Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Documented Alien

My post from the other day about immigration, assimilation, and the SPP prompted an email from a woman named Sarah Hoyt. She’s a full-time writer of fantasy and mystery novels, and a hyphenated-American herself, so she has some strong opinions about the misguided and malevolent demagoguery that passes for immigration policy these days.

She gave me permission to post an excerpt from her email. Here’s what she had to say:

The Melting PotThe article on assimilation tickled me, as I’m Portuguese born and raised, married an American at 22 and moved here. There weren’t many Portuguese speakers in NC (where we first lived) and no Portuguese TV stations — though I will grant you that I’d learned English in school, both high school and college. On the other hand, I started learning English at fourteen, and no one else in my family speaks it fluently. When I came here I spoke good-for-second-language English, nowhere at the level needed for what I wanted to do. For what I wanted to do see my web site. As you see, I managed it. Without a single class since I came to the states, too. :)

If I can do this, when English is my third language, then people who come to the States less prepared should be able to learn English well enough to vote and graduate from high school and use other official channels in English.

In case you wonder, I did do this without most of the editors who bought my work even knowing I was not a native speaker of English. In fact, I outright lied to some of them and blamed my accent on mid-range-hearing loss (which I also happen to have). I didn’t want to win with help. No training wheels. I wanted to “get there” by the same rules as everyone else, otherwise what’s the point? I’m not “there” yet, but I’m further along than I ever hoped to be.

I did it by starting to read in English after my first year of the language — while in Portugal — and by getting American correspondents, so that I could use the language idiomatically. If it had been now, I’d probably have spent a lot of time surfing the web, too. And once I came here, though it would have been easy to continue reading fiction and magazines in Portuguese, I undertook it to do all my reading in English. Much harder and slower, but more productive in the end.

In addition to coming here at 22, I was an exchange student to the States with AFS between 17 and 18, for my senior year in high school (When I met my husband — he was the boy down the street). I don’t think this in any way negates my point — on the contrary. It could be argued that when I came here at 22 I had university-level English (trust me, doesn’t mean as much as you might think, but… it could be argued, anyway) .

However, when I came to the States as a high school senior, I had three years of English, and although I think I had an impressive vocabulary, etc., I was nowhere near being fluent. My first day I went through all my classes without understanding a single word. I went home and cried and was sure I would fail the year. Needless to say, I didn’t.
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There was no one in Stow, Ohio who spoke Portuguese; my host family was American; calling my parents would be way too expensive, and besides they couldn’t help me with English classes. Back in the dark ages — ‘80-’81 — there were, thank heavens, no “English as a second language” classes.

So, by the end of the year I was on the honors list. :) Still, with all that, after going back to Portugal and college for four years, my English had deteriorated and it had never been at the level of writing professionally, anyway. That I had to earn, step by step.

Most students in my day came over with a very rudimentary handle on English. None of them had help in terms of foreign language assimilation. MOST of them left speaking fluent everyday English. I imagine it’s still the same, except perhaps for Spanish speaking foreign students — horrifying thought. Are those poor people being channeled into ESL classes?

I count and pray in Portuguese. That’s about it. Oh, and I swear in Portuguese. Which means it’s mostly the words my kids know. :)

I can attest that even today if I spend a long time speaking/reading in Portuguese it affects my English. I can also attest that, as my sons tell their Hispanic classmates “You have to want to be American, and if you don’t, what are you doing here?”

Not just Europeans have ridiculous red tape on immigration. I have a writer colleague, Dave Freer, who writes for American publishers and who lives in South Africa. For obvious reasons, he is thinking of moving from SA. Though he works mostly for American publishers, he’s not even considering immigrating to the US because it’s almost impossible for him to get here — writing not being a “job” you can import people for.

And though I intended to come to the States one way or another, I’m very glad I chanced to fall in love with an American. I might still be struggling, otherwise (And, yes, I’ve been married for 22 years, so it clearly wasn’t for the citizenship).

I fully agree with the president that more people are a good thing. I simply think we should be importing scientists and technicians and, for that matter, skilled carpenters and craftsmen. Not illiterate laborers who have bought into racist ideologies and ideas of revenge for territories supposedly stolen from them.

I’m all for immigration — I’m also for cutting ridiculous barriers to legal immigration, but not illegal immigration. And I’m not for people intent on taking over our culture and our institutions being allowed in.


Yorkshireminer said...

I couldn't agree more with this lady, language skills are so important if you are going to integrate. How well you understand the language determines how well you understand the culture. I wouldn't use the word assimilation I would use the word integrate blend into the background. I personally think that it is impossible above a certain age for you to adapt 100% to a new culture. When you go to a new country you view that country through the lens of your own culture, unconsciously you or otherwise your views are set in a sort of mental cement. There is too much to forget and too much to learn. The first generation immigrants when America was a melting pot and not a fruit salad were accepted but not assimilated. It was their children that became American. Bill Bryson a great American writer who has live many years here in Britain is chancellor of Durham university and has been honor by the Queen is still basically American.

I certainly don't want to denigrate the Gentleman when I say that, what is more important though is the affection that he holds towards that country. This lady certainly holds America in great esteem, Without that affection it is impossible to even integrate. Without that affection she would not have had the motivation to learn the language as well as she has. I most certainly have an empathetic understanding of what she went through. I myself left my countries shores for Denmark many years ago, a male in full rut chasing in delightful young 17 year old Danish girl. Apart from that I fell in love with the country. Determined to integrate and being convinced by my ears that Danish was not a civilized language but a throat disease and I would never be able to speak it properly ( do you know the feeling Baron) I attacked the problem in exactly the same way. I bought Orwell's “Animal Farm” and the Danish translation “Kamerade Napoleon” and read them side by side on the train going to work every morning , and coming home at night. It took me many months of hard work before I could read with any fluency or easy. It did eventually bring me in contact with great Danish literature Hans Kirk Herman Bang and many more. It was only then that I was able to start to get my throat around the glottal stop and all those extra bloody vowels. I still insist that Danish is the only language that can be spoken while drinking a beer. Having the linguistic ability of a mime artist it took me at least two years and a five months residence at a Folk High School specializing in teaching Danish to the mentally retarded before I was able to speak it with any degree of fluency. Things finally came to a head when one weekend I couldn't sleep because I had thousands of Danish words whirling around in my head. When Monday morning came my mind had be partitioned off into an English section and a Danish section and I could swap from one language to the other and think in both. I could then integrate

The real problem comes when you have a vast influx of people who come from a different culture, who by natural arrogance or teaching think that they are superior. Their numbers enables them to live outside the culture of the land they have come too, and their attitude does not motivate them to learn the language of the other culture they are living in. Welfare payment cocoon them in this limbo and the PC attitude of thou shalt not offend anyone unless he is white exacerbates the problem. Things do not look good.

Paul said...

What an interesting and refreshing article about Sarah Hoyt's experience coming to the US from Portugal.

At my work place we currently have several Venezuelans working with us on a project. These Venezuelans comprise the 'Venezuelan Content' required by the facility owner for our project. I have found myself having to 'pull out' what Spanish I had in grade school and Jr. High. Wow. What an experience. Now I wish I had learned Spanish better back then.

I am actually thoroughly enjoying having to learn, or relearn, the Spanish I studied years ago. How refreshing. It is adding a new and pleasing dimension to my work experience. Plus, the Venezuelans are enjoyable people to be around.

We've learned to avoid discussions of American politics. But we can always discuss Hugo Chavez. What a crazy world we are living in.

I've started tuning into local Spanish language radio stations on the way to and from work. A little Musica Ranchero never hurt anyone.

Noventa y Tres Punto Tres, Musica Latina!

John Sobieski said...

She did not have the 'crutches' that Mexican immigrants have today and had to become American. Many of the immigrants today have no interest in being American.

I also agree with her that our legal immigration system discriminates against whites and those with skills. The 1965 Immigration Act is the cause of so much of our problems today.

Profitsbeard said...

If the Native Americans had all spoken one language, they would be setting the immigration rules today.