Thursday, September 08, 2005

America Speaks More than English

Recent AP and NY Times articles noted that a growing number of library systems in both large and small population areas are beginning to offer multi-lingual services. The New York Public Library seems to have at least 7 languages on its website.

Other areas -- no longer relegated to the South, Southwest and California -- are feeling the growth of Spanish speaking and other communities. If we are not careful America could turn into a melting pot. As the Spanish speaking and even reading population grows some public libraries have added more services in Spanish -- books, movies, periodicals.

Some localities with critics of immigration and the use of the languages of their origins have begun campaigns to counter these new services for the immigrant community. Denver, for instance, has a Republican Representative who has publicly asked if the library there was switching to Spanish instead of English materials. He voiced his worries -- and those he says are his constituents fears == that America cannot be divided by languages and that the use of any language other than English will alienate the native population and makes for tension in the community.

A local radio talk show moderator was involved in a protest because people had found sexually graphic pictures in Spanish language comic books (which were later removed from the library. I know these 5 peso comics here in Mexico hung in every papeleria and news stand. They are staple reading for the poorer and older population who do not read well nor much. My elderly Mayan gardener/guard used to always have one to look at under the light at the large door to the property while he waited for me to return and guarded my wife. They gave him a lot of pleasure and, at 75 or so, I doubt turned him into a sexual fiend.

In Denver there is a 15% Spanish speaking population. The adult services supervisor of the library said that the library brings materials to the people in whatever language is appropriate. It is that which libraries exist to do.

I grew up in a Cuban barrio and I hope that the Tampa Public Library had books for the non-English speakers. Books and magazines and movies are important. Knowing the backwardness of Tampa; probably not. In those days in the South even foreign language classes in public schools were fought since "If English was good enough for Jesus; it is good enough for our children." I remember that quote from much earlier days but it does not seem that much has changed.

One. Public Libraries in the United States have no business being censored.

Two. Reading materials and other services should benefit the community as a whole no matter what language it speaks.

Three. English is our national language but those who are so paranoid of losing control of the country because people will begin speaking Spanish must remember that there is room for different cultures and different languages. Remember, too, that it works both ways. America has failed at teaching multilingualism to its young people. In a complex world with myriad international contacts and businesses; it is time to actually begin early to bring a number of languages to the schools.

This was loosely based on an Associated Press report from the 5th of September.