I have a new found appreciation for non-English speaking people living in the US. No, not appreciation, that’s trite. I have a profound respect.
When I went to France I was fortunate to be traveling with a French-speaking companion. I really had very few worries about getting by – so long as I stayed with her! That said, it was still an uncomfortable feeling to find myself suddenly illiterate, and at the mercy of locals. I’m a highly educated person with a broad vocabulary and mastery of verbal communication. I can even read early- to modern English with ease. In France I quickly discovered that there are only so many times and places where I could successfully express myself by simply pointing to a thing. I was so vulnerable in so many ways. And I was so darned lucky that the people who interacted with me were patient and generous.
It’s enough to say that I’m disgusted when I witness the behaviour of ugly Americans toward non-English speaking people: “You’re in America now. Speak American!” Or they speak loudly and slowly and make exaggerated expressions. I took a summer of Spanish and learned enough to order in restaurants and carry on simple conversations. I thought that it was important to speak Spanish since there are so many Latinos residing here who work hard to speak English. The very least Americans can do is try to meet our Spanish-speaking neighbors half-way. That’s one side of the equation. My brief visit to France showed me the other side.
The other side is that I was on vacation. Many of the people who come to the US are here to work hard to earn the pittiful salary we give immigrants. Latinos are threatened with deportation, or worse. They’re willing to bust their butts, and are willing to do so at great personal risk. The ones who speak the least of our language are the most vulnerable and the most at our mercy. And yet they come in spite of the risks. I am humbled at the strength of these immigrants. I don’t know if I would have the courage to go to a hostile land, with no way to communicate, in order to eke out a living.
Yes, I have a new found respect for the immigrant population, as well as a better understanding of how God expects us to treat one another.
“You shall neither wrong a stranger, nor oppress him: for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”