The Rip Post                                Riposte Archive


riposte2.jpg (10253 bytes)

(July 23, 2012)

          A recent KCET on-line column by “poet and journalist” Adolfo Guzman-Lopez begins:
          “I see the edges of a Spanish bilingual future in Southern California, a time when speaking Spanish is as accepted and expected as hearing French in Quebec. It'll be a time when non-Spanish speakers don't feel threatened when they hear Spanish in the workplace and on the street.”
          This is so puzzling. Yet one is relentlessly hearing such pronouncements from latino public figures in Southern California, as if they think no one here has ever heard Español before 2012. Mr. Guzman-Lopez, esteemed education reporter for KPCC-FM, yearns for a time in Los Angeles when Spanish is “as accepted and expected as French in Quebec,” a time when “non-Spanish speakers don’t feel threatened when they hear Spanish.”
          Well, cierra mi boca! Call me demente, but gee, Mr. Guzman-Lopez, I think that time arrived quite a while ago. I mean, Los Angeles, anybody? Spun a radio dial lately? Visited an elementary school classroom? Se habla Español !
          Of course, Mr. G-L was born in Mexico City and grew up in Tijuana and San Diego, so perhaps he lacks first-hand history of the situation. Speaking as one who grew up in and around Los Angeles, I would like to assure Mr. G-L that Spanish is accepted and expected here. About as accepted and expected as Los Doyers, Mexican bus-boys on bikes, drive-by shootings, and La Opinion. Hell, part of the L.A. Times is in Spanish. Threatened? The only times I have ever felt threatened in situations involving Español were moments where I briefly conversed with native Spanish speakers in their own language, inspiring open hostility. “You can speak to me in English,” one guy spat, outright hatred in voice and face. How dare the gabacho attempt to speak en mi lengua! Still, most of the time I manage a couple of poorly constructed sentences in Spanish, native Spanish-speakers seem to appreciate it. Especially the ladies at Philippe’s, Home of the French-Dip Sandwich, some of whom barely understand English, by the way.
          Threatened? Hey, if you want to get absurd about it, when I was five years old, my favorite place to eat was Taco Tio en Costa Mesa. Grease-dripping ground beef tacos with lettuce and queso amarillo were exquisito. (And if you find that reference too white boy, I direct your attention to Gustavo Arrellano’s new book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America.) My first words of Spanish came in the ‘50’s: “Se habla Español  at Lou’s Garage.” In the ‘60’s, I listened to East L.A. bands on KRLA and KHJ radio---Cannibal and the Headhunters, Thee Midnighters, et al.---and in the 70’s, along came El Chicano, Santana, Tierra, Freddy Fender, others. KMEX, Channel 34, has been on the dial almost as long as I’ve been wasting my brain on television. I learned some Spanish in 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th grades, and a year in college. (Right, shame on me for never becoming fluent, but I’m lazy that way.) I lived in a dorm at Cal State Northridge that was about 50 percent Chicano Equal Opportunity Program students, including my girlfriend at the time, who went on to become a lifer in the L.A. Unified School District with a doctorate in education. I still remember the “R.A.” (resident assistant), a long haired Chicano from whose room Santana constantly pulsed, and my roommate was a nice kid whose parents toiled in the fields of Oxnard. The Chicano Studies “radicals” used to hang around the CSUN Daily Sundial all the time, pushing their agenda. Good guys, as I remember them, if a bit single-minded. Years later, I wrote the first article in a major newspaper (L.A. Herald-Examiner) about a good East L.A. band in need of a record deal. They were called, uh. . .oh yeah, Los Lobos. Right. Now nothing less than a venerable, revered American musical institution.
          Accepted? What on earth is Mr. G-L talking about?
I mean, if 51 percent of the people start wearing top hats, am I supposed to go out and buy one? What if I’m not interested in top hats? What if I don’t like them?

           You drive around L.A. and see thousands of businesses, signs, billboards in Spanish. Hell, half the streets and communities start with “la” or “el.” El Monte and La Puente, anyone? Take a stroll past most of the high schools around 2 p.m., from the Valley to San Pedro, and count the number of white kids walking home. (Hint: you sometimes won’t see any.) I turned on KPFK the other night and the entire program was in Spanish. Author/editor Gustavo “Ask a Mexican” Arrellano, Dios mio, was the commencement speaker for the 2010 UCLA graduation. And like him or not, and I don’t, our mayor (I prefer “menor”) is an L.A.-born-and-raised Chicano with “Born to Raise Hell” tattooed on his arm. I mean, Spanglish spoken here. And yet:
          It'll be a time when non-Spanish speakers don't feel threatened when they hear Spanish in the workplace and on the street.
          Where does this idea come from? Who feels threatened by hearing Spanish in the workplace or the street? This is what we call in English a canard, or mentira en Español . Is there a pervasive belief among younger generations of Chicanos that Spanish is brand-new to Southern California, and that there is some great fear of this language on the part of non-Spanish speakers? Hmm. . .I wonder, then, why we have widespread bi-lingual (sometimes tri-lingual and quadra-lingual) education, and why every government document is in four or five different languages, beginning with good old Spanish. Navigated a phone menu recently? Marque el dos para Español . . .
          I don’t know exactly where this fiction originates, but I’ll bet dollars for chimichangas that it comes largely from college “Chicano studies” departments that essentially teach a few basic things in the guise of fomenting “pride:”: this land was stolen from you, whitey hates you, and now you are taking back your land from whitey. Payback, ese. I have encountered this attitude innumerable times since the sixties, usually in the form of hostility, mistrust, condescension toward. . .me.
          Let me go on the record here. I didn’t take anyone’s land. I have never discriminated against anyone based on race. I do not hate Mexicans or Mexican-Americans. What’s more, I am part of several generations from the ‘60’s that have been nothing if not revolutionary in egalitarianism. The ethos: evaluate people based on individual behavior, not race/ethnicity/religion/culture. Put simply: I am not The Man, homes. Most of the evil white folk I’ve known in my life have adamantly opposed any form of discrimination, and enthusiastically supported attempts to effect legal equality on behalf of minorities and women.
          Como se dice “ironic?”
          And this whole notion of payback, well, it’s just cancerous. One generation “pays back” for sins committed against a previous generation? Now there’s a recipe for success. I believe the uh, Hatfields and McCoys stand as the shining example of where this “logic” ends. And the Montagues and Capulets. Well, all people must have their little plots, their little identities, their little dramas, their little fun, and no hay nada nuevo bajo el sol.
          But back to Mr. G-L’s wish that L.A. become “comfortably bi-lingual,” like Quebec. I thought it already was comfortably bi-lingual (one of the most multi-lingual cities in the world, actually), but of course, I don’t think Mr. G-L is really saying this. I think he is saying that he looks forward to the day when non-Spanish speakers in L.A. must speak fluent Spanish. Subtext: Spanish-speakers here generally are bi-lingual, but are nearly the majority, so now it’s whitey’s turn. This is a not a benign egalitarian wish, as he might perhaps think, but a subtly expressed ethnocentrism that boils down to this: there are so many of us, you should start speaking our language if you want to be a part of the new society here, chingao. I remember another Chicano “poet-journalist” (er, when did getting up in front of a microphone and declaiming egomaniacally make one a “poet?”) Ruben Martinez, years ago, following his KCET feature on quinceañeras (basically a party for turning fifteen, marked, as far as I can tell, by renting a limosine) saying something to the effect of “Maybe you’d better start planning your own quinceañera. . .” Translation: our culture is becoming dominant, so maybe you’d better start adopting it. Sheesh.
          I mean, if 51 percent of the people start wearing top hats, am I supposed to go out and buy one? What if I’m not interested in top hats? What if I don’t like them?
No, it is not Spanish that “threatens” non-Spanish-speakers, it is ethnocentric bullying on the part of a vocal faction of local Spanish speakers. And the attitude is hardly limited to Chicano studies brainwash victims. Consider my encounter with the wonderful “caregiver” who made life bearable for a friend of mine who just died after about 12 years in bed with multiple sclerosis and diabetes. “You know, Mr. Rip,” she said, “I come to this country with nothing! Mexicans are very strong! We know how to survive! And you know, this is our land! You took it from us!” (I said nothing. You can’t win that argument.)
          Look, people do not like being told implicitly or overtly that they must suddenly adopt new customs, language, culture. No people. So yes, this is “threatening.” Which brings up a benign term that was vilified long ago by academia: integration. Gasp! I said it! Will I be prosecuted by the political correctness police? By CSUN Chicano Studies founder Rudy Acuña? In former times, immigrants from many nations wanted to come to the United States, and understood that part of coming to a new country meant new customs and culture. Not abandoning old ones, but adding new ones. So most learned English, and they sought to consider themselves as American (i.e. U.S.) citizens who happened to be from elsewhere, or in the case of second, third (and so on) generations, American citizens who happened to be of x-descent. 
          Of course, this noble idea was naive, as members of the white majority variously: patronized, dismissed, discriminated against, beat, murdered, incarcerated, enacted real estate exclusionary laws and laws barring “intermarriage,” and, of course, set up fiendish concentration camps for the most patriotic cultural group ever to become U.S. citizens: Japanese-Americans. It’s one vile record. But it does not justify ethnocentric arrogance, generations later. Nothing does. As a Japanese-American friend of mine told me recently, voicing a very unpopular attitude among her younger Japanese-American friends: “I’m not Japanese-American. I’m American. I’m an American who happens to be of Japanese descent.”
          How enlightened that is. Imagine such a thing: not defining yourself primarily by your ethnicity or culture! Wow. Confounds some of you, does it? Well, would you define yourself primarily by the fact that you wear designer clothing? Your tattoos? Or would you rather define yourself by your. . .character. . .achievement. . .values? (What a concept.)
Further, our hombre del futuro notes as evidence of the coming “bi-lingual SoCal” the fact that there are billboards in Spanish for. . .hard liquor and beer! Yeah, that’s social progress!

          But what of “ethnic pride,” a leitmotiv in this society for decades? What’s wrong with that? Just this: it’s one thing to embrace aspects of a given culture, but it’s quite another to define oneself entirely by them. What ethnicity/culture, after all, is not shot through with good and evil in its history? If you’re German, are you proud of Hitler? If you have murderous, pillaging Spanish conquistadores in your heritage, and enslaving Franciscan friars, and Aztec/Mayans who cut out the living hearts of babies and virgins in offer to their gods, should this inspire pride? If your European ancestors enslaved African blacks and wiped out indigenous North American peoples? And so on.
          Then there is the enormous and growing issue of insularity. My grandparents came here and learned English. My wife’s mother came here and learned English (as part of her citizenship class, incidentally.) If I move to France, I would not presume to spend the rest of my life speaking English and consorting with English-speaking people. I would learn French, enjoy learning French, enjoy learning about French society, enjoy meeting French people---even if French society never came to regard me as a “Frenchman.” But vast numbers of immigrants in recent years simply come to the USA to game the system for cash---in business, real estate, whatever (and are given the red carpet treatment by Uncle Sam if they have enough money.) Or to simply live more comfortably. Many feel no responsibility, let alone desire, to become fluent in English, socialize with people who are fluent in English. They remain in insular cultural enclaves: mini-satellites of their own countries. I encounter more people than ever before who speak only their native tongues---and the tragedy of this is that it is separating. From separation comes suspicion, and from suspicion comes threat, and from threat comes conflict. I mean, if the main language currency here is English---as it is in the world---must one learn Mandarin or Korean or Tagalog or Armenian or Spanish just to communicate with immigrants who speak little, poor, or sometimes zero English?
          You know, if I lived in a Spanish-speaking city in a Spanish-speaking country where the growing minority population spoke English, I would never make it a cause to push for more, more, more English in every aspect of public life. I would consider that rude, presumptuous, arrogant, ethnocentric, ridiculous.
          Oh, but never mind the rantings of this old gabacho. After all, I’m the guy who dismissed the idea of ethnic studies majors out-of-hand while I was still in high school. I wondered: if you get a degree in, say, black studies, what does that qualify you to do, become black? And of course, most of these majors were either designed to, or quickly devolved into, programs for instilling ethnocentricity, victim-complex, resentment, shoulder-chips, hostility, arrogance. They have actually become the single greatest factor, I believe (along with so-called gender studies), in fomenting rampant cultural divisiveness, separation, suspicion, factionalizing, enmity that has been epidemic in this society during the last 30-40 years. As I’ve written before, it’s e pluribus unum backwards. Out of one, many, instead of out of many, one.
          Yet Mr. G-L, as is the wont of those steeped in “payback” mentality (he is a self-described "incorrigible ethnocentrist," by the way) brings up the ugly past to implicitly justify his vision of tomorrow:
          “Cal State Northridge professor Fredric Field reminded an auditorium of linguistics students recently that Los Angeles schools just a few generations ago used to fine students for speaking Spanish at school. So if language is what we've got to express complex thoughts then isn't any prohibition or curtailment on the use of a language a limitation on thinking?”
          Whoah! Wait a second, there, Mr. Poet-Journalist. I'll take your word that students were fined for speaking Spanish (and other languages, no doubt) in schools here, long ago. (I don't know the history here, or how widespread this was, and could find nothing on the web---outside of Field's claim that students somewhere in L.A. City Schools were fined a penny a word for speaking Spanish on the playground.) Well, why would this be? Racism? Not hard to believe. But what of the idea that it might have been a tool to help induce English fluency, seeing as English was the language used by their teachers and schools? If I move to Lithuania, I can’t expect that schools there will teach me in English. (I once studied Mandarin in Taiwan, and administrators refused to speak to me in English, despite the fact that I had not even begun school.) Yet as I said earlier, bi-lingual education (referring to Spanish) has been rampant here for decades. What’s more, there is zero “prohibition or curtailment on the use of any language” in this country.
          Repeat: there is zero “prohibition or curtailment on the use of any language” in L.A. today, or the country. Exclamation point. Therefore. . .
          Just who, Mr. G-L, is “putting a limitation on thinking” in Los Angeles? Hm? Your dire brain-police warning is wholly concocted, premised on nothing. Besides, just because schools teach courses in English, are not Spanish/Mandarin/Korean/Whatever students allowed to think in their own languages? What limitation?
Señor G-L, what kind of deranged, borracho thinking is this? That Spanish on your shirt is kind of like Mormon underwear, making you extra-special and invulnerable?

           Well, here, apparently, is Mr. G-L's answer. Ever hear of “inter-comprehension” classes? Me, neither. Yet Mr. G-L enthusiastically reports: “At Cal State Long Beach, researchers such as Clorinda Donato and Markus Muller are pushing inter-comprehension classes.” Read: classes taught in Spanish and English. To which I say, hey, isn’t Shakespeare difficult enough to learn in one language, without mixing it up with another? This is just deft, politically correct agenda at work, ever pushing, pushing, pushing for more, more Español  in schools and public life. Mr. G-L seems to imply that the lack of “inter-comprehension classes” is a “limitation on thinking." Get it?
          Then he rears back and lets fly a big breaking curve ball worthy of Fernando Valenzuela:
          “Glimpses of the bilingual SoCal future echoed at the recent Dodgers game where Spanish language broadcaster Jaime Jarrin was honored.”
          Stee-rike! Thu-reee! Nope, nope. I’m sorry, but Jaime Jarrin was not honored for speaking Spanish---he was honored because he has been broadcasting the Doyers damn near as long as Vin Scully---54 years, by my count. That would be, uh, past and present, Mr. G-L. Yet this, he asserts, is a “glimpse of the bilingual SoCal future.” Nope, nope, it is still more evidence that Spanish has long, long been “accepted and expected” here. Or perhaps Mr. G-L refers to some Stephen Hawking physics here in which past, present and future all happen simultaneously? (And no, I have never listened to a single game broadcasted by Jarrin or his son, Jorge, though I’ll bet either of them puts gum-flapping Charlie Steiner and the incomprehensible Rick Monday to shame.)
          Further, our hombre del futuro notes as evidence of the coming “bi-lingual SoCal” the fact that there are billboards in Spanish for. . .hard liquor and beer! Yeah, that’s social progress! Let me just say this about that: marketing goes where the money is, and shameless monetary exploitation of ethnic factions is no mark of any kind of progress. Hell, if anything, latino leaders should protest this patronizing, condescending mining of Spanish-speaking dollars by (probably white) corporations. Let alone the fact that this encourages alcoholism.
          But wait! Here comes the pieza de resistencia, the final irony, the big enchilada, pardon the expression. This part of Mr. G-L’s column just left my mandibula en el piso, folks. I mean, really. I can scarcely believe that I was reading what I was reading. Brace yourself, gente:
          “The Dodgers handed out 30 thousand t-shirts with Jarrin's signature catchphrase, ‘Se va, se va, se va...’ ‘It's going, going, going...’ It was cool to see all kinds of people wear the t-shirt at the game, Latino, black, white, Asian. See, nothing happens to you when you wear Spanish on your chest.”
          WHAT? (Sorry for the caps, but I think they are called for. In fact, I’ll repeat them.) WHAT?
          See, nothing happens to you when you wear Spanish on your chest.
          Is he saying that if that stupid gringo, Brian Stow, had been wearing Spanish on his T-Shirt, then the two guys accused of turning him into a brain-damaged quasi-vegetable by savagely beating and kicking him after the game would have. . .left him alone? That suspects Louie Sanchez and Marvin Norwood would have called Stow “bro” and bought him beers instead of (allegedly) nearly killing him? Just because he had a little Español on his chest? Oh, really?
          Señor G-L, what kind of deranged, borracho thinking is this? That Spanish on your shirt is kind of like Mormon underwear, making you extra-special and invulnerable? You are a respected journalist covering hard news stories for KPCC-FM radio, a full-grown adult, yet you write something this idiotic, schoolyard, stupid. . .racist? Yes, racist. What you are saying here, whether you realize it or not, is: the white boy in the Giants shirt would not have been beaten had his shirt said, oh, “Se va” or perhaps, “Los Gigantes.” Join our club, and we won’t kill you!
          Wear Spanish on your clothes so you don’t get beaten nearly to death, says “poet-journalist” Adolfo Guzman-Lopez. Yes, that’s a poetic “bilingual SoCal future” you envision, amigo.
                                             BACK TO PAGE ONE

© 2012 Rip Rense. All rights reserved.