Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Xenophobia Defined by Louisiana School Board

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised by each new example of bigotry that emerges from some small-town school board, but the proposal by school officials in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana to require that only English be spoken during commencement speeches strikes me as particularly small-minded and spiteful:

Cindy Vo, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, spoke of high-school memories, friends and the future. Then she recited a sentence in Vietnamese, dedicated to her parents as they looked on. "Co len minh khong bang ai, co suon khong ai bang minh," she said into the microphone.

The 18-year-old graduate told classmates that the line, roughly translated, was a command to always be your own person.

Secondary education supervisor David Bourg is forming a committee of educators to study the graduations at the four high schools and eventually make recommendations to the board. Officials are considering other proposals, including requiring a prayer during the ceremony.

"As board members, we get to observe the different ceremonies and there's some inconsistencies I think the board or administration more importantly needs to address," board member Rickie Pitre recently said in committee. "I don't like them addressing in a foreign language. They should be in English."

As Bill Poser of Language Log aptly puts it:
English-only advocates like to claim that immigrants refuse to learn English. Here are two kids of immigrant parents who have learned English well enough to be valedictorians and this jackass wants to rain on their parade? For shame! Why is it that school boards attract idiots like shit attracts flies?


Casmall said...

I don't understand these people. What is it about people speaking another language thats so offensive?

DJ Dual Core said...

I can't prove it but I am confident that if the student had recited a brief biblical passage in Greek there would have been no questions raised.

It is all identity politics. It is only OK to be Vietnamese, in the eyes of someone like him, if you are busting your ass to be nothing but anglo.

Habladora said...

It is offensive to men like Rickie Pitre that students like Cindy Vo dare to assert through their actions that it is OK - even good! - to be different from what he prescribes to be a 'normal American' - a 'normal American' being someone as much like him as possible, of course - so white, male, conservative, English-speaking, and Christian. If pressed, he might tell you that those who aren't white or male can't change that, but they should try to assimilate into white male culture as much as possible. The conservative English-speaking Christian part, though, he'd argue anyone can choose and can therefore be judged for not doing so, for choosing to be something that he himself is not.

I wonder if these mandatory school prayers he recommends might be said in students' native languages. Bad grammar really grates on God's nerves, I hear.

Habladora said...

Oops - Xposted comments! DJ, you said it better!

DJ Dual Core said...

I was concise but you had the presence of mind to use the word "assimilate" which I think goes right to the heart of the problem.

Pressuring people to be or appear to be other than themselves is a pet peeve of mine. I for some reason I was in a situation where I was expected to pass for African American or "act black" I would totally fucked. For one thing there is no monolithic standard for "acting black."

But people of color and others are asked to do the equivalent all the time. This is another example. She was reveling too much of her Vietnamese self.

She revealed her assimilation as incomplete. Perhaps Pitre sees assimilation as part of the school's mission. Perhaps he thinks one sentence of Vietnamese makes him look like he has failed.