Para Español, marque el numero dos.

A good guy who I know just sent me one of those jingoistic emails complaining about the fact that some people in this country speak Spanish. I once worked with someone for a couple of years who would complain about anyone, even coworkers, who spoke Spanish better than English. But one day, I found that her grandfather had been living in this country for years without ever learning English. He was German. In her mind, any language commonly spoken by white people was as good as English.

I don’t think the good guy who I referred to in the first sentence is a racist (the woman with the German grandfather was), but I do think he is getting caught up in a fever that racists are intensifying. People who don’t speak English well have been an important part of this country for generations. And I’d be a fool not to admit that they’ve been treated like shit for generations. But it was never righteous, and lately there’s been a special wide-spread animosity towards Spanish speakers.

Lady Liberty stands in the harbor welcoming the tired, the poor, the homeless and the tempest-tost. She doesn’t demand that they take English as a Second Language before fleeing the poverty, imprisonment, or death that awaits them in their home countries. Many people who complain about Spanish today have descended from people who didn’t speak English, or at least not very well, before arriving at our shores. And the fact that English isn’t this land’s native language is a whole other topic.

I agree that people who make it to our great country should learn English. And most do. But people who get upset about the two or three seconds it takes to wait through the phrase “para Español marque el numero dos” are barking up the wrong tree.

Corporations, like Lowes, don’t offer “el numero dos” because of a left wing pro-immigration agenda, and they’re not being forced to speak Spanish by the Obama administration. They offer “dos” because they want to sell their stuff to more people, and some of their customers are more comfortable with Spanish than English.

When people complain about Walmart’s neighborhood-killing tactics, MacDonald’s oppressive employment policies, Smithfield’s cruelty to animals, or Stanly’s outsourcing, the right wing gets up in their asses about interfering with the free market. But when the same companies try to make more money by appealing to more customers, the same wingnuts start calling for laws against conducting business in any language but English.

Government agencies speak different languages because they have work to do and it wouldn’t make sense to limit their ability to do their jobs just to make a jingoistic statement. Even wingnuts wouldn’t expect the police to follow an English-only policy. Other agencies also have work to do. That might be hard for you to imagine if you feel that any government function other than rounding people up or killing them is socialism, but it’s true.

I want to explain my use of the term “more comfortable” (three paragraphs up). I’m not trying to find a PC way to say “They don’t speak English”. The fact is, most immigrants do speak English. I have several Spanish speaking coworkers. They are all hard working American taxpayers, and they all speak English. But a few of the guys speak Spanish better. If I could speak Spanish ( and I’ve been trying ), I would sometimes use Spanish for clarity. And I would still expect them to continue to improve their English.

For the most part, you don’t have to press 1 for English anymore. You just have to not press 2. But people still complain. Perhaps they’re afraid of accidentally pressing “2” and then not understanding the instructions on how to get back to English. If that happens, don’t panic. Just hang up and call again.

English is this country’s language. Acting as if pressing “dos” is a threat to our English speaking tradition is as silly as acting like same-sex marriages will make us all turn gay.

Spanish is a non-issue that has been built up by the Right to drive a wedge through this country. It doesn’t hurt you in any way if signs are in English and Spanish. It might effect you if signs were in Spanish only, and I might be willing to consider a policy that would address that. But we’re not there yet. For now, the only problem with Spanish is that some people get angry when they hear or see it. And that anger is being used as a political tool by people who think it’s to their advantage to drum up hate in this country.

I’ve worked with people who don’t speak English well. They work; they pay taxes; and many of them are in uniform defending this country. Some of them annoy me by waving flags of the countries that they left and not doing more to become part of our society, but most seem to love and respect the United States far more that many native born Americans who take for granted the freedom and prosperity of our nation. We get strength from our Foreign born citizens. They give us new technology, expand our thinking, and are important military assets. And they left their homes so they can be Americans. Like new people everywhere, they don’t speak the language as well as those who have been here longer. Business want to compete for their money by speaking their language. Do the American thing and let them.

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3 Comments

  1. Bill

     /  2010 September 7th

    The Spanish only speaking US population (legal and illegal) is less than 5% of our population.

    Let’s do a Drake equation on this one. Let’s assume 3 billion phone calls are made every day. Thats 34,722 per second. Lets assume 5% are made to customer service with a “press one” intro. That’s 1,736 per second, or 6,249,600 per hour, or 18,748,800 seconds waiting per hour. Let’s assume an average hourly wage of $10 per hour. That’s $52,080 per hour, $1,249,920 per day, or $456,220,800 in lost productivity.

    I guess nearly a billion dollars a year to accommodate less than 5% of the population is inconsequential to you.

    If companies want to cater to the Spanish speaking only, set up and advertise another customer service line. Its inexpensive.

    Reply
  2. Bill,

    Your calculation makes a number of absurd assumptions. Not everyone who makes a phone call does so at the opportunity cost of working for their wage. If I’m in the bathroom on my cellphone and have to hear “para Espanol,” is that a lost cost? What have I lost, time better spent aiming my urine stream? There is simply no sense in assigning dollars and cents to this spent time. Second of all, if you’re trying to get through to an actual customer service representative rather than a machine, you’re going to have to wait anyway, so this is entirely a sunk cost. And finally, if you saw one of your requested advertisements for a Spanish-only line on TV or the internet, would you complain about the lost seconds you spent reading or viewing the ad that’s completely irrelevant to you? We’re inundated daily with things that waste our time, yet it’s not necessarily reasonable to assign an opportunity cost to all of it just so we can have a basis for complaint.

    Reply
    • By the way, Bill, I should add that you don’t actually have to listen to “para Espanol, marque dos.” You can press 1 right away on the vast majority of automated phone lines, which makes your whole argument pointless.

      Reply

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