Monday, October 30, 2006

A trip back home

Things never stop changing. That is always true. As I drove through my former hometown on Saturday afternoon and evening, I noticed change everywhere. Gone was the Indy Lube oil change outlet, replaced with signage indicating that it was now a Shell Quik Lube Express. Those Dutch bastards couldn't even be troubled to learn the proper spelling of 'quick'.

Across the highway was the overgrown strip mall flanked by the Target store. As we left through the exit door, I noticed that the signage said exit in both english and spanish languages. It's been a few years since I frequented this store but that little addition is new.

Approaching the highway we had crossed earlier, I saw one of those small boulevard signs made of corrugated plastic. The local Radio Shack store was hiring. Thank God I can read at least some spanish because this sign was geared towards those who speak spanish. $8-$12 dollars per hour was the stated rate -- that is better pay than is offered doing hard labor at the hog kill plant in this town. I bet Radio Shack actually requires documentation stating that their employees are here legally.

Earlier, at the ShopKo store, we walked nearly the entire store in search of that one elusive item. I spotted a hispanic family speaking entirely in spanish. Their young, school-age children even spoke in spanish exclusively. It made me wonder if their children knew english or were bilingual.

This isn't a race thing on my part. I have worked with those of hispanic descent. A reporter at a newspaper where I was previously employed spoke fluent spanish. She immigrated here at an extremely young age and was one of the best writers I ever had the pleasure of working with.

These instances I witnessed this weekend prove one thing. Just as our ancestors adapted to their surroundings when they immigrated to America, so should today's immigrants. If they wish for their children to remain fluent in their native language, that is great. My wife is of Czech descent and her mom talks of her mother and relatives having conversations entirely in Czech. They kept the language alive even when their friends and neighbors spoke english.

To gain acceptance and make racism less prevalent, those surrounding you have to understand you and be able to communicate with you. I will be the first to say that learning new things is hard to do but I spent two years gaining the fundamentals of the spanish language and and learning new software for my job, both of which are immense struggles but rewarding in the end.

Today's immigrants, just like my Danish grandpa once did when he came here in 1917, must learn the language. If they don't they will forever be seen by outsiders as second class citizens and face far more prejudices than if they spoke the prevalent language.

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