I never grow tired of reading good bumper stickers. Some are quite funny. Some are thought-provoking. And of course, some are rude and crude, which I don’t enjoy. However, the one I read the other day caught me off guard for some reason. Actually, it was two bumper stickers on the same car.
The first one read these words: “Either a man is an American and nothing else, or he is not an American at all.” The statement appears to be a paraphrase of several Theodore Roosevelt quotes from speeches that he made after his presidency on the issue of immigration and assimilation.
This quote appears to be innocuous enough, but you could see the direction this was going when it was accompanied by the other bumper sticker on the vehicle that read something like this: “Bienvenido a América, ahora habla inglés,” which is roughly translated to: Welcome to America, now speak English.
I’m not sure why those bumper stickers got me so hot under the collar. I’ve heard these sentiments before. I’ve seen them on other bumper stickers or t-shirts or on Facebook. We certainly heard enough of that type of language last year during the presidential election.
But reading those got me going on a tirade that only my wife was privileged enough to endure; until now. I’ll see if I can put my thoughts together in a more meaningful way than when she got to hear them unfiltered and without a thesaurus.
- I get it. People who move to America should learn the language. It would be easier for us and it would be easier for them. But try this on for a size: I’d love to see anyone from America over the age of 30 be helicoptered into down-town Beijing and dropped off in the middle of town. And now you’re going to live in Beijing for presumably the rest of your life. Let’s see how you would handle: a. Providing for you and your family. b. Getting a job. c. Putting food on your table. d. Learning a foreign language when all you’ve known for your whole life is English.
I don’t think it would be that easy. Dare I say, nearly impossible. But that is exactly what we expect from the people who move here. Now, add to that the fact that most of the immigrants do not come here so they can go to Disney World whenever they want. The move here because of immense hardship. Financial difficulty. Extreme poverty. A war in their home country. Or because they still believe that America is the place of dreams. And if they can just get here then everything will be better. I would bet that there are immigrants all over this country who would love to go home, speak their language, and never have to hear from an arrogant American for the rest of their lives. But they don’t have that luxury.
The ironic thing is that in my made-up scenario of being dropped off in down-town Beijing, chances are you wouldn’t have to look too long before you found someone who spoke English. In fact most of the industrialized world speaks at least a little English. Americans are largely the only ones who not only want everyone in American to speak their language, but they expect the entire world to speak it as well.
- Nearly every aspect of American society has been a gift from another country and culture. I can think of a handful of things that can trace their origins to America: baseball (get out of here with all the “rounders” talk), football, Nascar, hip-hop music, rap music, graffiti as art, etc. Obviously, there are plenty more examples. But let’s think about this for a second, most of the things we enjoy have been around a lot longer than America has.
The word America probably gets its origin from a 15th century Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, for goodness sake! The truck that had those ridiculous bumper stickers on it was from Florida, which is a Spanish word for “covered with flowers.” Perhaps we should change the name of our country and our states lest we be too foreign sounding.
Hot dogs, hamburgers, apple pie, blue jeans, even COWBOYS all came from other countries. When I picture America, I think of a cowboy wearing blue jeans eating a hot dog while grilling hamburgers and chasing it down with a slice of apple pie. But when you do that, you aren’t really being American.
Or are you? In reality, isn’t part of what it is to be American having the luxury to take, sadly, sometimes by force, what is the best of other culture and make it our very own. The fact of the matter is America would be a very boring and bland place without all the food, music, architecture, polity (ever heard of democracy? – not originally American!) and even names of states and cities that we have borrowed from other countries and cultures.
Not only that, the English that you are speaking, isn’t really English. I don’t pretend to be a lingustic or language nerd, but I do know that the majority of our English words come from other languages known as the Romantic Languages. They are Latin, French, Spanish and Italian. That’s why so many Spanish words sound like English words. They come from the same root language.
If you want to be technical, none of us Americans would understand true Old English. To prove my point, here is an excerpt of a homily of St. Gregory the Great written in Old English around the year 1000 BC:
“Eft he axode, hu ðære ðeode nama wære þe hi of comon. Him wæs geandwyrd, þæt hi Angle genemnode wæron. Þa cwæð he, “Rihtlice hi sind Angle gehatene, for ðan ðe hi engla wlite habbað, and swilcum gedafenað þæt hi on heofonum engla geferan beon.”
Perhaps we both need to brush up on our English.
- It won’t be very long from now that America’s majority demographic will be Hispanic people. Some say as soon as the 2040s. Now, I know that sounds like forever away, but I plan on living AT LEAST another 25-30 years and certainly my children and grandchildren will be alive then.
It not only seems wrong to have ill feelings toward people from other nationalities who do not assimilate into our white American lifestyle, but in a few years, white American will be the minorities. That just seems a little counter-productive to plant the roots of xenophobia and polite racism now when we will reap what we have sown in a few short years.
- What we were taught is not always true. I vividly remember the lessons I was taught by my grandfather and grandmother. Both were born in the south during the 1920s (Georgia and Alabama, respectively). They didn’t have to sit me down and lecture me on how they felt about minorities (though they did,) I could tell by the way they spoke about them and treated them.
I get it, that’s how they were taught. Well, they were taught wrong. And what they taught me was wrong. And what we’re teaching our kids is wrong if we are teaching them that Americans only talk, dress and act a certain way.
- I am certainly not in favor of people going to any country illegally. You should abide by Caesar’s rules as long as they do not contradict Scripture. But, as far as I know, it is not illegal to not know English to live in America.
- We should always err on the side of inclusiveness rather than exclusivity. The poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty says these lines: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Sounds a whole lot like another line that I like a lot. Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” In case you didn’t know, Jesus said that last part. You know, the Guy who went to parties with prostitutes, pimps and pot heads. The One who has people different than Him in His family tree (at least three gentile WOMEN listed!) The One who always turns our comfortable little world on its head.
- For Christians, it is a whole other story. Christians should view the world differently, non-English speaking minorities and refugees included. The gospel changes the prism in which we see people.
- We believe that ALL people are created in the image of God. Therefore, ALL people have value, just the way they are. If God wanted everyone to be a white American, He would have made them that way. But instead He created every person precisely the way He wanted. That includes brown and black and whatever hue in between. That includes people who know how to speak English and not.
- We are commanded to reach the nations. The Great Commission is one those verses that should hit home with every Christian. We are commanded to go out into the world and reach the nations. Well guess what. The nations are coming to us.
- Every refugee and immigrant that comes to America is like God saying, “Here you go. I’ll make it easier on you. You don’t have to get on a plane or a boat to go to them. I’ll bring them to you.” We have the ability to make a global impact on the nations without leaving our city or state.
- Guess what Heaven will look like? It will consist of people from every tribe, nation and language. If you think that Heaven will be populated by mostly white, English-speaking Americans, you are going to be sorely mistaken. It will be a shock for some people in the American church to consider that the majority of people in Heaven may have never even heard of America, much less had the opportunity to learn English.
I had a friend tell me not too long ago that he doesn’t see color, he just sees people. And I get what he is saying, that color or creed or background doesn’t determine how he will treat people. He will treat everyone with the same amount of dignity and respect and kindness. And I agree.
But I disagree with not seeing color. I do see color. Because God made color. He made ethnicities. He made tribes and languages and tongues. And He made them all a little bit different. And each color contributes to the tapestry of truth that humanity in all its various shades and colors and languages and cultures represent and glorify the image of God.
I am thankful that God didn’t make everyone white Americans. And as thankful as I am of being a pretty privileged and blessed white American, I am even more thankful that when I get to Heaven, it really won’t matter what language I speak the color of my skin.