Say what?

I was asked if I had been treated differently because I spoke English. I’m afraid I have no way to know how I would have been treated if I didn’t, so the best I can do is to tell you what I sense from fellow Mexicans and how I feel about it.

To discriminate means to note or distinguish differences. So, yes, there is discrimination. I want to be very careful not to give this a value judgment. I’m not even sure we have decided if that’s what we want or that’s what we need to prevent, because on one side we are told to celebrate diversity, but on the other we don’t like the idea of being the different one. We like to stand out, but we also like to belong. So for now, let’s say it’s neither a good nor a bad thing… it just happens. Especially in a small community like Jefferson County, these differences are easily spotted. To make them just a little more obvious, there comes the language thing.

I suspect Mexicans have an English chip installed just waiting to be used. Of course I’m mainly kidding; the only software we actually have pre-installed is for salsa dancing.  But my point is that we are very familiar with this language, I think. I studied English since my first day at school, like many other people in Mexico City. English is no stranger there. It’s in the movies we watch, in the music we sing, in the lessons at school and hopefully in your resume if you want a good job. I believe a large number of Chilangos manage it fairly well.

Now, one might think that the knowledge itself would be enough. That you either speak the language or you don’t. But there’s a lot more than grammar and vocabulary when it comes to truly understanding. There are cultural references, idioms, alternative meanings and different accents that in more than one occasion have made me shy no matter how much I’ve learned. So even when we might have some English background, it’s still very intimidating to be surrounded by it all the time. This leads me back to the insecurities that we face as foreigners and the negative connotation that we might end up giving to the discrimination I was talking about before.  It isn’t that there is necessarily a problem with our English or our accent, but with our own lack of confidence.  And that may be enough to make us feel vulnerable.

At the end, it doesn’t really matter if we receive certain treatment from others.  What we’ll see is a reflection of what we really think about ourselves. For some of us the language discrimination may be a problem, for some it may be a challenge, and for some of us it’s just plain fun.

One thought on “Say what?

  1. I think that one of the biggest essuis for English language learners is trying to accurately communicate with those who do not speak their native language. I have never been to another country, so I do not know what it would be like to be surrounded by people who did not speak the same language that I did, but I imagine that it would be really frustrating. Sometimes it is frustrating on my end of the conversation, trying to understand exactly what a foreign person is asking when a question arises, so I can only imagine how they feel. Another issue for them may be trying to figure out how to hold onto their native culture and still adopt some of the ways of the English culture so that they can better adapt to their surroundings. This can be a very confusing and frustrating experience, especially when they are constantly surrounded by the second culture on a day to day basis. It could also be that the English language learners are forced to forget their native culture altogether. Some schools may not be open to other cultures and may try to force students to forget about their native culture and adopt the mainstream culture’s views. This can be very hard for children and can also impede their ability to learn English.There are many ways that one can address these essuis. It is important to be understanding of other cultures and not become frustrated as they try to communicate with you. It is probably a lot harder for them to try to come up with the words to say than it is for you to try and comprehend what they are saying. It is also important to be open to other cultures and want to learn about them. We cannot just force the English language on them. If we allow them to retain some of their native culture, then they will be able to adopt the English language more quickly. It is easy to look down on others when we are not the ones struggling to learn something new, but what everyone needs to remember is that if the situation were reversed, you could be in the same situation as the English language learners, just in another country learning a different language.

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