Monday, May 21, 2007

Race and Immigration

Over on Pandagon today


Links still down)

Amanda Marcotte is blogging about how racism informs the immigration debate -- a good post, worth reading -- I'm thinking of the reaction I get from my History of the English Language class each semester, when I get to the sections of the class where we talk about the English Only movement, and Hispanic/Texas English, and California dialects in general.

You might have noticed from earlier blog entries that I live in a culturally mixed area: traditionally it's hard baptist bible-belt, but in the seventies a heavy chunk of Asian refugees were settled here; and what with the huge chicken industry and Wal-Mart, we've had a large influx of Hispanic immigrants over the past 30 years as well, and -- and! a small influx of upper-midde class white folk to manage that work force (some managers are local, but not all). Plus, we always had a thin vein of educated liberals, running through the mix, keeping the libraries going, running the tiny art museums, insisting on funding the parks.

But most of my students are poor -- that's the mission of my university. We're aimed at the working-class students. This means a big percentage of them are further to the right than I am (no shock there -- most of the planet is further to the right than I am). Still, most of the HEL class enjoys listening to me go off on grammar and that, class issues and how they need to arm themselves with the tools of knowledge so they can infiltrate the citadels of power and start the revolution: it's all fun and games until I get to immigration.

Then it stops being funny.

When I have them read James Crawford's essay

showing that no, Hispanic immigrants are not, in fact, wilfully refusing to learn English; that the English Only movement is, in fact, motivated by class issues and by a desire to oppress, rather than by any motive to "save" some vision of the true America (whatever that would be, if it isn't people coming to America to make a free country, where we can live according to our own ideas of what we should think and do), they sull up on me.


Well, fear, of course.

It is a class issue.

They are, after all, most of them, very close to the edge. I had one student in my office not too long ago cheerily telling me how she had not been able to pay the power bill for the past few months, and the neighbor who she usually went to live with when that happened hadn't been able to pay hers, either, but it wasn't so bad, really. They just got out the kerosene lanterns, and as long as you kept'm out of reach of the little ones, it was fine.

They say it's the Hispanics outbreeding them; they say they resent having to learn Spanish ("They don't have to learn English, do they?" some student will demand every semester. "No one makes them take an English class, but I have to take three semesters of Spanish." "Um, dude," I always say. "You don't think someone who wants to make a living in this country has to learn English?" I don't add -- not that you're learning Spanish anyway, from what I've heard.); they say it's how "those people" live that bothers them (whatever that means, and I refuse to ask), but it's fear. They're in the same economic niche as the Hispanic immigrants. That's the issue. And now that this Lou Dobson and the English Only people and Rush and the rest have given then a legitimate reason to hate the immigrants, they aren't about to let a few things like facts make them let go of that hate.

1 comment:

zelda1 said...

Because I teach ESL and because I am in the middle of the highest growth in Hispanic population anywhere in the state, I can say, they do want to learn English and they go to extreme measures to learn. Most work in really crappy jobs, then bring their children to classes with them, where the children sit quietly and the women and men suffer through hours of learning while being immersed into a culture where the language is so difficult to learn, where most of the native speakers talk with such a twang that learning the correct way is almost impossible, and where there is so much hostility towards them that they are laughed at, treated rudely, and accused of taking American's jobs, homes, and even lowering the value of neighborhoods. I hate these damned rednecks.