The Mix

Teen thug dares to speak Spanish in school hallway

Teacher's swift zero-tolerance policy successfully crushes all knowledge of foreign languages
Just when you thought our country couldn't get more ridiculous, or more xenophobic, it appears that some school officials think simply speaking a foreign language is a punishable offense.

The Washington Post reported today that a Kansas teenager was suspended for speaking Spanish to a friend in the hallway:
KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Most of the time, 16-year-old Zach Rubio converses in clear, unaccented American teen-speak, a form of English in which the three most common words are "like," "whatever" and "totally." But Zach is also fluent in his dad's native language, Spanish -- and that's what got him suspended from school. "It was, like, totally not in the classroom," the high school junior said, recalling the infraction. "We were in the, like, hall or whatever, on restroom break. This kid I know, he's like, 'Me prestas un dolar?' ['Will you lend me a dollar?'] Well, he asked in Spanish; it just seemed natural to answer that way. So I'm like, 'No problema.' "
But that conversation turned out to be a big problem for the staff at the Endeavor Alternative School, a small public high school in an ethnically mixed blue-collar neighborhood. A teacher who overheard the two boys sent Zach to the office, where Principal Jennifer Watts ordered him to call his father and leave the school.
Ultimately, the kid's father protested the suspension and it was rescinded, but c'mon, people! Since when is it bad to be multi-lingual? Don't most schools have foreign language classes, or has that been thrown out as "un-American"? I suppose I should not be surprised. After all, White Americans have raped Native people of their languages for centuries, and this country is now experiencing an immigration backlash led by the bold and the bigoted.

According to the Post:
The tension here surrounding that brief exchange in a high school hall reflects a broader national debate over the language Americans should speak amid a wave of Hispanic immigration.
The National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group, says that 20 percent of the U.S. school-age population is Latino. For half of those Latino students, the native language is Spanish.
This story resonates with me, personally. My mother is a native Spanish speaker from Ecuador. However, I did not grow up speaking Spanish, largely because the cultural tyrants of the 1970s and '80s shamed immigrants like my mom into abandoning their language. Is that what we want now? A second wave of kids who can't communicate with their grandparents, and a country of tyrannical teachers?

I'm just glad the higher-ups in this case had the sense to rescind the suspension, and that the father stood up for his kid's rights -- ironically, something he learned to do in the citizenship class he took before he was naturalized.
Maria Luisa Tucker is a staff writer at AlterNet and associate editor of the Columbia Journal of American Studies.
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