When I was reading today morning an article on RawStory This is why right-wingers are so threatened by hearing foreign languages in the Trump era, I honestly have thought to myself “Yes? And what else is new?”.
As some of you might recall from my comments in the past, I was in USA, twice, and I worked at Sun Valley resort in Idaho for the summer season as a laundry worker.
First time I and two of my friends have arrived at New York, with J-1 work and travel visa but without any specific plan as to where to go. We traveled by greyhound first to Atlantic City and after failing to find work and lodgings there one us stayed and two of us have split and traveled to Idaho. Again via greyhound.
In the greyhound we actually did not experience anything overtly unpleasant. Whenever we talked in Czech, the most that has happened was someone asking politely “Where are you guys from?” and after polite answer “From Czech Republic.” the matter was resolved and dropped. Nobody was pestering us (apart from two kids who kicked the back of my seat and their parents did not take them to task, aaargh!).
In retrospect, most of those polite people were Latinos and black. In retrospect the two of us stood out, with our pale skin and me with my blonde hair and blue-grey eyes.
It was only after we started to meet white “patriotic” Americans when we encountered some nastiness, some first hand, some second-hand.
There was a bunch of European workers at the resort for that season, a lot of Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Russians, a few Croats (and a lot of people from France because the catering manager was French and it wa seen as posh to have actual french waiters). Almost all these people were people with university degrees, at least Bachelor or higher. But a lot of us had rather basic English and with heavy accents – after all learning English was for many of us one of the reason for the travel.
Some of the white people, guests as well as workers, took this rather badly and it was not uncommon to meet the attitude “they are so stupid, they cannot even talk English properly”, sometimes covertly, sometimes overtly expressed. AFAIK always by people of lower education and with zero knowledge of the world outside USA. The people saying this were not hostile, but they were nasty.
One evening when we were drinking beer with one of the actually really friendly (and not only pretending to be so) Americans, the discussion steered towards this and he summed it up in a joke.
“How do you call someone who knows three languages?”
“How do you call someone who knows two languages?”
“How do you call someone who knows only one language?”
We all laughed, because it was true and therefore funny. He himself did not know second language, but he tried to learn Spanish and knew therefore that it is not an easy task. I only remember meeting one white American who actually really spoke second language (Spanish) with reasonable fluency.
When the season ended, I and my friend could either go straight home, or use the J-1 visa option and travel for one month to see a bit more of USA. We have decided to use that option and it was during this travel that we encountered actual overtly expressed hostility towards us.
The incident was very short, but it stuck in my mind. It was somewhere in California, and I do not remember whether it was in San Francisco or Santa Monica (probably the latter). We were just walking along the street, casually talking about something inconsequential when a smallish thin black-bearded man passing by shouted at us “You are in America, you should speak English!” with such force and venom in his voice, that we were startled and both paused. He gave us a scathing look and went on. We looked at each other and talked a bit about WTF just happened?
The stories that I am reading now about USA remind me of this incident and make me wonder whether it would turn out differently today. Whether today that man might feel bold enough not only to shout and give scathing looks, but to actually harm us.
Americans hate of foreigners is really nothing new. The “melting pot” was always a myth.