Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why should I press 1 for English?

On the Red Line this morning, three Asians sat apart from each other but still talked loudly amongst themselves in their native language. I can pretty much read or think over the usual background noise on the train, but their language and their voices—not pretty to my Western ears—seemed designed to cut like a buzz saw through anything: the clanging and rumbling of the old train, my thoughts.

Changing to the D Line at Park, I actually got a seat. Sigh, peace and quiet, I thought, as I pulled out my book. But right across from me, standing in the handicap area, were two young black girls, singing together to a smart phone set to speaker, their voices as persistent as a monk chanting, or a leaky water faucet.

Both times my initial reaction was to shout, Shut the f**k up, would you? Do you see anyone else shouting across the aisle to each other over the course of five stops? Or, What makes you think that just because you think your sappy little song is so deep that everyone else does?

Of course I didn’t shout them down. I took a deep breath because violence and anger don’t accomplish anything, thought to myself that I live in a society and it’s not always about me (as these five other people seemed to think about themselves), and wondered just what was going on here.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard Asians talk noisily among themselves like the black high school students who ride at the back of T coming home on the D line. Just a couple of weeks ago an Asian woman and I had a good laugh because she was sitting next to me but talking to her friends across the aisle and two and three seats down. She was literally shouting in my ear. As with so many disagreements we can find ourselves in when navigating our multinational society, I have a sneaky feeling this was more a rub between cultures than a breach of manners.

And who hasn’t experienced a young person of any race self-absorbed in their music? I mean, it pretty much defines the age group, doesn’t it?—I am going to go out on a limb and say that young people of color will be less inhibited and more inclined to sing out loud on the T than their stiff-necked, uptight, white, Indian, Japanese, just to name a few, counterparts.

Our country is changing so fast, and if it hasn’t happened yet, in the next couple of years people of color—that’s non-Caucasians, you know—are going to outnumber Caucasians. I think that’s one point that the Conservative, predominantly white media keeps forgetting when they crow about their grassroots Teabag movement or when they ask, why should I press 1 for English, or push their Christian values on others. Or even when someone thinks, this ain’t China, this is the Red Line, so act like everyone else.

People keep having babies. Non-Americans keep flying in, settling down, and eventually raising their hand to take the oath to be Americans. (And through studying for their citizenship eventually know more about American history and politics than your average American who can’t find Montana on a map.) Their values and cultural behavior will change the landscape. In liberal California, it was the Latino vote that appeared to kill the gay marriage bill, which to me was not a good thing. Where I live, you can go away for a week, and when you’re getting off the T from your trip from Logan see new businesses have sprouted with signs written in kanji. Is that good or bad? It depends how long you’ve lived in Wollaston.

Hang on to your values, don’t forget your roots, while realizing the one constant in this world—and this country for probably the next twenty years—is change. And there will be those who will want to press their values on others, and there will be those who believe that learning Spanish or any language is a good thing, because learning anything new is a good thing, no different than learning how to cook or play the harmonica or ride a horse.


Lafe said...

Wow. Double good wammy blog today: Susan Cattaneo, who I had never heard of, and "why should I press 1 for English".
Nice, concise, hard hitting and thought provoking on the last, and sweet writing on the first.

Thanks for sticking your nose out there. I like what you're smelling.


Juan Iluminado said...

I simply agree 100% with Lafe. Great posts to read.

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