During an interview with CNN on Sunday, Sarah Palin stuck her foot in her mouth yet again. Palin was asked to comment on Donald Trump’s negative remarks about Jeb Bush regarding his bilingualism and speaking Spanish during his campaign.
Palin sided with Trump and remarked that immigrants in America should “Speak American.” Before we discuss the brilliant rhetoric behind that statement, let’s first ask ourselves what “American” is.
Well, the first and most obvious observation of all is that “American” is not a language. It is a continent. In fact, it is two continents. For your geography lesson of the day, North America encompasses the United States, Canada, Mexico and 20 other sovereign nations. South America includes Brazil, Chile and 10 other countries.
So which America were you referring to, Palin?
This is not to mention there are countless languages spoken among these countries. Everything from English to French and Spanish are spoken on both continents. There is not one unifying language between the two continents.
Speaking “American” can be speaking hundreds of languages. But if she is referencing any of the Canadian dialects, can we demand that poutine comes with the language? Eh?
Or if she is referring to the native language of Americans, which tribe is she referring to? English is not native to this part of the world, either.
What happened to those people and their native languages, land and rights, again? Please refresh us on the last time one society forced language and traditions onto another.
If we make the assumption that Palin was referring to English, there are still a multitude of issues with her statement. Demanding that everyone in the United States speak English is hegemonic. It is using brute force to expel someone’s native tongue. Language is one of the biggest associations with culture that there is.
To ask someone to discard his or her language and use a new one is another way to hegemonically bury that person’s original background in the conglomerate of cultureless America.
Her statement is also xenophobic. It assumes that other languages are a threat to English, as if English could possibly die out in the United States.
We cannot expect that a nation of immigrants all speak the same language fluently. Learning new languages gets more difficult the older a person gets. The children of non-English-speaking immigrants will become bilingual anyways. They will grow up in an English-centered education system.
There is no threat to English when immigrants’ children will be speaking it within a decade. The only thing dying out is the rich culture and language of migrant minorities settling in the United States. Within just a few generations, immigrants are acclimated to living in this society – complete with speaking fluent English.
So then what are Palin and Trump afraid of?
Maybe they are afraid of the appeal of a bilingual candidate. Bush could capitalize on his fluency in Spanish to appeal to voters in Texas, California, New Mexico and Florida.
Palin agreed in the interview that Jeb Bush’s ability to speak Spanish was a political gain for him. And that is how language is being seen, not as a facet of cultural identity but as a selling point of candidacy. Language is boiled down to politics.
Or maybe they are just afraid that someone will say something mean about them in Spanish, as if beating piñatas of Trump’s likeness isn’t a clue enough of how one faction of non-native English speakers feels about the GOP.
Te escuchamos, Palin. On s’en fiche.