October 1, 2007 is the first time we celebrate ¡Hola! day. It fosters a greater understanding and appreciation for the Spanish language in the USA. It also salutes all Americans who choose to learn Spanish as a second (or third or fourth) language. It’s the brainchild of Myelita Melton, a Spanish language teacher, author and keynote speaker from Mooresville, North Carolina. See www.officialholaday.com for more details.
I’ve been reading and watching with concern, the growing controversy about illegal immigration. It always seems to be about our border with Mexico—when was the last time you heard someone worried about the French Canadians from Quebec sneaking into our country, “taking our jobs,” and refusing to speak English?
I’ll Be Nice To You, But Only If You’re Exactly Like Me
It’s human nature to settle into communities of like-minded people with similar backgrounds. It’s much more comfortable to be able to immediately communicate with each other because we can assume we speak the same language and have the same ideals.
Many of us are forgetting the courage it took our parents, grandparents or great grandparents to leave familiar surroundings and emmigrate to the United States of America—we forget that it took them years to learn English and that some of them only learned enough to be able to do their shopping (and that sometimes even that was too much for them—so they only shopped at places where they spoke the same language and felt welcome). It was their children and grandchildren that truly became a part of our country.
Education Not Confrontation
Fear of the unknown is the basic element of most confrontational situations. Fear that somehow each of our lives will be less if we let someone different into our community. Remember that your fear of the unknown is equally matched by a person who doesn’t speak English no matter what country they come from. Many immigrants have daily bad experiences instead of welcoming ones.
Visiting Germany In 1987
I met a German exchange student and he invited me to visit his country over the Christmas holiday. I spent the 3 months before my trip learning as much German as I could. My teacher thought I would be able to have a limited conversation in a shop, know how much things cost and be able to know if I received the correct change.
In the German educational system of that time, all students spent approximately 10 years learning English as part of their standard curriculum. (I thought I would be fine with my limited German, because most everyone would know English!)
Few If Any Of His Friends Would Speak English With Me
Even though they knew I understood only about one-third or less of what they were saying to me in German—They were afraid of making an embarrassing mistake, so they wouldn’t try at all.
I Have Never Felt So Alone
When my friend got tired of translating, I couldn’t communicate with anyone. The few conversations I did have—like what do you do for a living—most Germans didn’t believe my answer! (I was a computer consultant.) At that time, it was unbelievable for a woman to run her own business or compete in highly technical fields. Although I was college educated with a bachelor’s degree and and master’s degree, I felt like an idiot. Thankfully, my friend’s family was warm and welcoming. Between their English and my German, we could and did communicate. I will remember their kindness all of my life.
Meet Each Other Halfway
Making the effort to learn a few words of a foreign language like ¡Hola! (which means Hello! in Spanish) is a great way of getting to know someone new. You can be the person who is remembered for being open and welcoming. Taking the first step makes it easier for the other person to learn English because they have a friend in you.
Be Brave—You Can Do It!
Today as you go about your daily activities, make a new friend, add to the richness of your life: Just Say ¡Hola!
Thanks for sharing a few minutes with me.
Ellen Wass Beckerman is a student of Spanish, a Macintosh computer consultant, professional photographer and a graphic designer. She is proud to design the Official ¡Hola! Day website and other graphics for Myelita Melton President of SpeakEasy Communications, Inc. You can see other examples of Ellen's work at www.gardentextures.com.