I would full well expect to have to learn the native tongue. When I travel abroad the first thing I do when I know I’m going is look up key phrases and memorize them, then begin building myself a pocket cheat-sheet of other useful phrases in the local language. Why? Because when I’m in a country where another language is spoken I fully expect it is ME who needs to change, not them. When my great-great grandparents came to this new land that offered them an opportunity to prosper, they learned English, and without all the help that is now available such as English as a Second Language (ESL) classes.

Now is this really about having to wait an extra 5 seconds and then press 2 for English? No, it’s about the implication of this and other such actions we see happening. Diversity is a good thing, something to be celebrated, as long as diversity doesn’t mean complete division. Yes, we support new immigrants with ESL classes in public schools; yes, we provide help by making available multiple language forms at the DOT (DMV in some states) as well as hospitals and other public buildings, as we should. But I ask, where does it stop? I won’t be so bold as to say I know the answer, but I can say that pressing 1, not 2 for English would be a good place to start.

So why is it everyone sues to make sure they are “included,” yet in areas where they need to make an effort to be included all the sudden we have to make special arrangements? We are a land of immigrants and this past is part of what gives us strength as a nation; what binds those otherwise singular strengths together is our sense of community, one nation, together. Together in our own unique ways, but together for the common good.

"The strength of the United States is not the gold at Fort Knox or the weapons of mass destruction that we have, but the sum total of the education and the character of our people." United States Senator Claiborne Pell, for whom the Pell Grant is named.

The social degradation of any society begins with the language. Once communication skills are hampered, collapse of other social institutions is inevitable. We need to begin to expect more from our newly welcomed immigrants. Keep your traditions, keep the best parts of you and your heritage, but join us in becoming “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

5 comments:

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