Andrés Martinez, the Times' Mexican-born editorial page editor, writes today on the op-ed page that his eleven-month-old son's babysitter was upbraided by a customer for speaking Spanish to the child in the Santa Monica Whole Foods. Martinez was not amused, and advises the butter-in that California may not be the place for her.
It isn't just that the father of this blond child happens to be a blond half-Mexican, or my suspicion that nosy Ms. Xenophobe might not have minded so much if Ursula had been speaking to Sebastian in Swedish or German. What is most disheartening about the incident is how mainstream this woman's views are about the undesirability of American kids learning a foreign language.
This isn't a plea for immigrants to go about their business exclusively in their native languages. I am not someone who believes that you can be a full member of the American community without speaking English, which is why I have qualms about open-ended bilingual education.
But if it's important for immigrants to learn English in order to assimilate into our society, it's equally important for all Americans — regardless of their ethnicity — to be exposed to foreign languages in order to assimilate into the broader world.
I was raised speaking both English and Spanish, and I sound like what I am: a native speaker of both. This is no reflection on my abilities; it's a matter of when I was exposed to the languages. It wasn't until I studied French and Russian later on that I realized what a gift it was to have been exposed to two languages at such an early age...The notion that it's somehow unpatriotic to encourage blond toddlers in Santa Monica to speak a second language is not only narrow minded and provincial, it is itself unpatriotic.
He wraps up with this: "My last message to Ms. Xenophobe: If the sound of foreign languages and cultural diversity makes you so twitchy, maybe California is not the place for you."