I really should know better. I brought this upon myself. I was bored; I was on the Internet, read something and became really irritated. Happens more often than I’d like to admit.
It’s kind of like falling asleep on the couch watching golf on a Sunday afternoon, or eating too much popcorn at the movies. Some things — are just inevitable.
What’s my Internet irritant? It’s none other than Gene Simmons. The singer, oh excuse me, one of the singers of the rock group KISS who, while promoting yet another reality show and a tour of his band, decided to lambaste immigrants and tell them to “learn goddamn English.” Gee, thanks Dr. Love.
People who did not speak English have helped build this country. The French in Louisiana, the Spanish in Florida, Scandinavians in Minnesota and Asians in California have all created cultural success stories while assimilating at their own pace.
Oh, it gets better, Gene Simmons (who was born Chaim Witz) moved to the U.S. when he was eight years old, and had no problem learning English. He actually brags about it as if it’s some great feat. Note to Gene Simmons: every single eight-year-old who came to the U.S. over the course of the last ... oh let’s say 250 years ... has also probably learned to speak English.
So Gene, what’s your point? Oh, I get it. You’re trying to create a straw man; but really, an eight-year-old straw man? Really? What else makes you better than other immigrants, being able to count with your fingers?
OK, here are some basic facts for xenophobes and people like Simmons who try and ingratiate themselves with xenophobes by making braggadocios, overweening and priggish statements not based on fact.
According to a Princeton University study conducted by Douglas Massey, English has never been seriously threatened as the dominant language in America, nor is it under threat today. In fact, the demise of Spanish in America is much more certain and is already occurring within 3rd and 4th generation Latinos.
Oh, and as for immigrants today being different from immigrants from the past? Bull cocky! Researchers James Salmon of the University of Wisconsin and Miranda Wilkerson of Columbia University compared today’s Spanish-speaking immigrant communities to early German-speaking communities and found that today’s immigrants learn English much faster than Europeans.
"In fact, many communities, including prototypical 'good old immigrants,' lived here for decades – and in fact generations – without learning English, like the Wisconsin German communities,” the study says.
The study goes on to conclude that as late as the early 1930s, teachers in the region "could hardly speak English or spoke it grudgingly." Comparatively, 92 percent of second generation Latinos living in the U.S. speak English "very well," and nearly all third-generation Latinos speak the language.
Yes, first generation immigrants who come to America tend to retain their language and, depending on their age, economic status and geographic location, some never learn to speak fluent English. It was true then as it is now. But here’s something Simmons probably doesn’t know. Massey concludes that Spanish is actually much more threatened than English. He finds that despite historic and long-standing fears and prejudices, second-generation Latinos begin to lose their ability to speak Spanish altogether.
Among third-generation Latinos: only 17 percent speak Spanish fluently. And by the fourth generation, only 5 percent speak Spanish fluently. Fact is: Gene Simmons is the one being “politically correct” with what amounts to a cheap applause line, because yes, it does sound cool to bash our nation’s latest arrivals, but it’s also both wrong and hurtful.
More to the point, people who did not speak English have helped build this country. The French in Louisiana, the Spanish in Florida, Scandinavians in Minnesota and Asians in California have all created cultural success stories while assimilating at their own pace. And one group is no less American than any other.
Then there’s the story of Paco and Adela. They arrived in the U.S. as full-grown adults. Fleeing communism, they arrived in the U.S. penniless and worked four jobs between them. They lived in a Spanish-speaking enclave with tens of thousands of other Spanish speakers who arrived simultaneously. He bused tables at a restaurant at night and drove a furniture delivery truck by day, while she worked all day in a shoe factory and then cared for their children at night.
Together, they scraped by on $11,000 a year, leaving no time or money for socializing or night school. No time left to take English courses, not with three kids who they were determined to make proud, English- proficient Americans. Yes, it was too late for them, but not too late for their children. So they poured themselves into their children’s education — they sacrificed themselves for the sake of U.S.
That’s right. My mom and dad sometimes wouldn’t eat so we could. They didn’t go to school so we could. They worked hard, paid their taxes and despite never learning to speak English fluently, they are proud Americans, who cherish this country unwaveringly and don’t deserve to be insulted by Gene Simmons or anybody else.
On behalf of my mom and dad and all the other Pacos and Adelas who have come before them, let me say this to Gene Simmons, albeit presumptively — apology accepted!