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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Pardon my Spanish

SI.com has a story about a Little League umpire who forbade players and coaches to speak Spanish during a recent game in Massachusetts. The Spanish-speaking team was demoralized, and went on to lose the game.

The prejudice against those of Hispanic heritage is an issue that gets less publicity than discrimination against African-Americans, but is just as real. I realized this last year, when we lived for several months in a small community in the Northwest. I don't know that it was a conscious decision on the part of the majority Anglo community to say: "We don't like Spanish speaking people." Mostly, it seemed to be two communities living side-by-side, two parallel worlds, like an old episode of StarTrek: TNG.

How do we tear down the walls between those two worlds?

The tiny outpost of Franklin Center, Quebec may point the way forward. For more than two decades, the province of Quebec has suffered a costly tug-of-war between "French only" proponents, and English speakers with roots elsewhere in Canada. Consequently, Montreal is a shell of its former self, as many Anglophones, frustrated by draconian provincial language laws, voted with their feet and moved to Ontario and other English-friendly provinces. But in tiny Franklin Center, just a few miles from the New York state border, they found a happier compromise. All instruction in the elementary school is bi-lingual, but on alternating days. On Monday, all subjects are taught in English; Tuesday, they teach in French, and so forth throughout the week. In this way, students end up comfortable in both languages.

Like Quebec, the United States has two predominant languages. Increasingly, those who know only one or the other will be at a disadvantage in hiring and promotion. The Franklin Center model is worth consideration. Who knows? Maybe next year, they'll play a bi-lingual game of baseball in Massachusetts, alternating innings. Maybe then no child will have to say: "Pardon my Spanish."


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