Language

American Mystery

Is there another word that conjures such blood-pumping, swooning love and/or as much headache-inducing vitriol as “America”?

Excuse me — make that “America!!”

Regardless of your level of patriotism, you no doubt have some kind of strong association to that simple word. “America” is shorthand for freedom and power and excess and liberty and dozens of other intellectual, emotional, and political concepts.

And what is the source of this four-syllable monument to complexity? Well, as you learned in history class, our mighty nation was named after Italian explorer, navigator, and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci.

Or was it?

You see, what we have been taught for generations may not be, strictly speaking, the truth.

There is a theory that Amerigo Vespucci was an opportunist who changed his name after the New World was christened, thus earning him some level of fame and improving the hell out of his branding efforts.

This theory holds that the word “America” actually comes from the name of an Indian tribe and of a mountain range in Nicaragua called “Amerrique.”

 

amerrique-mountains

Well, consider my mind blown.

Of course, we will never know the real answer, as half a millennium has a way of distorting people’s memories. So the Vespucci angle will no doubt continue to be the dominant story that schoolchildren learn.

But we have to ask ourselves, does it matter that our nation may not have been named after a European male, but rather took its moniker from a bunch of indigenous natives (Latinos, no less)?

Is it true that “to question the origin of America’s name is to question the nature of not only our history lessons but our very identity as Americans”?

You tell me.

 


Even Better in 2016

For my last post of the year, I thought I would regale you with an amusing anecdote that happened to my mom.

She was standing in line at the post office, talking to my grandmother. As I may have mentioned, my grandmother is pushing 100, so it’s unlikely that she will learn English at this point. Therefore, my mom was speaking to her in Spanish.

Of course, that’s just asking for it.

A blustery man standing behind my mom yelled, “This is America. We speak English.”

Really, he said that.

My mom turned around and said, “Yes, this is America. And that means I can speak whatever I want.”

amerflag88

The man gasped and struggled for a rejoinder. Either he didn’t think my mom spoke English (and was stunned that she had understood him), or he just didn’t believe anyone would have the nerve to question his simplistic assertion to his face. Or maybe my mom’s statement — with its firm basis in legal, cultural, and historical fact — just flummoxed him.

Regardless, my mom let him have it for another minute or two, using such terms as “freedom” and “civil rights” and “pride.” And he just kept jabbering for a proper rebuttal.

With the dressing down complete, my mom turned back to my grandmother. Before she could resume their conversation, however, the man’s companion — presumably his wife — tapped my mom on the shoulder.

“Good for you,” the man’s wife said. “I keep telling him to shut up and keep his stupid opinions to himself. Now maybe he’ll listen.”

And the man said nothing.

So that’s your anecdote. OK, maybe it’s not as amusing as I implied. But it is funny. Parts of it, anyway.

Happy New Year.

 


All Waffles Come With a Side of Hatred

I think we can all agree that stopping the growing Nazi scourge that is taking over pancake houses across America should be our nation’s top priority.

Wait… you don’t know what I’m taking about?

Then clearly you haven’t seen this video, in which a brave patriot stands up to a Latina who committed the grievous sin of speaking Spanish in public.

The woman, Norma Vazquez, was at an IHOP here in Los Angeles with her son, Carlos Steven. They were apparently letting all those trilled R’s and double L’s fly around the place during their private conversation. And hey, let’s face it, even whispering Spanish is a clear affront to God’s favorite language — English.

So a woman approached the Vazquezes, and in the spirit of neighborliness, promptly snapped, “We speak English in America.” She also offered the helpful suggestion that the mother and son should “go back to Spain,” even though Ms. Vasquez is from El Salvador.

Now, you might ask what all this has to do with Nazis. Well, that’s where things go from ignorant and hateful to completely weird.

The confrontational lady equated speaking English with freedom, telling the Vazquez family, “Do you want the Russians over here telling you what to do? Do you want the Nazis telling you what to do?”

Indeed, I’m sure all red-blooded Americans agree that saying anything in Spanish is the gateway to fascism. Perhaps the wrong combination of Spanish phrases — like el sombrero or la fiesta or sin verguenza — acts as some sort of incantation, causing Hitler and his minions to rise from the grave and feast upon the brains of English-speaking, freedom-loving Americans everywhere.

And yes, that does sound like a kick-ass sequel to Dead Snow.

dead snow

 

In any case, it turns out that Norma Vazquez does speak English, but her preferred language is Spanish. It also turns out that her son, Carlos Steven, knows how to use a camera phone. He videotaped the English-only lady and her bizarre tirade, and he posted it to Facebook, where it has since garnered 15 million views and almost 500,000 shares.

So what do we make of this situation? Well, it’s clear that the fear of foreign languages and hatred of bilingualism — which are concepts fairly unique to America — aren’t fading away soon. It’s also clear that individuals who really, really hate Spanish will continue to insist that it is their right, even their duty, to accost people and let ‘em have it if so much as an hola slips out.

Remember, just a few months ago, another upstanding patriot screamed, “USA, English only,” at terrified schoolchildren.

As for the English-only woman prowling around IHOPs, ready to pounce on Spanish speakers at the first sign of trouble, well, I’m tempted to call her a xenophobe.

But she would probably just say that’s a made-up word and to speak English, damn it.

 


Keep Talking

For a culture steeped in Catholic fatalism — and with a history that includes everything from racial discrimination to economic injustice to death squads — Hispanics sure are an optimistic bunch. I’ve written before about this weird tendency to be positive in the face of disaster. But now I have scientific proof for it.

A recent study says that people who speak Spanish tend to express themselves in a more positive way than speakers of other languages do. The researchers found that “the selection of positive words was greatest among Spanish-speakers” and that those words tend to be “learned more easily, used more frequently and are considered more meaningful.” In addition, overall communication among Spanish-speakers tended to be more positive, and the emotional content of the Spanish language was the highest among the languages studied.

talking

Basically, a conversation in Spanish is more optimistic and heartfelt than it would be in English, even if the content is exactly the same. And you don’t even want to know how much more upbeat Spanish is in comparison to German or Arabic (the alpha and omega of harsh languages).

But it’s not all good news for Hispanics. And here I am part of the problem. I’ve been honest about my struggles with Spanish, and I consider myself passable at the language, at best.

Well, another study has shown that, sure enough, each successive generation of Latinos is less proficient in Spanish. While 92% of the second generation (children of immigrants, like me) speak English very well, only 82% are even conversational in Spanish. By the third generation, nearly 100% of Latinos speak English very well, but only 17% speak Spanish fluently.

So all that optimism will fade away if we don’t teach kids Spanish. Now that’s a pessimistic thought.

 


Many Years Later, as He Stood Before the Firing Squad…

The greatest writer of all time has died.

200px-Gabriel_Garcia_Marquez

It is of course impossible to summarize the career of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or to assess his influence on Latin America, the land, he said, of “poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality.”

My favorite Garcia Marquez line doesn’t come from one of his novels, not even the majestic One Hundred Years of Solitude (the greatest novel of all time). No, I like how he stated in an essay the simple truth that “Puritanism is insatiable and feeds upon its own excrement.” It’s one of many brilliant observations, poetically rendered, that he left to the world.

He has no successor.

 


We Don’t Need No Education

When I was in grade school, the principal or some other authority figure would occasionally pepper the morning announcements with a dose of Spanish. He or she might get on the PA to say, “Today is Monday, or lunes,” or inform us that hola means hello.

Well, that kind of commie prank doesn’t fly in Texas, where almost 40 percent of the population is Latino.

Recently, the principal of a middle school in the city of Hempstead told her students that they were forbidden from speaking Spanish anywhere on the school property, even if it was a private conversation.  And yes, she announced this policy via the PA system, just to make sure everybody knew she wasn’t fucking around about it.

Microphone_studio

Clearly, this was an attempt by a government employee to make English the official language at a government-funded institution (which is unconstitutional) and to limit the free speech of US residents (which is way, way unconstitutional). So the school board, in the parlance of the day, responded by declining to renew the principal’s contract.

That means her ass was fired.

Of course, it’s always interesting to note how true patriots are quick to eliminate other people’s rights because that’s, you know, the American way and everything. Such individuals rarely have any knowledge or interest in the US Constitution, which is the document they supposedly revere.

But in case there were any people in Hempstead who supported the principal’s attempt to be a one-woman language police force, they may have been brought up short by the man at the school board meeting who “read a list of American Founding Fathers who spoke multiple languages. They included Benjamin Franklin (French) and Thomas Jefferson (French, Italian, Spanish and Latin).”

So it’s clear that this idea goes against the Founding Fathers themselves. Damn, what’s an English-only aficionado to do? Certainly, they cannot take comfort in the fact that “there’s no evidence that speaking Spanish hampers learning English, and…in most of the rest of the world, it’s common to speak two or more languages.”

In essence, kids in Hempstead can keep jabbering away in English, Spanish, Spanglish, French, Latin, Elvish, or whatever else they want.

Good for them.

 


The End is Here

There’s a new horrifying sign that America is on the decline.

I’m not talking about the chaotic state of our politics, or the struggling economy, or even the fact that half of us refuse to acknowledge basic scientific facts.

I’m referring to the recent implication that white conservative guys can’t casually throw around racial slurs anymore. Truly, it’s a sign of the apocalypse.

To continue reading this post, please click here.

 


Think Different

According to many sources, Dr. Carlos do Amaral Freire can speak more languages — 115 — than anyone alive. But before you feel too intimidated, keep in mind that the professor is fluent in a mere 30 or so.

One has to wonder how balancing all those verb tenses and irregular conjugations has affected his mind (although as we know, people who speak multiple languages have more agile brains). In fact, there is some evidence that the languages we speak influence the very way we think.

To continue reading this post, please click here.

 


And I Don’t Mean That in a Bad Way

Apparently, a bunch of sluts were running around my city recently.

I’m talking, of course, about the SlutWalk movement, which began earlier this year when a Toronto cop implied that women who dressed like “sluts” deserved to get raped. Outraged at the cop’s statement, women all over North America hit the streets both to protest the Neanderthal mindset that afflicts so many males, and to repurpose the word “slut.”

To continue reading this post, please click here.


Euphemistically Speaking

When I was in college, my editor at the student newspaper called me with an assignment: I was to cover a speech by a radical professor who, my editor breathlessly said, was brilliant “and so PC!”

I asked what that meant, and she said, with some amazement at my naivety, that it indicated “politically correct.”

I had never heard this term before. Of course, it wasn’t long before those juxtaposed letters entered the language and, in the process, went from leftist praise to conservative insult.

To continue reading this post, please click here.


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