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Saying Hola to Our Multilingual Reality

Feb 24 2014
God calls us to celebrate our country’s beautiful diversity.

As a professor of Spanish and Portuguese, I work with people who appreciate and embrace linguistic diversity. This semester in particular, many of my students are already on their third or fourth language. I love how they constantly seek opportunities to practice with native speakers. They'll find common activities to engage in just to have that immersion time with them.

My students get it. They take full advantage of the languages spoken in our country, but many others ignore it or disdain it. The latest reminder of that came earlier this month, with the negative reactions to Coca-Cola's "America the Beautiful" commercial. Even weeks after the spot aired during the Super Bowl, the commercial continues to draw millions on YouTube.

Why do citizens of a country that claims to celebrate diversity and inclusion of all races and cultures react so defensively against a song that honors many languages? This controversy shows Christians the importance of how we approach the de facto English-only policy in the United States, so often loaded with racist sentiments. There is no legislation of an official language in the United States, a policy I think makes both practical sense and biblical sense.

I teach a class titled, "The U.S. Experience: Latinos, Language, and Literacy." We focus on issues of language and literacy in Spanish-speaking communities in the United States. Research shows that providing students with instructional activities that parallel their communities' cultural touchstones—language, traditions, and even things like hip-hop music—helps improve academic outcomes. Such educational practices tell us that allowing different approaches to language and literacy in targeted communities signals uniqueness to the group that is not deficient, defiant, or in any way less American.

But is not only about languages, it is about race. Last summer, 11-year-old Sebastian de la Cruz sang the National Anthem, in English, in his mariachi suit and received a similar blast of comments questioning his "right" to sing it. The current Miss America, Nina Davuluri, also received her share of hateful comments. They are both American citizens, but xenophobic views and ignorance suggest that only those who are white and speak English as their native language are the ones that deserve the title.

People have the right to keep and maintain their heritage culture and language without being accused of rejecting mainstream American norms. Nina, Sebastian, and I are all proud to be Americans, but we also choose to honor our cultural heritage and, in my case, my Spanish language, just as much as we are fully engaged in mainstream culture.

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