Sunday, August 24, 2008

seeing-red county

With our one-year anniversary behind us, I'm beginning to feel like we can settle into living in Orange County. We've met some great people (indeed, recently, some more moved in practically next door). I should remember, though, not to get too comfortable here in Red County.* Moved by misunderstanding, fear, or bigotry, some locals do the craziest things.

To wit, a parent recently upbraided the San Juan Capistrano School District for allowing its principal and teachers to run Marco Forster Middle School like (in her words) a "Mexican public school." A majority of students have Latino backgrounds and many can speak Spanish. They do so at school (in-between classes) which letter-writer McCarthy says ostracizes monolingual students - like her children - and also breaks California law mandating "English only" in the state's flailing schools. Her concern even extends to "Hispanic children" themselves. She notes that allowing students to speak Spanish insulates them from mainstream American culture by preventing them from, in her words again, "assimilating." Here, of course, is the buzzword heralded by nativists for more than a century. "They" are not turning into "us". So, while McCarthy says "the English language has become second and not as important;" she thinks "I am threatened by the unfamiliar" therefore it must (at least outwardly) conform to my sense of me. There is no compromise or accommodation in this world view.

Significantly, Marco Forster students are quite familiar with mainstream American culture of the variety McCarthy references. The school mural that elicited her contempt for featuring a Mexican flag (along with the U.S. flag) is the product of student endeavor. In 1994, after nativists left offensive fliers in the lockers of 12-14 year old kids (!), students created this mural - featuring Benito Juarez - as a tribute to human rights but also as a positive symbol of Mexican-American blending. It is telling that McCarthy chose to attack precisely this image. When seeing red, she could see little else.

This incident prompts me to wonder if it is possible to communicate with such a seemingly-intractable mind-set? Can someone like this see examples of cultural (and social and linguistic) convergence as anything but a threat? Do I need to set my sights - and expectations - lower? If so, this might make settling in here more difficult.

*Orange County has the distinction of being home to the largest, per capita, population of registered Republicans. (This can make one pine for the days when being "red" meant something quite different.)


kungfuramone said...

Here's a revolutionary idea: maybe this idiot should enroll her kids in...wait for it...SPANISH CLASS AT SCHOOL!

Dolce Vita said...

Yeah, it boggles the mind. I can't think of any other nation where monolingualism is so commonplace (and socially enforced). In SoCal, it seems even more absurd. (She must have missed all those studies that agree that learning another language is good for thinking skills.)