The Latino Namesake

Jose VilsonJose3 Comments

I landed in Orlando / Cocoa Beach a few hours ago, and had the fortune of getting a van all to myself to escort me to the hotel. On such occasions, I usually don’t think about the privilege I have to work in an environment where my boss places cultural barriers on my person.

As for my driver, that wasn’t the case. I read his name tag: Domingo, same as my uncle. As we walk away from his dispatcher, I start to notice his English isn’t too fluid. Noticing his struggles, I wait until the elevator to code-switch.

I said something in Spanish. He kept quiet. We start walking to the car. He asks where I’m from. I tell him he is my uncle’s namesake, or tacayo in Spanish, and thus, he can infer from there. He kept chatting me up in English until we got in the van. Once in the van, I switched interchangeably from English to Spanish just to see if my suspicious were true. He replied in English.

As we started to pull into the hotel, I started to wonder aloud whether his bosses’ insistence that he speak in English was just a useful technique to ensure his employees learn how to speak the dominant language or a manifestation of the debilitating acculturation in the name of so called professionalism. That is to say, what would a Dominican in Miami need to speak to help customers?

Presumably both.

To that extent, I have to be of the belief that we don’t have to suppress our language of choice in order to survive in this country, no matter if you’re speaking Spanish, Cantonese, or patois. The United States of America we strive for should let people be themselves. Wholly. Without judgment.

Solo diciendo …

Jose, who has a book giveaway coming up soon …

Comments 3

  1. You’re making me feel a little bad here, Jose. I spend every working day forcing newcomers to speak English, being very tough on those who don’t. In my meager defense, I’m largely outnumbered, and if I didn’t do that I’m certain they would almost never bother with English.

    However, once they leave, they can do what they like.

    As an alternate explanation for the driver’s behavior, some people are proud and don’t like to be caught not knowing a language. Finally, we have no official language in these United States, we steal words from everyone and anyone, and our benign neglect has resulted, among other things, in American English becoming the most successful language in the history of the world.

    1. Post

      NYCEd, you have no reason to be ashamed. What you do with your students is very valuable, especially as a source of “code-switching” i.e. negotiating the worlds in which they live. English is at least valuable in being to communicate with the excessively monolingual country we have here, and it’s also the language of business and commerce. Having said that, you’re right about the pride thing. I’ve heard that angle before and I can be convinced with some special cases. Often times, however, the person, upon hearing Spanish, bites their tongue and smiles, then commences in English. It’s tough, and I hope it’s not a means of acculturation, which is a travesty. -sigh-

  2. My daughter went back to the west coast of Ireland to live with a family for a couple of months to learn Irish.

    Language matters more than even the cognoscenti among us realize, at least me. I thought I knew, but after my daughter learned Irish (a language I do not speak), I got it.

    It gets complicated, and no reason to delve into that–your story is at least as complicated. And maybe that’s the point.

    I speak a tad of a couple of other languages, enough French to inherit the Haitian patients in Newark. A goal of mine this summer is to start working on developing enough Spanish to allow my neighbors to laugh good-naturedly at my initial attempts. (No worries, I will learn to be fluent in time.)

    My comment, of course, comes off as patronizing. The survival of this nation depends on people speaking the truth, whatever the language, and truth is most easily spoken in the language of the culture we come from.

    The cultural changes we need, our nation needs, will come in Spanish, in patois, in Bengali, in Mandarin. We’re not English, we’re American–and the dominant language of our land today confuses this.

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