Language


Something I always love about discussing regionalism: trying to dissuade people from seeing unique places and peoples, whose histories can be tangential or contrary to the national narrative, as something other than special cases.

Take the current controversy over Larry Whitten, the hotelier who has come under fire for requiring employees in Taos, NM to Anglicize their names and speak only English in his presence.   Certainly, it’s not difficult to see how his actions were insulting and impracticable, not to mention detrimental to the charms of tourism in the Southwest United States.

But the AP article, which has served as the basis for discussion about Whitten, makes Taos (as well as New Mexico) a special case where the normal expectations of assimilation do not apply:

His rules and his firing of several Hispanic employees angered his employees and many in this liberal enclave of 5,000 residents at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, where the most alternative of lifestyles can find a home and where Spanish language, culture and traditions have a long and revered history.

Taos is not originally Hispanic, and to its credit, the author (Melanie Dabovich) mentions that it has been “an American Indian dwelling inhabited for over 1,000 years”.  The author’s language, which were reproduced or mimicked in most articles about this affair, plays into perceptions that Spanish speakers are tolerated in Taos, not native to Taos (if not properly indigenous).  Yet they are not there because Taos is “liberal” or accepting of  “alternative lifestyles.”

This presentation is moreover troubling because it plays into the equating of Hispanic and immigrant that is at the heart of the immigration debate.  Rick Sanchez, who can be a visible advocate for Hispanic issues from the anchor desk at CNN, made this very point:

“My real name is Ricardo Leon Sanchez de Reinaldo. I don’t use it because I want to be respectful of this wonderful country that allowed us as Hispanics to come here, and I think it’s easier if someone’s able to understand me by Anglicizing my name.”

Yet there is no reason to believe that the Taosenos were “allowed” to come to American.  Even if there were immigrants (or their descendants) among those working for Whitten, Hispanic culture had already taken root in New Mexico before the arrival of the United States.  Sanchez, born in Cuban, rather arrogantly has made his story that of all Spanish speakers.

Ultimately, the nationalization of Mexicans that occurred with the annexation of the Southwest in the 1840s ought to be sufficient for tolerating all Spanish speakers anywhere in the United States.  Making New Mexico a special case, even its  unique history is acknowledged, has the effect of territorializing and containing Hispanic heritage.

Normally, I regard Rick Sanchez, like most contemporary reports, as useless. Why let the facts get in the way of an erroneous, but loud, opinion.  His reporting on immigration this week is no exception.  His debate between Tom Tancredo and Miguel Perez produced a really funny moment, where the latter truly got the better of the former:

SANCHEZ: What about you, Miguel Perez, when you look at something like [English-only legislation]?
PEREZ: We would have to change the name of the congressman’s state. It would have — he’s from Colorado. We would have to call it red.
(LAUGHTER)
SANCHEZ: Interesting point.
TANCREDO: It’s English. English is Colorado.

Tancredo was befuddled by the obvious.  (If he became president, would he outlaw Latin, like E pluribus unum, or Greek, like δημοκρατία?)

Born a Yiddish-speaking Jew in Alemanisch-speaking Alsace, Marcel Marceau’s pantomime would be an apt comment on modernity. Claude Weill considers his muteness in a touching remembrance (text below).

(more…)

 [Crossposted to Cliopatria.]

I tend to lose track of time. It’s a bad quality for an historian, but confronting the same boring file for hours speeds the passage of time even though one perceives it grinding to a halt. I had been picking away at the same document today (in between bouts of looking after my son) before I gave up, turned on the TV, and surrendered to the pablum of cable news.

Only I didn’t realize what time it was. Suddenly, the dreaded words, “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” appeared in the bottom corner of the screen. Yes, it was that hour when CNN imitates Radio Rwanda, only tonight the Grand Wizard surrendered his stool for his underling (according to the rumor mill, Dobbs wants to import remnants of the Berlin Wall to southern Texas).

As with any other night, another story about Mexico or Mexican immigrants was being broadcasted. This one carried the title, “Mexico’s Chutzpah.” Unfortunately, it carried the subtitle, “What’s Spanish for Chutzpah?” Some clever tech or intern must have thought that one up on the fly. Did they really mean to destroy the credibility of the news shows raison d’être? Did they know it is a loan word from Yiddish, assimilated by English? (more…)

Francophonic World: Words without Borders features African writers this month. Alain Mabanckou’s “Blue White Red” reflects on Africans’ perceptions and experiences of the mere patrie (Mabanckou recently won the Prix Goncourt):

I was one of those who thought that France was for the others. France was for those who we used to call les bouillants—the go-getters. It was that faraway country, inaccessible despite its fireworks that shimmered even in my smallest dreams, and from which I woke with a taste of honey in my mouth. True, I had been secretly working in my field of dreams on that wish to cross the Rubicon, to go there some day. It was a common wish; there was nothing special about that wish. You could hear that wish expressed from every mouth. Who of my generation had not visited France par la bouche—by mouth, as we say back home. Just one word, Paris, was enough for us to meet by magic spell in front of the Eiffel Tower, at the Arc de Triomphe, and on the Champs Elysées. Boys my age led their girls on by showering them with the serenade: I’ll be going to France soon. I’m going to live in the center of Paris. We were allowed to dream. It didn’t cost anything. No exit visa was necessary, no passport, no airline ticket. Think about it. Close your eyes. Sleep. Snore. And there we were, every night…Reality caught up with us. The barriers were insurmountable. The first obstacle for me was my parents’ poverty. We weren’t dying of hunger, but a trip to France was nothing but an extravagance for them. We could do without it. We could live without having gone there. What’s more, the Earth continued to rotate. The sun followed its course and would visit other faraway places; we would cross paths in the same places, in our fields or at the marketplace at slaughter time or when the peanuts were harvested. My parents would be ruined for no good reason by contributing to an adventure like that.

Paroles des esclavage is a memory project of slavery in Martinique (sorry, it’s in French).

Roma in Greece: Devious Diva’s Roma Series has been receiving much deserved attention.