Sunday, March 20, 2011
Today's post was going to be about the Cinque Terre, where I spent much of my Carnival vacation last week.
Then I found out about this (I originally found it here, via another language assistant's blog).
This came on the heels of another discussion about how racism is notably more socially acceptable in Spain than in the United States. And usually that's true - talking about how you "have to watch out for the black people" or doing the "chinese eye stretch" doesn't get a second glance here, while in most of America that sort of thing is a pretty big no-no. Especially for a lot of Southerners - hello, residual slavery/Jim Crow/generally behaving like asses about the Civil RIghts movement guilt - "racist" is about the worst thing someone can call you.
Then my home state went and shamed me. A quick summary of the article above: Latino customers, who did not speak English, went into a diner in Lexington on two occasions and ordered using gestures and probably some Spanish words. Management of the diner put up a sign that those who did not speak "American" (they meant English) would not be served. God bless America, it said.
Huh? I understand that, when a customer goes into a restaurant, the impetus is on them to be able to order. That said, you can communicate plenty using gestures and pointing at menus. The best meal I had in Genoa was at a restaurant where the waitress spoke no English. I spoke no Italian. We just ordered by saying the names of what we wanted off the menu in our bad Italian accents. She brought us the check and, wow, numbers are the same in Italy as in America, so we knew how much to pay. No problem. I would have been flabbergasted if she had refused to serve us because we didn't speak Italian!
The thing that really upsets me here is I really don't think that's America's heart. I truly believe that, by and large, Americans are an open, friendly people. We're one of only a few countries that's been so defined by its diversity, and while I know each new wave of immigrants has faced prejudice on some level or other, I think the overall attitude towards diversity is a positive one. Here in Bilbao, you can tell who's not Basque (or at very least who's not Iberian), but you can't tell who's not American in America. Ethnicity won't tell you; language won't tell you; dress won't tell you. It's one of the things I love most about my country.
So when a diner in North Carolina goes and puts up a "no English, no service" sign, it breaks my heart, not only because of the way it must have made non-English speakers in the community feel, but because it's an attack on the very thing that makes America great.
I love our diversity. I love that we don't have an official language, that the minute you pledge allegiance to the Flag, whatever language you speak becomes "American."
God bless America.