To put it delicately, I got into a heated conversation today with someone who thought that the counterpeople at the Starbucks in Langley Park should have been able to speak English better. (For those of you that don't know the area, Langley Park is just north of Takoma and right up the road from us. Most of the residents are immigrants, mostly Latin American or African.) I was a little surprised to hear these statements come from this person, and they ended with a statement that they wouldn't patronize that Starbucks again because people who come to this country should learn the language. I was then asked my opinion.
Let's just say that I knew I wasn't going to change anybody's mind. I pointed out that English is not the national language of the United States and, more to the point, that this person was, in fact, not the clientele that any Langley Park business actually caters to -- indeed, if the counterworker only spoke English, the capitalistic wheel would not spin there. (Although, granted, it's questionable who does go to buy a $5 latte there then.) And that, actually, most of this countries' ancestors at some point came in not knowing the language -- except they looked white and spoke Polish, Italian and Irish. Not so very different.
Later, however, I was driving by myself and thought, "You know, it's this kind of isolationist mentality that gets us in trouble. And it is precisely the reason why I wanted to live somewhere where not everything was lily-white and, well, safe. I kinda knew that it was one thing to say, 'I'm not a racist' and another to live next door to someone who is not like you. I like that we live in an area where things can be complicated and where the black family that lives across the street and the lesbians who live next door maybe -- just maybe -- will keep Xan from so surely believing that 'we' are so very separate from 'them.' I want this for me and my family. I'm proud of this."
Am I wrong for thinking this way, that this cornucopia of languages (including multiple Englishes) and cultures is a damn good thing and that Americans in general are fool-hardy to reject this so readily? Or do I think this is all OK because, quite frankly, I can get by largely in that shopping center because I happen to speak Spanish? Note that I don't feel conflicted about this -- but I'm curious what some of you who read this think (knowing full well that some of you will side with the other person here...).