Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Controversy Brewing in Krum

We've got a brouhaha brewing in Krum, TX. Sounds like trouble in River City, folks. What on earth are we going to do about those people who live here but don't speak English? Isn't that just terribly rude and lazy? After all, we are educating their children at taxpayer expense.

And yes, the above statement is a bit tongue-in-cheek.

I've just re-read the letters to the editor in the Krum Star the last couple of weeks. In doing so, I sense that two distinct issues are being confused.

The first issue concerns language: there are people in our community who do not speak English. The second issue concerns illegal immigration. Evidence suggests that the majority of illegal immigrants are indeed from Spanish speaking countries.

But it doesn't necessarily follow that someone who speaks only Spanish is in this country illegally. And if we as a community don't separate those two issues, we're going to end up being known as a place that doesn't just lack hospitality for certain people groups, but one that is more actively hostile to them.

In my opinion, when we become hostile to the sojourner, to the immigrant, to the one who has come to the US to try to make a life that is better than the one being left behind, we have lost the essence of being citizens of the United States. Not to mention those who violate basic tenants of Scripture.

I know that I have my own bias here. My daughter-in-law is from Bogota, Colombia. My son met her when he was assigned to work there for a period of time by the consulting company he works for. He had gone to the trouble of learning Spanish several years before, so was comfortable working in South America.

The two were married in 2003. Since that time, Jonathan and Adriana have followed all the rules set in place to ensure that people immigrate legally. They've hit obstacle after obstacle after obstacle. Twice now, we've had to appeal to our congresspeople for help. The first time, someone from Joe Barton's office got things going. The second time, Jonathan appealed to Senator Hilary Clinton, as they were then living in New York City. In the meantime, they had hired an attorney, made interminable phone calls, compiled boxes full of documentation, and still nearly ran out of time before her presence in the US would be illegal. These two highly educated, literate people could barely work their way through the system. How on earth do those do it without a solid educational and family base to help? I really don't know.

Furthermore, unless we come directly from Native American stock. all of us are descendants of immigrants. As it happens, some of my ancestors actually came over on the Mayflower. But they were still immigrants.

And I'm betting only a few who came on the Mayflower went to the trouble to learn the languages of the Native Americans they encountered and upon whose good will they were dependent.

I'm not excusing laziness in learning languages. But the laziest people in the world for learning new languages are those of us who live in the United States. I was recently in Montreal, Canada. Montreal is part of French Canada. All signs are in French. Everyone speaks French. I don't. I can read it, but I can't speak it. At all. If people there hadn't been hospitable enough to speak English, I would have been out on a limb--with no one to rescue me. Couldn't have given instructions to a taxi driver, done the marketing, toured the Notre Dame Cathedral, talked with the pediatrician who was treating my grandson, or ordered a meal in a restaurant.

Illegal immigration is indeed a problem. But we've also got one. Let's talk about some possible solutions.

1 comment:

angie Hammond said...

Ok, don't any of you out there have an opinion that you'd like to express? I thought that just about every one would have something to say about this issue regardless of what city you live in.
I used to live in Farmers Branch and those folks just got plain radical about illegal immigrants, I'm sure you see it on the local news. But I live in Waco now and to be honest I don't hear about it nearly as much. And what's more I work at the Methodist Home School where we serve a wide variety of children from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds. Which brings me to my opinion about those that immigrate to our great country.

First off, I'm a grandchild of immigrants from Poland. My father spoke English as a second language and learned it in school. The only reason I don't speak Polish is that my mother was not Polish. She is a redheaded Irish woman who my Polish grandparents embraced with open arms once they met her. In fact I'm named after my Polish grandmother. And I'm proud to say that the only time my grandparents ever left their home in Buffalo NY, was to come to Texas when I was born because I was named after my grandmother.

Now back to the issue of those in this country who don't speak English. My grandparents came to this country not speaking any English at all. However, they came seeking to be citizens of this country and to raise their children in it. They left their families behind to come to this land. My grandfather as well as my grandmother came to this country through Ellis Island just before the first world war. They met after they arrived and were married and settled in Buffalo, NY where they lived until they died when I was young.

I remember meeting them for the first time when I was somewhere around 6 years old and then somewhere around 10 years old as well. My grandmother was able to speak some English because she learned it from her children who learned it in school. My grandfather spoke very little English becaause he was not an educated man and where he worked there were people who spoke Polish. Imagine for a minute that you were part of a family that spoke a language that you couldn't understand and you know how I felt when I visited them when on vacation. One thing I can say is that no matter what language is spoken, you can always tell when you are in trouble and have done something wrong. It doesn't have to be in English to get the meaning of don't knock the green plums off of the tree.

My point to saying all of this is that I have to admire anyone who leaves what they know to come to a country where anything is possible for them. I'm talking about those who come to our country to make it their home and to become a part of it. In other words, they aren't just here to send money home, they are home. They are home because they want to become citizens of this country. My grandparents became citizens and they had sons including my father that were in the military and fought for our country. Yes they cherished their traditions and customs, but they were United States Citizens and very proud of it.

Now back to the language thing. We complain about it, and we focus on Spanish because that is what we see the most of in our state. And we say we are educating their children at taxpayer expense. All of which is true in some way. But speaking from the standpoint of an educator and the granddaughter of an immigrant, I say that the best way to have English spoken and understood by those who do not speak it is to teach it to their children. After all, children learn much easier than adults do, at least when it comes to a new language. Then the children can teach the parents and grandparents and so on.

But you say these people don't have white collar jobs so they can't really learn anything. Wrong, they haven't had the opportunity to learn becuase many of them didn't have access to schools like we do. However, most of them if not all of them would be proud if a son or daughter could be the first to graduate high school and go on to college to be whatever they wanted to be. I've taught students that this was their only goal because they were the first in their family to have the opportunity to go to school.

So the solution in my opinion which is just that an opinion. Is that if we want English spoken by those that don't speak it, then we need to teach it and teach it to the children especially. Then if you really want to get involved get the church to offer an ESL class. That is an English as a Second Language class. Offer it for free and see how many people you have come. It might surprise you how many would not be Spanish speakers.
Regardless of who came, you would still be offering a much needed service to those new in this country and to your community. And the nice thing about it is that you don't have to speak the other language to be effective with the program, so no excuses about not speaking the language.

One other observation. early christians knew that no matter where they went or what language was spoken in that place, that other christians would welcome them and help them become a part of the community of faith.

So I say if you want those that don't speak English to speak it. Welcome them into the community and teach their children while offering the same help to those who can't attend school. I think you would discover that it isn't laziness that keeps them from learning English, but more the lack of a way to learn it that is both successful and affordable.

As for the illegal immigrants, if they truly want to live here and become citizens then we really should try to find ways to make this easier for them. As for the rest, if they don't support our country and they don't want to be a citizen but only want to work and send the money home and they are here illegally, then I have no use for them. They are the reason so many are looked upon as "those" people.

In other words, if you don't like your home because mine is better, that is OK. But don't come to my home and break into it just so you can have what I have and take it back to your home. I'll gladly share with you if you ask me, and I'll welcome you into the family if you choose to become a part of it. But don't come like a thief in the night to take what you can and leave with it.

Yes I'm passionate about being a US citizen and believe that all who make this country their home should be as well. And historically that means we help those who need it and that means those that come to us not speaking English. So let's educate the children and offer ESL classes to the adults and let's bring them into the family.