the wrong side of the bed

Thursday, September 13, 2007

proud to be an american, where at least i know i'm free

do you remember that song? i think the choir sang that at ever event that we had during my entire time at mccullough high school. it kind of made me sick, but i knew all of the words. it was a rough time being liberal in the houston suburbs.

yesterday i was working with some volunteers out in one of my communities. we were talking about a flyer (flier - each spelling is acceptable). we print our fliers/flyers with english on one side and spanish on the other. she said that she regretted that we had to put spanish on the back. i said that i did, too, thinking that she meant that they should be on the same side and then we would have more room for different content on the back.* then she said, "this is america, speak english. i wouldn't go to your country and expect to be allowed to speak english."**

situations like these hit me out of the blue. when i was a grad student, the differences of opinion that we had were, from a more distant perspective, pretty minor. if i thought someone was totally wrong, i would just go on the attack. if my extended family says something that troubles me, and they almost never do, my brother and sister an i engage them in a battle.

so i froze and the color drained from my face. the volunteer that did not make the comment noticed and tried to smooth things over by saying that they were just "venting" between each other and that they would never say that in front of the girls they mentor. she said that people are better than the sound. i looked right at the woman who made the comment and said, "yes, people are better than they sound."

what am i supposed to do in a situation like that? she is a volunteer and i am doing a job. i couldn't freak out in my normal way. and i am not cool-headed enough to explain things to her her rationally. later i thought that maybe i should have said that i am part native american or something and fully agreed that people should speak the language of the country to which they immigrate. you know, rather than engage her in some more complicated argument.

anyway, what would you do? how would you handle something like that?

* i regretted the entire flyer. the design was horrible. i honestly thought that she was talking about the fact that there was no space for a rip-off interest form, which is driving me and my volunteers batty.

** i seriously doubt that if she went to another country, say japan, she would expect to learn that countries language.
9:23 AM


Yeah, that's a tough one. I'm not sure if I would have a cool enough head to deal with that kind of comment either. I think maybe just keep in mind that you *work* for the Girl Scouts and are therefore allowed to speak for maybe next time (and I'm sure it will happen again) you could frame your argument as coming from the organization's point of view so it doesn't sound like a personal attack. Like you say, "Well, the Girl Scouts obviously think it's important to reach out to Spanish-speaking families." It's not getting's just making the point that you don't approve of her comment. JJ
Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:39 AM  
1. It’s fine to just let ignorant statements like this go, particularly when you’re in a social position of having to get along with the speaker (i.e., they are a customer, a co-worker, a volunteer). This is what I generally do because, like you, I am too shocked and angry to come up with a constructive response on the spot. People like this just want to say how they feel and really don’t care what others think—if she wanted to learn or wanted others’ opinions, she would have phrased her comment differently. So, to respond would not necessarily lead anywhere good—your Native American response could easily have led to another ugly statement on her part. The fact is that you are not going to change an opinion like this with one response, however articulate.

2. What would be a good response? JJs is good. You could also say something about America being a country that has prospered by being welcoming to immigrants, and that having text in two languages can help people to learn English.

3. You’re right that if she traveled to another country she would probably expect them to speak English. I suspect that she hasn’t done a lot of traveling, and isn’t the type of person to worry about logical consistency in her thinking.
Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:00 PM  
anonymous 4:00 - yeah, i know the native american comment would have been bad. it would just make her uncomfortable and i would be engaging in language meant to shame her.

i'm not actually allowed to speak for the Girl Scouts, but i can say that our council has a commitment to reaching the spanish-speaking community. that seems contradictory - not being allowed to "speak," but being allowed to "say." we are told all of the time that we do not "speak" for the Girl Scouts.

i dislike being in a position in which i can't speak for myself. forget about speaking for the Girl Scouts.

i just wish i had done more than just look uncomfortable. honestly, even if i wasn't in a work context, unless i was drunk, i probably would have had the same response with any stranger.
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