As you may have noticed, I like jokes. Here’s a riddle. What do you call a person who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call a person who speaks three languages? Trilingual. What do you call a person who speaks one language? American.
A Swiss man, looking for directions, pulls up at a bus stop where two American tourists are waiting.
“Entschuldigung, koennen sie deutsch sprechen?” he asks. The two Americans just stare at him.
“Excusez-moi, parlez vous francais?” he tries.
The two continue to stare.
“Parlare italiano?” No response.
“Hablan ustedes español?” Still nothing.
The Swiss man drives off, extremely disgusted. The first American turns to the second and says, “Y’know, maybe we should learn a foreign language.”
“Why?” says the other. “That guy knew four languages, and it didn’t do him any good.”
A man tells his friend, “I’m going to learn German.” His friend says that German is a hard language to learn. The man replies, “How hard can it be? I’ve heard three-year-olds speaking it.
“I’m glad I wasn’t born in France.” “Why’s that?” “I don’t speak French!”
A man gave his wife a parrot. The next day, they’re eating dinner and the man notices that the parrot isn’t in its cage. He asks, “Where’s the parrot.” The wife says, “We’re having it for dinner.” “What? That parrot spoke three languages!” “Well, why didn’t it say something?”
A student fell asleep during an English professor’s lecture on pronouns. Upset, the professor wakes up the student by asking him to name two pronouns. The student replies, “Who? Me?” “Very good,” says the professor.
This linguistics professor was lecturing the class. “In English,” he explained, “a double negative forms a positive. In some languages, such as Spanish, a double negative is still a negative.” “However,” the professor continued, “there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative.” Immediately, a voice from the back of the room piped up: “Yeah … right …”
Well, it’s all about imperialism. And Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans. So what do they all have to do with Mexicans? Actually, it’s a long story that goes way back. I am often amazed by how events of thousands of years ago still affect us today. We should never forget the past because we are always repeating it! For example, history has a long, long history of repeating itself through imperialism and colonization. That is, one nation conquering another and then imposing their laws and culture upon the conquered (colonized) nation. Eventually,that empire is, in turn, conquered by another newer, bigger, “better” empire. So what does all this have to do with Mexicans in the United States? Actually, a lot!
On the one hand, Mexicans don’t physically resemble other European races or African-Americans. However, Mexicans assimilate into the work force without much rebelliousness or resentment. Mexicans come from a culture that has European roots. They come from a Judeo-Christian-Greco-Roman culture, much like most citizens of the U.S. It all started when Spain arrived in the New World that was “New” to the Europeans, but not to the local inhabitants who had already lived there for thousands of years. It’s all a matter of perspective. The Spaniards mixed with all the indigenous people they met in the New World resulting in the fusion of races and cultures that still affects us today. The reason the Spaniards could create their own melting pot was because they had a history of thousands of years of mixing with other races. However, since Spain was also colonized many times throughout its own history by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, and Moors, among others, Spain merely applies the lessons they learned to the New World.
But let’s look at Spain’s name. The country’s official name of España is derived from the Phoenicians who arrived there about 1100 BC and saw rabbits. They named their new colony “i-saphan-im,” meaning “coast or island of the rabbits.” When the Greeks arrived about 500 BC, they called the tribes the met “iberos” after the Ebro River, hence Iberia. Being fond admirers of the Greeks, the Romans also colonized Spain beginning in 218 BC giving the region the name of “Hispania” because the Romans didn’t bother to learn the local language and couldn’t pronounce the Phoenician name. (Does this sound familiar?) It seems like local residents always hate when foreigners come and don’t bother learning the language.
But getting back to Mexicans, what does all this have to do with the U.S. today? Well, by analogy, Spaniards–and Europeans in general–have a lot in common with Mexicans when you look back far enough in history. For example, when the Spaniards came to the New World, not everyone wanted to leave Spain to make their fortune. But some of those who left Spain did make their fortune and sent money back home. And that occurred for generations, including other Europeans who came to what would eventually become the United States of America. And Mexicans are no different. Except for some Mexicans in America’s southwest who never left Mexico but somehow found themselves living in America when the U.S. took over the northern part of Mexico, some Mexicans want to come north to America to make their fortune. Those who do come have many goals such as improving the living conditions of their family, here and in Mexico. If we examine previous generations of European immigrants to the U.S., not everyone learned to speak English. Usually the first generation learned just enough English to get by, the second generation learned their native tongue at home and then English when they entered school, and most of the third generation only learned English. However, more Mexicans than other ethnic group seem to continue being bilingual due to the constant influx of Mexicans from Mexico who are actually related to them, and therefore, have an actual need for speaking Spanish.