Maybe it's time I learned Spanish and others spoke English
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
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
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
I've asked my daughter to translate. She says, "I don't know. She's talking too
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.