Strangers Essay, Research Paper

The term stranger is hard to define. By definition, the stranger is not only an outsider but also someone different and personally known. (Parillo, 7) This definition could pertain to many people. One such group of people are the Hispanic Americans. Hispanic Americans are the ethnic group that attracts the most public attention. Hispanics are the largest ethnic group in the United States; however, they are often viewed as strangers in society. The main reason for this belief is because of Spanish, their spoken language. Despite anything else, all Hispanic Americans share a common heritage and language. Many feel that if one cannot speak English, they are indeed a stranger Those from the same social world mutually know the language the stranger usually does not. (Parillo, 7) Because of this stereotype based upon language assimilating for Hispanics is difficult. Language, a strong social externality, is found to be a product of assimilation. There are three kinds of assimilation: Anglo-Conformity (which is most common), Cultural Pluralism, and Melting Pot (which is least common). Many peoples ideas and beliefs of assimilation are attributed to their own viewpoints on language and education. The statements given by the American Linguistic Society and Henry Catto Jr. show strong contrasting viewpoints. The viewpoint given by the American Linguistic Society expresses the opinion of many cultural pluralists. Cultural pluralism is when two or more culturally distinct groups coexist in relative harmony. Where as, the statement given by Henry Catto Jr. is that from an Anglo-Conformist point of view. Anglo-conformity is the become like me form of assimilation. Where it is expected for one to lose sight of his/her own culture and to conform to the Anglo-Saxon, protestant view. Richard Rodriguez and Johanna Vega are two examples of assimilated Hispanics; Rodriguez as an Anglo-conformist and Vega as a cultural pluralist.

Richard Rodriguez is an Anglo-Conformist. He is a well-educated Mexican-American from a predominately white neighborhood in Sacramento, California. Rodriguez would associate his views about language with the views of Henry Catto Jr. Rodriguez believes that there is a certain price one has to pay in order to succeed in American Society. He made himself conform, so he would not be considered a stranger. He knew, even as a boy, that he had to conform, no matter what the cost. They do not seem to realize that there are two ways a person is individualized. So they do not realize that while one suffers a diminished sense of private individuality by becoming assimilated into public society, such assimilation makes possible the achievement of public individuality. (Rodriguez, 26) In order to succeed in American society, Rodriguez gave up much of his Hispanic background. He believed that on order to succeed, one must leave his or her private life (culture, traditions, and language) behind. Rodriguez was schooled in catholic schools until he went to Stanford University. In school, he was taught only English, and his parents were asked to use English at home to help him learn. He practiced the language of the Gringo s as his family referred to Americans. The social distance between Rodriguez and his primary relationships increased. He tried to learn all he could in school, especially the English language. The communication between Rodriguez and his family members changed, as he lost much of the language. If because of my schooling, I had grown culturally separated from my parents, my education finally had given me ways of speaking and caring about that fact. (Rodriguez, 72) While growing up, Rodriguez lost much of his Mexican heritage, in order to conform. He would agree with Catto s statement: The American tradition has been, of course, for each wave of immigrants to put aside it s language, save for special occasions, and learn English. (Catto)

Norman Shumway and Terry Robbins both agree with Anglo-Conformity and therefore have some of the same viewpoints as that of Richard Rodriguez. Rodriguez says that bilingual education does not promote English enough. Reading was for me the key to knowledge; I swallowed facts and dates and names and themes. (Rodriguez, 181) He values his education and how he learned English. Shumway and Robbins appeared on the Donahue Show in the early 1990 s to voice their opinions on whether English should be the official language of the United States. Both feel that English should be the official language of the United States, therefore, would agree with Henry Catto Jr. They feel that it is okay to have learned a second language other than English, one reason being able to travel easier in other countries. However, also feet that it is not necessary for one to learn a second language in order to communicate with someone in America. Norman Shumway proposed an amendment to the United State s congress to make English the official language, instead of keeping it the primary language that currently exists. The difference between primary language and official language is that primary language is the one most commonly spoken; an official language means that it has legal status. (Pierce, lecture fall 99) If English were the official language of the United States, rather than the primary one that already exists, all business would be conducted in English.

Johanna Vega is a cultural pluralist; she does not want to conform. She is quite typical of the Latino experience in America. She, like Rodriguez, is a well-educated Hispanic. However, Vega feels as if American schooling is attempting to take her heritage away. She wants to hold on to her culture, family, and native language Spanish and feels that if she were to assimilate she would be letting go. Johanna Vega s parents feel differently than Johanna. They feel that American is filled with many opportunities and that if one does not take advantage of what is offered, they believe one will be missing out on the American Dream. Johanna Vega was raised in a Latino ghetto, and because of a scholarship was able to attend Groton and later Columbia University making her successful in society. In the film, The American Dream at Groton, Vega struggled with being faced with having to combine this American culture with that of her Hispanic culture. Throughout the movie, Vega talks about how she wants to bring her Hispanic heritage with her and how her classmates at Groton do not understand her. She expresses that at home she is considered white, and at school she is considered Puerto Rican. Vega would agree with the views if the American Linguistic Society. During her early schooling years Vega was most likely educated with bilingual education or English as a second language (ESL), helping to make her as successful as she has been in school and life. To have their children educated in a manner that affirmatively acknowledges their native language abilities as well as ensures their acquisition of English. Children can only learn when they understand their teachers. As a consequence, some use of the children native language in the classroom is often desirable if they are to be educated successfully. (American Language Society)

Johanna Vega, as a cultural pluralist, would agree with Arnoldo Torres and Carmen Marina, guests of the Donahue Show along with Shumway and Robbins. However, Torres and Marina are in favor of bilingual education and keeping English the primary language not making it official. Torres and Marina would agree with the statement made by the American Linguistic Society. They admit that the United States has always been a monolingual country, with English always being the primary language, but agree that should not stop people who speak other language from entering the United States. They feel that Hispanics and other ethnic groups have the right to live and work in the United States and to be different. Rosina Lippi-Green defends non-mainstreamed languages in her book, English With an Accent. As has always been the case, the divide between socially stigmatized and sanctioned language runs along the very predictable lines: non-mainstreamed variety of the United States English should be restricted to the home and neighborhood, to play, and informal situations to the telling of folk tales and stories of little interest to the wider world. (Lippi-Green, 109) She tells how people are viewed through their language, therefore would most likely be a supporter of bilingual education as well.

Richard Rodriguez and Johanna Vega are both living in a conformist society yet have assimilated differently. Rodriguez, as a conformist, gained all aspects of the host culture, where as Vega, as a cultural pluralist, supports the difference between cultures. Rodriguez, Shumway, Robbins, and Catto all agree that immersion is the best way to learn English as opposed to bilingual education, which they do not support. Vega, Torres, Marina, Lippi-Green, and the American Linguistic Society support bilingual education and feel that is the best way to learn English. I personally agree with both groups to an extent, I feel that English should not be the official language of the United States; However, I feel that immigrants should learn English. Rodriguez is not very typical of other Latinos, such as Vega. Vega s actions and beliefs, compared to Rodriguez, show her to still be considered somewhat of a stranger in American society even after assimilating. The adjustment from stranger to neighbor may be viewed as movement along the continuum; but this continuum is not cyclical, and assimilation is not inevitable. Rather it is the process of social interaction among different groups of people. (Parillo, 8) Richard Rodriguez and Johanna Vega are two examples of how people with the same social externalities react differently to the issue of assimilation into the American culture.

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