By now you’ve probably seen the OC Weekly video of a Santa Ana school police officer pinning a 14-year-old boy to the ground with a chokehold.
Understandably most people find the video disturbing and difficult to watch. I, on the other hand, love it. It’s as close to a perfect video capturing the ugliness in our society as you’re likely to come across.
Here you have a faux-cop tackling a young brown boy, choking him and eventually telling innocent bystanders to “Stop speaking Spanish!” Predictably, the monolingual officer at the center of this incident is white. Nonetheless the imagery couldn’t have been more vivid if it were Uncle Sam himself on top of the boy.
“Stop speaking Spanish”? In a place like Santa Ana, California?
Not only is Santa Ana, California one of the most Hispanophone place names in America. And not only did California’s Latino population become the state’s largest ethnic group, like, literally just last month. But the Latino population boom has led to a push to make Latinos more “American” by pressing them to learn English and (Anglo-)American history. The push is led by people who think the United States is a white, English-speaking country and should remain so.
Yet the cop in the video doesn’t say “Speak English!” He says “Stop speaking Spanish!” While strangling a brown boy. In Santa Ana, California. Where Latinos are the largest ethnic group.
So maybe the bystanders shouldn’t have complied with the faux-cop’s command. (“We’re telling him to relax!”) Maybe they should’ve answered back, “¡Aprenda español!”
As it stands, the U.S. has no official language. Immigrants from all around the world come here and learn English because that’s what the overwhelming majority speak in most places. Some of us learn a Eurocentric version of American history because, again, where some of us live, white Americans predominate.
That’s how society works: newcomers assimilate to show they want to become members of the group.
But in California and New Mexico, where Latinos are the plurality —and in cities like Los Angeles, El Paso, Miami, Union City, or even just neighborhoods like Pilsen and La Bajada— assimilating should mean picking up a little Spanish too. If you’re moving somewhere or just visiting, you should learn the language.
The idea, however, that America is increasingly becoming a multicultural, multilingual nation where non-Latinos will have to learn Spanish scares people who consider the proliferation of Spanish and Latino Studies the un-Americanization of America.
This is what divides progressives and conservatives, and even some progressives from other progressives. Some people, and I won’t say who, don’t want America to be anything but majority white. They don’t want to be forced to learn any other language, and they don’t want to be forced to learn about any other ethnic groups.
Truth is America was never strictly a white, English-speaking country to begin with. It’s always been more cosmopolitan than that—which most Americans would know if Latino history were taught in more schools.
As America becomes more multicultural, people will speak in many different tongues. The United States happens to share its hemisphere with nearly 600 million souls living in Latin America, and, naturally, Spanish is the second most-spoken language in the United States, making it the 5th largest Spanish-speaking country in the world.
That means no one, not even some faux-cop, can keep Latinos from speaking Spanish.
On the other hand, now that Spanish is already the language of the land in many areas, and is on the cusp of becoming so in many others, maybe it’s time non-Spanish-speaking Americans begin assimilating to the future. Maybe they should start speaking Spanish.
Hector Luis Alamo, Jr. is a Chicago-based writer. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.