Tag Archives: Cosmopolitanism

HYPHENATED americans and other realities

 How many times have I heard this nationalist comment “You should consider yourself an American first and foremost. Get rid of the hyphen!! ” And of course, if we speak another language besides English in public, sometimes we are told “to shut up and talk American!” , to which I reply, “excuse me, Sir, the language I speak to my wife and sister-in-law, in private conversation, is none of your business. What language would you expect I would speak to a guest in the USA from a Spanish-speaking country?” Of course, one cannot tell by the color of the skin or eyes the native language of a person. Spanish-speaking persons can be of any race and any religion. I daresay the same can be said of English-speakers as well. Very soon -if it is not a reality already- there will be more English-speakers of English as a second language than native English speakers.

If a hyphen has some significance it should be used. I don’t consider myself a Mexican-American for the simple reason I have no Mexican ancestry though I certainly am a hispanophile. But if my son-in-law considers himself a Mexican or Mexican-American that’s fine with me. He is a US citizen. I also consider myself an Anglophile but have never considered myself an Anglo-American though I would be proud if I had any English ancestors. English is a acquired language for us only becoming predominate in my family post the mid 20th century. I can never remember a time when I did not hear different languages in our home being spoken or sung. Both my father and mother were multilingual A hyphen is certainly more attractive than the ugly “Latinx” que no es ni chica ni limonada. If you honor your mother and father what is more natural than honoring their homeland? The hyphen, of course, could be temporary. It might last only one or two generations. People change their idea of nationality or religious faith over time through education, assimilation, and intermarriage. I am quite sure that if parts of my family emigrated to , let’s say, Australia, that they would, after a time consider themselves Australians. What would be more normal?

I could never hate the homelands of my parents, my wife, my in-laws and I am a citizen of the United States. My grandchildren are all Mexican-American. But we have an identity beyond that of our political nationality and the English tongue. We have my family traditions and our faith traditions. I decide what party I want to vote for and I decide what hyphens I put by my name. If I want to say that I am, above all, an Earthling, that is my choice. Could I not be a Mormon-American? Or Jewish-American? Or Catholic-American? Of course, I could. In each case the hyphen could be very meaningful.

I don’t expect my children and grandchildren to have much to do with the culture and language of their great-grandparents none of whom were native English-speakers. I only hope my children and grandchildren -all of whom are native Spanish-speakers by the way- are free, stay true to their faith tradition, work hard and stay economically secure.

Our family line is crossed with Old Mexico but also Spain, Panama, Canada, France and Chile. So what does that make us? We have been called Spanish Munros and Irish Munros by people in our own family because it says a truth about our cosmopolitan family. We are all Americans by choice because we love living in a free and stable land. I don’t tell my children how they should identify themselves.

What they feel is a natural feeling brought about by la convivencia and love. I grew up loving and identifying with the Scottish Highlands but no one ever told me to do so -quite the contrary. My parents encouraged us all to assimilate and become as American as possible. My grandfather always said, “Scotland? What a country? It is a good country to be FROM.” He had zero interest in EVER returning and he did not. He was an American by choice but by culture and accent remained Scottish-American his entire life. So rapid and total “americanization” is not always possible. We love baseball but also love football (soccer). We remained outside the American mainstream to some extent and live on the fringe of the English-speaking world. This can be seen in the music we like and in the cuisine we share (strongly Spanish/Italian and French). Neither I, nor my son nor my daughter nor my sister married a “normal” monolingual English-speaker. We retain ties, close ties, to communities of Non-English speakers. So in that sense our cosmopolitanism has made us amphibious.

Everyday of my life I hear and speak other languages other than English. I would calculate that 90% of phone conversations in our household are held in Spanish. Our children feel at home in English as well as Spanish but always have spoken Spanish to my wife and family. I myself have spent many months of my life -consecutive weeks and months almost an entire year-when I have never spoken or heard a single word of English though I recall I corresponded in English and of course read books and newspapers in English (even though most of the books and newspapers I read were not in English). I studied Portuguese in Portugal and Spanish literature in Spain. But the Casa Del Libro in Madrid had the complete Penguin library in English. So I read many English books (chiefly classics) when I lived in Spain. They were numerous, widely available and relatively inexpensive. Books in other languages were rare and expensive. So I read less in those languages. I have many bilingual books. I have always been fascinated by translations. Consider the Italian adage “traduttore, traditore”: a literal translation is “translator, traitor”. The pun is almost lost in English, though the meaning persists. (A similar solution can be given, however, in Hungarian, by saying a fordítás: ferdítés, which roughly translates as “translation is distortion”.) My father felt that poetry to be appreciated should be read in the original as much as possible. Chinese and Hebrew were a little too much for him but he read Greek, Latin, German, Italian, French, Spanish, Russian, Scots and Gaelic quite fluently. He had an immense French library and that was perhaps his best Romance language. But he studied and appreciated art songs and operas in the original tongue whenever possible. I have surpassed him in Portuguese and Spanish but not in German, Greek or Russian. But I am young yet (still learning).

Some what are we? Our roots make our family, in my opinion, Americanísma. Spanish is, in my opinion, an All-American language. It existed and thrived in America before English and will continue to thrive and survive and coexist with English. English is not Mohican or Apache or Irish and neither is Spanish. World languages, the languages of Empire will endure. They were made to endure.

It is good, wise and useful to speak the national languages of North America, which include French, Spanish and English. But that is a choice people make. People can choose to study computers and engineering or they can choose to do what is easy and that is to be monolingual. It seems a strange choice to me. I love languages. In fact, this summer I am studying another one. I correspond, regularly in three or four languages. People enjoy using their mother tongue and respond very positively.

We have chosen to prepare ourselves to coexist as Good Neighbors in a multicultural, multilingual world.

That’s a reality that is not going away. English is powerful, the language of the banks and the long-range guns but we are not going to live in a monolingual English-only world. It is not wise. It is not good business and it is not good diplomacy.

I have always known that English was not the best, nor the only nor the oldest language in the world. But I love and respect English. But I admit I have always had a soft spot for other languages as well and they are mine, too. When we married all they hymns were in Latin so all sides of the family could understand and appreciate them. We sang songs in English and translated them to Spanish. We sang songs in Spanish and translated them to English. We sang some of our own macaronic original songs.

Yes, we have always valued English as the lingua franca of the Commonwealth, and the USA. At one time the sine qua non for business and culture was to speak Latin, Greek or French. Those are former languages of Empire and still are highly influential as culture languages. But it is delightful, useful and fun to speak the languages of other communities.

This will be the hallmark of a new generation of Latin/Spanish Munros and Mendozas. Will they be Hispanic-Americans Mexican-Americans? Perhaps.

Anything but “Latinx” , a horrible expression. People say that is the new growth of a language but this Esperanto-like invention is, more likely la mortaja (the death shroud) of a language. Creating a patois may be a political choice but it is not a healthy linguistic choice. Made-up words and language are not natural.

But whatever my grandchildren and children decide will be their choice. I respect that. I pray they make good choices and happy choices. And I hope sincerely they will be proud of their ancient heritage and recognize that they are part of a great international melting pot -the United States of America. Yes, the melting pot bubbles on. That is a certainly we all need to accustom ourselves to if we haven’t already.