I vote at P.S. 6 on the upper east side of Manhattan, in a neighborhood with no bodega in sight between 5th and 2nd avenues yet the posters outside the school and all along the block said Vote Here and underneath, Vote Aqui. Below that, in fainter type was the same information in Chinese. In other words, we no longer expect Hispanic voters who use the same alphabet as English to understand the four letter word “here” even when used in context on Election Day at a polling station. This is even worse than translating SALIDA when EXIT is universally printed in bold red above a door frame. Mayor De Blasio has just designated a $150 million appropriation to improve some of New York’s ineffective schools but Vote Aqui is a prime example of one of the causes of failing in school - the patronizing soft bigotry of lowered expectations for minorities.
Long ago, before we knew about political correctness, foreign students were sent to school, immersed in a new language and left to fend for themselves until they caught on and started understanding and speaking it. This system had a 100% success rate with previous waves of immigration to the United States. As a first generation American, I can attest that ALL of my family members who came here under the age of 50, as well as all their friends and associates spoke English, albeit with heavy accents. Every one of them would have understood the phrase Vote Here and they all would have followed that instruction with great pride in their citizenship. All of them spoke their native languages at home yet this never prevented my siblings, cousins or friends from speaking English with a New Yawk accent perhaps, but not the same accent as our parents.
Yet the explanations for why Hispanic students don’t speak English well or speak it with Spanish accents always come back to what they hear at home and in their neighborhoods. What about what they hear in school, on television, in movies - and what they see all around them in our advertising, our billboards and everyday signage? Under the guise of being sensitive to their heritage, we have condescendingly decided that Hispanics aren’t smart enough to figure out the words EXIT and HERE and that it’s not fair of us to demand that comprehension, an assumption that has shortchanged them of incentive, the magic ingredient in any kind of learning.
My Polish/Jewish parents worked in Spanish Harlem where a huge sign was posted at the entranceway to the Park Avenue Market. It said “Precaucion Con Los Carteristas.” I first read that when I was about 7 years old and never forgot it because of the long unfamiliar final word. The first word had a cognate in English and didn’t intrigue but that last word didn’t look like any other word I knew. It stood alone and was so memorable that I still haven’t forgotten it, a lifetime later - “Beware of Pickpockets.” We rob students and foreign language speakers of the excitement of learning new words on their own when we translate even the obvious to guarantee that they don’t have to stretch their minds even for the distance of four letters. It’s a disservice that has kicked them in the rear as Hispanic students drag far behind Asian students whose parents don’t allow them to remain in English As A Second Language class for very long, assuming they even enter it.
If Hispanic parents want their children to succeed in America, they should be asking Vote Aqui? Porque? We are in New York City and want to speak Inglese. We want to VOTE HERE..
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