Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Whole New World

Last month, I mentioned how sometimes people will fight against something and by so doing cause what they were trying to avoid in the first place. Here is a similar example, this time of people arguing against something and thus making the point they were arguing against.

At East High School in Salt Lake City (yes, THE East High School), they are putting on a bilingual production of Aladdin. I think it's a great idea. Basically, half the school is Caucasian, one quarter Hispanic, and the rest other minorities. The problem is that only the white kids try out for the theater, until now.

They are coming together. They are all happy to have met people they didn't know before. They're helping each other with their languages. What a great story, too. Aladdin is all about not trying to be something you're not but loving others for what they are. Maybe next year they'll do a bilingual Romeo and Juliet.

The point I made in the first paragraph comes from the comments on the story. The more people complain about this production, the more their own xenophobia is apparent, thus reinforcing the need for such a production. Most of the first comments were people saying this was a bad thing, though it is balancing out with supporting comments as the day goes on. Some commenters claim this is a ploy to encourage acceptance of illegal aliens. One asks that we stop catering to minorities and accept each other without bringing race and culture into the conversation. Another asserts that a bilingual production won't help the Hispanic kids learn English, which is the global language of business and science. Two commenters unfold the logical fallacy that if we do things in Spanish, we'll have to start doing things in many other languages as well.

First, who knows if the Hispanic kids are illegal or not? Second, who cares? They may very well have been born here, and whether they were or were not, they likely have little choice but to live where their parents are. These are children we're talking about. How messed up is the request that we accept each other without talking about our races and cultures? If the acceptance only goes one way, from minority to majority, that is actually a request that minorities reject their own race and culture with an out where the majority doesn't have to accept anyone that's different.

When it comes to learning languages, I don't think we need to worry about whether or not the Hispanic kids are learning English. They've grown up here; they know the language. They weren't ignoring the theater because they don't know the language but because there was simply a cultural barrier that needed to be broken. It has now been broken.

It's the white kids who are less likely to know another language, like the joke (not actually a joke) that if you know two languages you're bilingual, three languages you're trilingual, and one language you're American. Learning a second (or third) language helps one understand his or own language better. And talk about the language of science being English, except that many of the terms we use come from Latin, upon which Spanish is based. A firm grasp of a Romance language makes Latin a lot easier.

I think it would be great if the slippery slope argument came true when it was put forward that if we allow Spanish, we'd have to do things in countless other languages. Okay, let's do it then. Let's mix in Arabic, Hindi, Mandarin, and Russian. We're still arguing about Spanish, when there are all these other languages that millions (even billions) of other people are speaking. We're not at risk of having the issues that China and India have with hundreds of languages swirled all over the place causing communication issues. English is already common, in spite of how poor of a language it is; we just need to add on a few more to spice things up.

The bigger question is one of culture, not language. Language happens to often be the piece that starts someone off into a better understanding of other cultures. Is there a better way to build cultural understanding than our children sharing language and song in a production about not trying to change yourself to impress others?

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