Simply ordinary observations from an ordinary person - sometimes having to do with health care issues, sometimes not. Topics will change as my attention wanders. Yours probably will too....

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Scrambled Huevos

I wonder if I'm becoming a racist.

I was stuck in normal 5:00 p.m. traffic on Friday, creeping along the highway at a snails pace which meant I had plenty of time to peruse the newest billboard in town. The more I looked at it, the more irritated I became.

The billboard is in Spanish and everything about it - colors, graphics, font style - is geared to young Latino males. It would blend right into the landscape across the Mexican border but here, inside an American town, it's a bit jarring to the senses. It's the first one I've seen that is completely in Spanish, not a bilingual translation. And I'm a bit surprised about how irritating that is - to see a huge ad in my community which is not in my native language.

Part of me is jealous because I would love to be bilingual. I've attempted to learn Spanish many, many times but still hablo como un bebe. Part of me is sympathetic to the new population, because I realize how difficult it is to learn a new language and adapt to new customs. And part of me is thoroughly irritated because "my" town and "my" country are changing to accommodate the new population instead of the other way around.

I've lived in the same neighborhood for 16 years now and have watched it transition not-so-slowly into a Spanish speaking area. All three of the corner grocery stores are now latino mercados. I can buy tortillas, salsa, beans, rice, bulk herbs, manteca (lard), mystery cuts of meat, mole sauce, pinatas, and muchas otras cosas de mexicanas. I can visit several taquerias for killer burritos, tacos, and enchiladas. But if I want a turkey sandwich on sliced whole wheat with lettuce, jack cheese, and hot-sweet mustard , then I drive 3 miles to the up-scale yuppie grocery where I can also get imported cheeses, wild salmon, applewood smoked bacon, and artisan breads. (I haven't had breakfast yet, can you tell?)

I also work in an industry which has a high proportion of Spanish speakers and my co-workers are wonderful people. But my company made the decision last year, with strong support from the HR director (me), to include "basic English required" in all our job postings. I suppose we could be accused of discrimination but we're doing it for safety, teamwork, and cost control. In California, if 10% or more of the workforce speaks a language other than English, translation of all employment materials must be provided. I work for a small company, so 10% is 5 employees. The translations can get very expensive after awhile. So, starting in 2008, we are requiring English as a condition of hire.

On Tuesday there will be Cinco de Mayo celebrations all over town, and many Mexican flags flying from cars and apartment complexes. That's OK, except I have a very strong suspicion than many of those celebrants do not see CA as their actual home - their allegiance is with Mexico and they would still live there if they had jobs and a living wage. In their own words they "go home" each year for about 4 weeks in December & January, and the school district here has adjusted the school calendar to allow for the students absences. Many of them own homes in Mexico - a new co-worker recently showed me pictures of his 4 bedroom, 3 bath house with a pool where he plans to return after working another 10 years in the US. He's worked hard for it - but there is no question that he is only here temporarily.

So, I guess my whole point is that CA has developed a two culture society and our immigrants, legal or not, are not fully assimilated into American culture. When I studied in Mexico 10 years ago, I learned a folk phrase: "juntos pero no revueltos". Literal translation: together but not mixed/scrambled. Or, together but not together. It's used when discussing whether a couple are friends or more than friends... but I think it also applies to our dual culture here.

The billboard won't keep me from drinking a cold margarita on Tuesday, but I still think it's inappropriate. It's a very large reminder that we are juntos pero no revueltos.

1 comment:

VeeV said...

you are definitely being a racist..
welcome to 2009 and reality..