Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Loquacious Latina, Part 1(b)

My October 16th post took Eva Longoria to task for some absurd things she said in Los Angeles Magazine. Chief among them was her accusation that the United States "promotes monolingualism."

My post also indicated that its follow-up would have a different tone. But before that new tone kicks in, I want to address the "America is monolingual" belief that underlies Longoria's "America promotes monolingualism" claim. Unsurprisingly, it is a belief that permeates the Left -- largely because liberals base so much of their self-esteem on thinking of themselves as worldly sophisticates while thinking of average Americans as backwater boobs.

As liberals view things, people from countries other than the United States devote time to learning different languages because they are more intellectually curious and more open to other cultures than all those simple-minded rednecks from Alabama and Kentucky and all those gun-toting yahoos from Idaho and Wyoming. Reality, of course, is more complicated than that.

Some European countries have higher rates of multilingualism than the U.S., but that is out of necessity, not because of intellectual rigor. European nations are comparatively small and jumbled together, so if their citizens want to move about and do commerce with anybody other than their nearest-by potential customers, they have no choice but to learn languages other than their own. That is why so many Bulgarians speak Romanian and so many Romanians speak Bulgarian. It is also why Switzerland, a small nation stuffed between Germany, France and Italy, counts German, French and Italian all as official languages.

Spain and Portugal share the Iberian Peninsula, and most Spaniards are able to speak passable Portugese while most Portuguese citizens can speak passable Spanish. But neither of them likes speaking the other's tongue. More than once in my professional life I have seen Spanish-speaking co-workers, who immigrated here from places in Central and South America, roll their eyes when asked to talk to a Portuguese-speaking customer. And usually that Portuguese-speaking customer was from the South American nation of Brazil.

Here in the United States, the sheer size of our nation (combined with the fact we share the world's longest border with similarly cultured Canada) means there is no compulsion to become familiar with other languages like there is in Europe and Asia. People from Sweden and Norway are likely to come into frequent contact and need to be able to converse. Ditto for people from Vietnam and Laos and people from Germany and Poland.

But when Missourians encounter Iowans and Marylanders encounter Pennsylvanians, there is no reason to learn another language. Therefore, many Americans spend all that time and energy on things they consider more fulfilling and productive, like talking to their kids or building their business or working for a promotion. And I'm willing to bet that people in Belgium and Bangladesh would be thrilled to switch places with them.

Yet, despite all that, a significant percentage of the U.S. population still speaks more than one language, and the divide between who speaks one and who speaks more than one does not fall along party or ideological lines. George W. Bush is bilingual while Barack Obama speaks only English. Bill Clinton speaks communicably in German while Ronald Reagan, as far as I can tell, never even pretended to try  anything besides English.

The rate of bilingualism in states along our southern border (and along the part of our northern border that is adjacent to French-speaking Quebec) is close to the rate of bilingualism in Europe, a fact that is consistent with the "people are bilingual because they have to be" theory. And it has to bug liberals that two of our four heavily bilingual southern border states are unambiguously conservative, while one of the other two (New Mexico) is culturally conservative even though its election outcomes sway between Democrat and Republican.

It is also worth noting that although the final southern border state (California) is famously liberal, its areas with the highest rates of bilingualism are among its most conservative, and often send Republicans to Congress.

In short, the United States of America is not a monolingual country like Eva Longoria and her limousine liberal friends assume it to be. Nor, for that matter, is it the shuttered and self-focused country they also assume it to be.

In huge numbers, we adopt little girls from China who have been abandoned by their own parents because they were born with vaginas rather than penises.

We are first in line to help victims when a natural disaster strikes anywhere on the globe, even when it strikes a nation whose government is our sworn enemy.

We donate far more money -- and far more hours of labor -- to charitable efforts in the Third World than does any other nation on Earth.

Through our continuous presence near South Korea's border, we have spent more than 60 years helping it remain free and prosperous in the face of two much more militant neighbors (China and North Korea) who have spent every one of those years wanting to destroy it.

We prefer to eat with chopsticks when we go to Japanese restaurants and prefer to have Mexican servers when we go to Mexican restaurants; and while those preferences might seem superficial and silly compared to the other things I just mentioned, they are well-intentioned and we come to them with all sincerity.

Yes, we could do better. For example, we could stop malaria in Africa dead in its tracks, just like we did here, by lifting our ban on DDT and allowing African nations to spray with it like we did decades ago.

But we do far better than any other nation, and when the will to eliminate African malaria is finally found, it is far more likely to be found in Memphis than in Madrid.

Criticize this nation if you want, Ms. Longoria, for that is your God-given and constitutionally guaranteed right. But are you willing to live in a country other than this, and would you be eager to live in a world in which the United States did not exist?

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