Maybe it's time I learned Spanish and others spoke English
Arizona Republic
Apr. 19, 2006

The Phoenix march for immigration reform generated discussions about illegal immigrants, undocumented workers and even civil rights, which was debatable.

Those are not the things that came to mind when I saw the crowds gathering.
What I noticed was that I was unable to interpret the Spanish signs that were being displayed.

Seeing 100,000 people holding up signs that said things like, No somos criminales, and Si, se puede, made me realize how ill prepared I am for the future. Namely, communicating in Spanish. Even calling it the Somos America March alienated those of us who had to look up somos in a Spanish/English dictionary.

It gave me an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I've had those same feelings whenever I'm around people speaking a foreign language that I can't understand, especially when that language is spoken in American establishments where we should be speaking English, but we're not.

It's the same feeling I had at a Tucson convenience store that offered only the Spanish version of a debit/credit card purchase.

It's the trepidation that came over me at a bank in central Phoenix where the tellers and customers were speaking Spanish to each other. I wondered if they would be able to communicate with me.

It's the uneasy feeling I had at a Ross Dress for Less in Chandler while five employees stocking shelves were carrying on in Spanish. Would they be able to assist me if I asked a question in English?

It's unfortunate that there's not a push for employees and managers of these retail stores to speak English among their co-workers.

It seems more important than ever for the next generation of kids to learn Spanish in school. Not just them. Maybe I need to enroll in a class myself.

My daughter has nearly completed four years of Spanish instruction and has enrolled in her fifth year, even though her high school requires only two years of a foreign language. I just wonder how long before Spanish is no longer considered a foreign language.

The classroom instruction, it seems, doesn't offer her the best opportunities to speak the language in everyday life. I'd say, at this point, she speaks broken Spanish. She can understand Spanish conversations when spoken slowly. That doesn't happen often.

The cashier at a thrift store I frequent has taken personal phone calls while she's working the cash register. That's rude enough, but her conversations are in Spanish.

I've asked my daughter to translate. She says, "I don't know. She's talking too fast."

The anticipation of the next scheduled march has me feeling like an outcast who can't speak the language of 100,000 other people walking the streets, carrying signs that need interpretation. Silly me. I'm out of the loop. I'd be one of the few to pass up the agua gratis.

If you can read Spanish, you'll know that's not a good thing.

Mary Ann Hemmingson is a 24-year resident of the Southeast Valley who lives in Tempe. She can be reached at