Latinos altering culture, some Arizonans say
The Arizona Republic
May. 22, 2006

Yvonne Wingett

Barbara Gilpin was offended when she heard about a new version of the national anthem.

The Star-Spangled Banner, an icon of American patriotism, sung by a bunch of Latino pop stars . . . in Spanish? She cringed when her landscapers spoke only Spanish, and she stared in disbelief at throngs of demonstrators in the streets waving Mexican flags.

But this? The anthem? What, she wondered, is happening to her country?

"I feel they are threatening our American way of life," said the retired court reporter from Sun City West. "They come in here illegally and expect us to adapt to them. And they have no right to do that. The American way is being attacked."

At barbecues and picnics, in senior centers and college campuses, many Arizonans seem to be struggling with what they believe to be a changing cultural identity. The way they see it, Hispanics and immigrants are threatening the country's culture by imposing their language and symbols of identity.

The sentiments have been simmering for some time, but they boiled over after the series of demonstrations and the translation of the anthem, which debuted last month.

In Arizona, Spanish is everywhere. It's in grocery stores, on billboards and on recorded phone messages: "Para Español, oprima el numero dos," for Spanish, press 2. And it's outrageous, people like Gilpin said, that the American flag, a central symbol of pride and honor, was replaced at demonstrations with Mexican flags. It's bad enough that the national anthem is being recorded in Spanish, they say, but to change the lyrics with loose translations and call it Nuestro Himno, or Our Anthem?

Enough is enough.

"When we have a sign, they want that sign in Spanish," said 25-year-old real estate investor Eric Aucker. "I don't think it's fair. Hispanics are coming into our culture and (are) trying to change it. If they have such a strong belief in it, why don't they go back to Mexico?"

The cultural concerns are not new and may be part of the classic immigrant story. Conflicts over America's identity have occurred throughout U.S.
history, scholars say, as waves of immigrants entered the country and brought with them different religions, languages, skin colors and symbols from homelands.

The Mexican immigrant experience, however, is marked by important differences, experts say. Proximity to their native country makes it easier to remain close to culture, family and friends. The constant arrival, and sheer number, of monolingual Spanish-speaking immigrants makes it appear to some that little acculturation is taking place.

Constant renewal of new immigrants has prompted later generations of acculturated and American-born Hispanics to claim the Hispanic culture in the forms of flags, music, language and celebrations.

"We're saying, as a nation, 'We'll go ahead and accept you if you sort of relinquish those ethnic markers that make you different,' " said Alberto Pulido, director of Ethnic Studies at California's University of San Diego.
"What Latinos are saying is, 'We want to be accepted, but we want to still hold on to those things.' The question becomes: What is American?"

'Oh say, can you sí'
For many Americans, the heart and soul of the U.S. is wrapped around simple symbols of flags and anthems, sociologists and ethnic studies experts said.
They are deeply ingrained in the ethnic and cultural identities of Americans and reinforce those inexplicable feelings of nationalism and pride. When those symbols are altered, or replaced with new symbols, it is perceived by others to be unpatriotic.

Thomas Martin of Chandler wasn't so much bothered that The Star Spangled Banner was sung in Spanish. Everyone living in this country should understand it, he believes, and be proud of it. But he was a bit irritated that it wasn't a word-for-word translation.

"Right in the middle, they changed it," the 48-year-old maintenance worker said. "Maybe it's patriotic to Mexicans, their traditions, but it's disrespecting ours. That's the thing about being in the United States:
You're free to have your own Spanish version, French version. But where do you draw the line?"

The lines will be redrawn with every great wave of immigrants, experts say, pointing to United States' immigrant experiences.

Irish immigrants in the mid-19th century were met with hostility and thought of as inassimilable because of their fanatical attachment to Catholicism and the Vatican. Southern Italian immigrants in the late 19th century were considered inassimilable because of their Catholicism, dark skin and uneducated, peasant pasts. The stereotypical assumption of the Chinese in the late 19th century was that they were corrupt, gamblers and opium addicts.

Mainstream America eventually absorbed those immigrants and slices of their ethnic culture endure through celebrations, food and religion.

"The immigrant has always been viewed as the political and social menace because of its lack of Americanness, because of his otherness," said Ali Behdad, author of A Forgetful Nation: On Immigration and Cultural Identity in the United States. "Every historical moment has a new type immigrant . .
. that can be 'othered,' that can be viewed as inferior for (their) food and language."

English vs. Spanish
Record immigration from Mexico, the growth of bilingual, first-generation Hispanics and the proximity to Mexico has made Spanish Arizona's unofficial second language. Spanish coexists with English everywhere, from hospitals to law offices, fast-food restaurants to flower shops.

That rubs some people the wrong way, experts say, making them feel like the stranger, the foreigner, in their own country. Those immigrants who can speak English defer to Spanish because it's more comfortable, and it helps them battle a sense of alienation in their new country.

Last week, the Senate adopted an amendment that would declare English the national language. But it also approved an alternative proposal designating English the nation's "common and unifying language."

"Language is always such a volatile issue," Pulido said. "It doesn't allow everybody to participate. If I don't have access to it, then that's where I think the threat begins because I'm on the outside looking in."

That's how Mary Aubuchon feels when she shops in her west Phoenix neighborhood Target, Wal-Mart and other department stores. She gets "very irritated" by "people all around you speaking Spanish."

"I feel like this is like Little Mexico," the legal secretary said of the area she shops at near Interstate 17 and Thunderbird Road. "If you're living in the United States, you should learn to speak English, and speak it when you're in public."

Immigrants like Mannie Campos, whose parents brought her to the U.S. when she was 7, know English and Spanish. She speaks both, in her home, and in public.

"We're bringing in another language, we're bringing our foods, we're bringing our history from Mexico, we're bringing our soccer," the Buckeye resident, 46, said. "What harm would another language do?"

Reach the reporter at (602) 444-4712.