The Shame at America’s Borders

Yesterday on February 27th, the New Yorker published a piece about the ordeal of Mem Fox, a well-known Australian author of children’s books, who was coming to the US to be a keynote speaker at a conference in Wisconsin.

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Read the article. You should hear her own account of the events – but I suspect it doesn’t do justice to what Ms. Fox must have been feeling – and what all the other people must have been feeling – as they were detained, barked at, yelled at, bullied, and humiliated by “professional agents.”

“When asked for comment about Fox’s account, Jaime Ruiz, a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection at LAX, said,

“That is not how we treat passengers. We treat passengers with respect and professionalism. We have zero tolerance for passengers being treated unprofessionally.”

Well, Jaime, guess what – that’s how you *do* treat passengers. It happened. It was real. Any sort of statement or apology should include an assurance that steps will be taken to change things. Because it was not just Ms. Fox that was treated that way – it was an entire roomful of other human beings, many who did not even speak English and who don’t have the social status to get on the public radar.

The Greeks have a saying: “Η γλώσσα κόκαλα δεν έχει και κόκαλα τσακίζει” (The tongue has no bones, but it breaks bones.) Your dismissive statement will not heal the deep cuts to the spirit of this gentle lady, and all the other gentle ladies and gentlemen whom your agents treat with all the delicacy of a fourth-grade bully with his posse behind the school.

Another report at the Washington post states,

After returning to her home in Adelaide, Fox filed a complaint with the U.S. Embassy in Canberra and received a “charming” email in response. “I took it as an apology from all of America,” she says.

While I’m glad the embassy responded positively, and that the apology was well received, I have no doubt that the memory of the experience will never truly fade. One kind diplomatic functionary is good, but to eliminate this kind of abomination change must start at the top – because attitude rolls downhill. And from what I’ve seen, it’s the attitude at the top that is enabling this kind of jingoistic, xenophobic vileness.

Ms. Fox, I’m deeply ashamed by the actions of my government, and very sorry this happened to you.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The defense and the illustration of the English Language.

Not 1549, but 2014.

I previously wrote two articles, here and here, about the efforts of France (and Québec, since we’re on the subject) to keep their language unspotted. Many Gallic purists will point at the magna carta of La Pléiade, “Défense et illustration de la langue française,” as reason enough to fight against the encroachment of other, less worthy tongues into the only true language; in view of the recent flap over English as the language of America the Beautiful, really nothing more than a tempest in a teapot promulgated by the intellectually challenged and those devoid of any sense of humanism, I present here a dictionary of terms which must be avoided and their acceptable English alternatives.

The Xenophobe’s Dictionary List of Words for Folks who Don’t Like Outlanders.

Ketchup (from k’ē chap, Chinese for “tomato sauce”): Tomato paste with vinegar and onions and other stuff what makes it a vegetable for school lunches.

Kangaroo (from Australian aboriginal): Big Jumping Rat that makes fine eating.

Cola (from West African languages (Temne kola, Mandinka kolo): That brown drink what goes good with rum.

Coca-Cola (From from Quechua cuca and “cola” above): Something from that liberal-ass un-American company what right-thinking ‘Murcans won’t touch with a 10-foot pole. Even “Big K” has better stuff.

Jukebox (possibly from Wolof and Bambara dzug through Gullah + box): Record-player thingy what you put quarters in.

Candy (from Arabic قندي qandī, sugared): Dayum, you mean mah lemon-heads wuz invented by the A-rabs? Sumbitch, I’ll just have to switch to chawin’ terbacky. Say, Clem, gimme a chaw.

Tobacco (From Taino, a Caribbean language. Said to refer either to a roll of tobacco leaves or to the tabago, a kind of Y-shaped pipe for sniffing tobacco smoke also known as snuff, with the leaves themselves being referred to as cohiba): Stuff you roll up and stick in your mouth and then set on fire. [1]

…..

Well, you get the idea. In fact, purging our English language of all foreign influence would be an exercise in futility, for even Old English was liberally infused with Latin as the result of a 400-year Roman occupation, as well as being a combination of dialects prevalent in the area, including the languages of the Celts, the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes. There is no “pure English,” and if you tried to take away all the foreign influences our language has not only survived but reveled in over two thousand years, we’d be reduced to speaking in grunts and belches. Oh wait, a lot of people haven’t got much farther than that anyway.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


[1] Thanx and a tip of the hat [2] to Bob Newhart
[2] Thanx and a tip of the hat to Bill Holman

America: Beautiful in any language

I recently posted about my experience watching two of my friends become American citizens. Now comes the Superbowl with its spate of commercials, one of which has generated some sentiment that absolutely should not exist in this country.

It’s a simple concept. People of various nationalities singing “America the Beautiful” in their own language. But for sheer ignorance, have a look at some of the Twitter comments recently posted about this commercial:

  • The Coca-Cola Co. Should apologize for the ridiculous #SuperBowl commercial #AmericaTheBeautiful should ONLY be in one language #English
  • Heres List Of ALL #Coke Products-BOYCOTT! Our Language Is #English Not Turkish! http://www.coca-colacompany.com/brands/all/ #SuperBowl #Broncos #SeaHawks #sports
  • Really glad I drink @Pepsi and not @CocaCola because that commercial was just AWFUL next time #ENGLISH please! #SB48 #SuperBowl
  • If you want to come to this country fine we welcome you BUT your going to sing America The Beautiful in #ENGLISH & drink #PEPSI #SUPERBOWL
  • I don’t think a commercial that sings in other than #English is a good idea #SuperBowl am not gonna buy ur product anymore
  • WTF?  @CocaCola has America the Beautiful being sung in different languages in a #SuperBowl commercial? We speak ENGLISH here, IDIOTS.”

The xenophobia and ignorant racist vitriol being spewed out onto the Internet breaks my heart. Yet these people seem to have no problem driving down Via Verde Avenue in their Prius to go eat Pizza with their Swedish girlfriend… the intellectual and spiritual disconnect is very difficult for me to get my head around.

Some statistics would probably not be amiss here. The 2010 census reports:

Americans 308,745,538 100.0 %
White 223,553,265 72.4 %
African American 38,929,319 12.6 %
Asian American 14,674,252 4.8 %
Native Americans or Alaska Native 2,932,248 0.9 %
Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander 540,013 0.2 %
Some other race 19,107,368 6.2 %
Two or more races 9,009,073 2.9 %

Of that total, 16.4% are of hispanic or latino ancestry. That’s close to two out of every 10. Moreover, have a look at the 15 largest ancestries of these oh-s0-proud Americans:

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It wouldn’t be surprising if the real names of some of these uneducated and small-spirited bloggers were Jorgensen, DeSalvo, O’Shaunessy, Kang, or Graumann. If they’re taking pride in being called Jones, they may well have forgotten their Welsh ancestry.

Kris Kristofferson has Swedish ancestry. The Governator is from Austria. Rocky Marciano was Italian. Bruce Willis was born in Idar-Oberstein, West Germany. Walter Cronkite had Dutch ancestry. Robert Zemeckis had Lithuanian ancestors. Gene Simmons was born in Israel. My own grandparents came from Tuscany and Calabria. America the beautiful, the open, the welcoming, the free – it has always been and will always be a melting pot of cultures, races, languages and ideologies. We must never forget the words of Emma Lazarus:

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Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

“The New Colossus,” 1883

As our nation grows in population and we deal with issues of unemployment and the social well-being of our citizens, the issue of immigration must of necessity be dealt with in a rational and humane way, giving priority to those who enter our country through legal and approved channels – but we must never become a nation where ugly and brutal nationalism is allowed to become a vehicle for the demonization of any race, creed or culture. Our national language is English, and those immigrants who have been most successful are the ones who have assimilated rapidly, learned the language and the culture of their adopted home, and mainstreamed themselves and their children. But remembering and honoring their cultural heritage is also a big part of who they are, and how they interact with and contribute to the nation.

If you’re going to insist on English only, you must by rights exclude yourself from ever eating at Acquerello in San Francisco (in fact, you must refer to it as Saint Francis, and no one will know what the hqiz you are talking about) or Piccolo Angolo in New York; you are prohibited from ever driving a Porsche or a Mercedes-Benz; you may never refer to a shiatsu massage or a reiki treatment; you can’t drink vodka; taboo is taboo; you can never again use ketchup; and heaven help you if you want to eat fondue.

For the love of whatever you hold sacred, fight racism, exclusionism, nationalism and xenophobia with every fiber of your being. Every American citizen in this country is entitled to the same respect and status – remember, in the end, – with the exception of Native Americans who were here long before the Mayflower – we all got here on a boat one way or another.

The Old Wolf has spoken.