¡En Español, por favór!

Amidst all the current debate about immigration, I have a burning question that no one seems to be able to answer. Why, exactly, is it such a problem that recent immigrants (and, indeed, not-so-recent immigrants) speak Spanish? Today being A Day Without an Immigrant, there was much discussion of the issue in my drawing class as we worked on our projects. Everyone (but me, as I sat silently, telling myself over and over again not to get involved so as not to turn the big circle-jerk into an actual argument) agreed with statements like, "they should have to pass a test" or "they should have to have a ten-minute conversation in English to get a visa." I resisted with all my might the urge to shout things like, "Did you know that the United States doesn't actually have an official language, you dumb fucks?"

Please, someone, explain to me why this is such an issue. Why does it bother people so much that immigrants, for some strange reason, are more comfortable conversing in their native language? How does this affect anyone's lives but their own? Here's what I've been able to come up with:

1. You have to spend four extra seconds when you're at the ATM selecting "English" instead of "Español." If you add up every ATM transaction you'll ever make in your life, that's five minutes of precious, precious that's been wasted by those thoughtless immigrants who refuse to learn English.

2. If you're in a service-industry job, you may occasionally encounter a customer who wishes to conduct a transaction in Spanish. This puts you through the heart-rending humiliation of saying, "Sorry, I don't speak Spanish," and maybe finding a co-worker who does speak Spanish to help that horrible, evil, thoughtless immigrant.

3. Sometimes, in a public facility, you may have to listen to announcements in both English and Spanish (e.g., "The library will close in fifteen minutes. La biblioteca se cerrará en quince minutos."). This is another enormous time-drain. If you add up every minute you spend ignoring announcements in Spanish in public facilities, why, that's a total of zero minutes through your entire life, absolutely wasted!

4. It can be tough to understand the busboys at your favorite restaurant when they ask you, "Can I take this plate?"

5. Um, and lots of other reasons, too. Like, how, speaking Spanish is, you know, like...wrong, and stuff.

There's plenty to discuss when it comes to immigration, legal or otherwise. But somehow this is the meaningless and idiotic notion that so many people cling to when immigration is the topic. This little nugget of xenophobia is at its finest when someone overhears two people conversing in Spanish and launches into it - "They ought to learn English," they say. This, of course, assumes that the people in question are conversing in Spanish because they can't do so in English, and not because they find it easier to converse in their mutual native language. If Mle and I moved to Mexico, I'm pretty sure we would continue to speak to one another in English, no matter how fluent we became in Spanish.

They always bring up previous generations of (European) immigrants, too. "They learned to speak English, why can't the Mexicans?" Well, actually, no, they didn't - not all of them, anyway. There were plenty of immigrants from Italy, Germany, Poland, wherever, who lived most of their lives in the United States and never learned much English. My great-grandmother spent most of her life in Lincoln, Nebraska, and also spent most of her life speaking German. She lived in a community of German immigrants, so she could do just fine in German. But her children learned to speak English, because that's what the children of immigrants do. That's how the process of assimilation works. It's a generational thing, not an instant transformation. I went to school with a lot of Mexican immigrants' children, and they all spoke English just fine.

So...can anyone explain it? Is there some major, significant issue I'm missing here that makes immigrants' language of choice a real problem? Why does it matter so much?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?