I’m in a south Florida state of mind today. I’m craving some of that sunny warm weather up here in chilly New England, but more importantly, today is a Republican primary day down there. Although I’m as curious as the next person to see who will come out on top, there’s something deeper going on that intrigues me, and it has to do with my sister and brother Latinos. True, they comprise an influential voting bloc, but I think the Latinos in this country have done something even more profound—they’ve pierced the American consciousness like no other ethnic group that’s come to this country. Latinos have brought a bilingualism that doesn’t melt into the muddying swirl of the proverbial melting pot, but bubbles to the top. It’s a bilingualism that is uniquely American.
Governor Jeb Bush, who is spearheading the GOP’s Latino outreach, recently recognized that unique bilingualism in an op-ed in the Washington Post:
We must be able to assure new Americans the opportunity to succeed and contribute their talents. And when they come, as surely they will, we must welcome them, no matter whether they speak Spanish or Creole or Portuguese. When we hear foreign languages in the streets of America that is a validation of the Republican vision to create a place where people want to come and make their lives. Hispanics here speak or are learning English — not French, Chinese or Hindi. There is a lesson in that, and Republicans should be the ones to champion it.
Over a decade ago, when Anna was six-years old, we stayed in a hotel in Fort Lauderdale where the housekeeper left an envelope with a note thanking us in advance for a tip. Please for tip, I try for good, she wrote in a barely legible scrawl. I showed this to my young daughter who went wide-eyed as she deciphered the words. “A grown up wrote that?” she asked.
I showed her that note to her to develop empathy. I showed her that note so that she’d never forget that America is a place where immigrants strive for a better life, and in doing so they grace our streets with their languages and their customs.
Governor Bush’s vision is not just a Republican one. And I’d like to think that he also believes in the housekeeper and her intentions of, I try for good.
In that spirit I offer a few caveats that I wrote to my children a couple of years ago when the war against immigrants, Latinos in particular, raged in Arizona.
Take note of this verse from the Torah: “You shall have one standard for stranger and citizen alike: for I, ADONAI, am your God” (Lev. 24:17-22). Your Cuban refugee relatives wouldn’t have passed muster in Arizona. They didn’t have papers when they came to this country 50 years ago. Your Israelite ancestors and your brothers and sisters in the Holocaust were paperless too.
People are neither illegal nor alien. And while I’m on the subject, they’re not illegitimate either.
It’s not a crime to be poor. It’s a crime to marginalize the poor.
Learn Spanish. It’s part of your heritage and it’s practical. Given that there are 20 countries to our south where Spanish is the national language. Feel anew the old commandment to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
Revel in deep, meaningful translation as a way to engage with others. If you don’t believe me then turn to God, who happily listens to the Sh’ma, Judaism’s central tenet, in 70 languages. God is an equal-opportunity linguist.