There is one thing the ctrl-left and the alt-right agree on: it is impossible to change cultures. If you’re born into a culture, all your genetic predispositions make it impossible to change your eating habits and your language, much less your manners, your planning, and your ability to think as a member of this new culture.
But the hardest of all is language, which is virtually impossible to change, which is why we pay for bilingual education for children of Latin immigrants born in the U.S. and sometimes third generation in the U.S.
Because, you see, the best you can achieve in terms of learning a foreign language is the sort of halting, broken speech such as that of children and toddlers. In fact, if your children and grandchildren don’t mate with English speakers, your family will never learn to speak the language and will remain an undigested cultural lump in the midst of your adopted culture forever.
This is so much an article of faith on the ctrl-left that I had to monitor my kids like a hawk all through elementary school. If I got caught up in a book and wasn’t paying attention, my kids got put in bilingual education. In Spanish. Since they’re half Portuguese, the “compassionate” teachers thought it would be easier for them to do their homework in a related language. Note that even if I did teach them some words of Portuguese — since the only time they heard me speaking Portuguese was the weekly conversation with my mom on the phone — neither of them learned the little I tried to teach. Oh, they can both swear fluently in Portuguese. They heard that too — their father speaks no Portuguese, and they are utterly immersed in an English-speaking society. Robert was reading books published for grown-ups when he entered kindergarten; Marshall complained that his teacher patronized him in pre-school. Yes, in those words. And yet, while I was finishing Darkship Thieves for its first round of submissions, Robert spent two weeks in Spanish as primary language classes before he got fed up enough to complain to me.
The only thing that finally made the befuddled products of our teacher-training system stop inflicting Spanish on my children was my mock serious explanation that they were offending my culture, due to how often the Portuguese and Spanish were at war throughout history. And I barely managed not to burst out laughing until I was outside the school.
The alt-right is similarly so convinced of the genetic markers for language and culture (a part of me wants to go downstairs and tell that to the biologist in the basement, because his whoops of laughter should be audible all through the country) that one particular blogger often sends his minions over to fasten onto every typo and slip of the fingers in the blogs I write first thing in the morning and wholly uncaffeinated and see in them “proof” that I’m thinking in Portuguese.
The facts that I’ve lived in the U.S. for 32 years continuously, and finished 12th grade in the U.S., yes, in English, as an exchange student; that most of my reading is done in English; that I have written 32 novels I can admit to (some were written under non-disclosure agreements) in English, starting when my editors had no idea it wasn’t my native language; and that some of those novels have won awards — all of those facts mean nothing. That I’m a year short of a doctorate in English counts not at all.
Genetically, I speak Portuguese (I should call my brother and tell him that. He calls me, not without reason, an ex-speaker of Portuguese) and that’s the only language I can use with any fluency and verve my whole life.
In fact, the only difference between the ctrl-left and the alt-right is how they envision the treatment of these “minority cultures.”
And I hate to say it, but if the innate nature of language and culture were correct, the alt-right would have the right idea. If a culture can’t be assimilated into your own, if the descendants of your immigrants will never understand your political system, your language, or be able to participate fully in the life of the nation, immigration amounts to a poison pill.
Which makes the left’s position that we should bring in these minorities, encourage them not to assimilate and give them all sorts of linguistic accommodations essentially suicidal (like a lot of their other beliefs). They hate themselves and have since the day they were born, but are too wussy to eat a bullet, and therefore they seek to destroy their homeland, their co-citizens, their own culture, in an ecstatic fit of oikophobia.
Note the “if” in the above sentence. If language and culture were innate, the alt-right would be at least self-preserving.
The problem, of course, is that both the alt-right and the ctrl-left ignore reality. There are scientists, linguists, writers and famous speakers who all hail from other native languages. I don’t know Richard Fernandez’s precise genetic composition, but I know he has some Filipino ancestry, and yet he’s one of my favorite writers in the English language. The same goes for Charlie Martin, a lot of whose family does actually speak Spanish. And I believe Robert A. Heinlein’s family hailed from some Eastern European region, although no doubt the alt-right will say they’d mingled with enough English speakers to… I don’t know. Their theories make no sense whatsoever.
Two of our friends adopted girls from Poland and Russia, both of whom speak English with the same fluency as their peers.
And there are my children, both of whom speak and write English in a way that often discomfits their professors with its accuracy and needle-sharp wit. Or at least when they were younger I often received phone calls complaining about their use of Shakespeare quotes in rebuttal to teacher-stupidity.
And now, Mr. Acosta has the unmitigated gall of saying that if immigration is restricted to those who have a command of English we will only take immigrants from Great Britain and Australia.
Leave aside the fact that English is at least the secondary language of record in a lot of countries, from Africa to Asia, encompassing the globe, or that English as a second language is considered part of the training of most educated people. Mr. Acosta believes that language can’t be changed and unless you’re born to it, you’ll never learn it.
I bet he’s one of the idiots who think that making immigrants learn English is racist, and who, yet, want us to accept a vast number of non-English speakers into our midst.
Mr. Acosta, can you hear me now?
You have insulted everything I am and believe in, in every way possible. Given any self-consistency in your beliefs, you want to eliminate the country and culture I moved to, the country and culture I chose for me and for all my descendants.
You’re not just wrong, Mr. Acosta. You are the enemy of everything American, of the very idea of a melting pot, where people come to BE American and become part of the culture, and claim for themselves and their descendants the blessings of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Unfortunately for you, there are people like myself from all parts of the world who came here determined to build and uphold America and all she stands for. And we will even do it in English.
Can you hear us now?