Thanks to a VDARE.COM article I wrote several years ago, I was invited to appear in a documentary on the state of the English language in America.
In February 2002, in Spanish and the New Conquistadors, I pointed out that the growth of Spanish in the United States is frankly perceived by prominent Mexicans as a conquest.
As a result of this article, I was asked if I'd be willing to be interviewed for the projected Robert MacNeil documentary Do You Speak American? I agreed.
So, in March of 2003 I traveled by bus from my home somewhere in Mexico to Laredo, Texas, where I linked up with the production team. I was interviewed for the documentary and filmed crossing the bridge on foot. They put me up for the night in a nice riverside hotel and treated me to a few meals. It was the first time I'd ever been involved in anything like that, giving me a small glimpse of how a documentary is produced.
Do You Speak American? was released some two years later, in the beginning of 2005—about the time I was flying out to the Middle East with my National Guard unit.
After arriving to Iraq, I began to hear reports of the completed documentary. A fellow Guardsman actually told me he'd seen me in it, since it was aired on the Armed Forces Network. A friend in my hometown sent me DVDs of the 3-part documentary and its companion volume. So I watched the documentary and read the book for the first time, while in Iraq. [VDARE.COM patient shrug: Needless to say, we're not credited in the documentary, but, hey, we got Allan on, didn't we?]
Do You Speak American? narrated by Robert MacNeil, explores the contemporary state of American English. It is organized in the form of a cross-country journey, spanning the 3 DVDs: "Up North", "Down South" and "Out West". It's a sequel to The Story of English, also narrated by MacNeil, released in 1986.
Robert MacNeil begins from his native Nova Scotia, takes a bus to Maine, and from there travels by car, train, boat and plane across the Midwest, the South, to Texas and eventually to California and Seattle. At the end of the show, he is on a ferry on Puget Sound, heading to some undisclosed location.
A number of topics are discussed in the film: attitudes about American English, language change, dialects of American English and how they are perceived, Black American speech, Valley Girl and Surfer Dude speech—and the Spanish Question.
In Episode I, while visiting New York City, MacNeil encounters a Hispanic lady selling food on the street and discovers she has lived 19 years in the city and doesn't speak English.
In Episode II, Robert MacNeil arrives in Texas, and begins to discuss the influence of Spanish. That's the part in which I appear, crossing the bridge on foot, passing from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, to Laredo, Texas, U.S.A.
In the narration, MacNeil talks about the heavy border traffic and says that "It was so snarled up on the day we met Allan Wall that is was easier for him to park on the Mexican side and walk across to the U.S.A. " (The book says something similar.) [Transcript of Allan Wall Episode]
But that's not correct. I walked across the bridge because it was part of the show; I'd been instructed to do this, so they could film me walking across the bridge.
After all, I had previously crossed the border by bus, and linked up with the production team on the American side. Then I was told to walk back to the Mexican side, turn right around and walk back so I could be filmed.
Besides, it would have been impossible for me to have parked my car in Nuevo Laredo, since I left it hundreds of miles inside Mexico. When I travel to the border alone, as I do almost every month for my Texas Army National Guard drill, I nearly always take the bus.
Still, I felt my interview with MacNeil went well, and was represented fairly in the documentary and book. I spoke of the importance of English as our civic language and what should be done. Here is an excerpt from the book describing my interview:
"Allan Wall …said that living in Mexico had given him a different perspective on the inroads of Spanish in America. He recalled a Congress of the Spanish Language in Madrid in 2001. One of the speakers was Vicente Fox, the president of Mexico, who commented that Mexican immigrants who continue to speak Spanish in the United States are doing their patriotic duty to Mexico. [Text of speech, in Spanish.] Another speaker was Carlos Fuentes, perhaps the leading literary figure in Mexico. "He said that there is a silent reconquista of the United States. He didn't even limit it to the Southwest, as many do; he just said 'of the United States'."
I also pointed out what I believe must be done. This is how the book reported what I said:
"To prevent this, Wall wants immigration reduced, to give legal immigrants time to assimilate. He not only wants English made the official U.S. language, but wants all government business to be in English. If people don't understand English, they will be motivated to learn, he believes, because some Hispanics are 'impeded' from learning by U.S. government policies, such as the translation of documents, bilingual education, and bilingual election ballots. He sees American politicians pandering by speaking Spanish themselves to woo Hispanic voters—one of these being George W. Bush. Wall faulted Bush, as governor of Texas, for not taking action, like cutting off state funds, after the El Cenizo ordinance. [El Cenizo, a small town in south Texas, made Spanish its official language in 2001 and announced it would not permit the enforcement of federal immigration law]. He also noted that Bush, as president, was on record as opposing the English Language Amendment."
I pointed out that Mexico would not allow Americans to take over a Mexican town, make English the official language, and ban cooperation with Mexican immigration officials.
After my interview, Episode II ends with Robert MacNeil posing this question: "Does the large Hispanic immigration, legal and illegal, really threaten American English, or like immigrant groups before are Latinos merging into the mainstream?"
Episode III takes the show to California. The host interviews Patricia Lopez, VJ of the Mex 2 the Max program in LA. She boasts that "You can get by not speaking it [English] here in the States."[Transcript]
This is followed by an interview with linguist Carmen Fought. [Email] At first, Carmen talks about Chicano English as a dialect of American English. But suddenly the topic jumps to the question of Spanish supplanting English. Basically, this segment is designed to contradict what I said in Episode II.
Carmen Fought assures MacNeil that there is no need whatsoever to be concerned regarding Spanish as a threat to American English! Then Robert MacNeil assures the viewer that, "Like Carmen, other linguists believe Spanish is no more a threat to English than German or Italian, which once provoked similar fears."
This is accompanied by soothing, peaceful music, to put the viewer's mind at ease as the segment fades away.
Since Carmen Fought was interviewed in California (Episode III), and I had been interviewed previously in Texas (Episode II), I had no opportunity to respond to this. But now, here on VDARE.COM, I can.
Is "Do You Speak American?" correct in confidently assuring us that Spanish is no threat to American English? Is that really a foregone conclusion?
In speaking of previous German and Italian immigration, we are really talking about the Great Wave of Immigration, the Ellis Island Days, from the 1880s to the 1920s.
So in order for Spanish speakers to continue assimilating as did those famous immigrants of yore, then the conditions now must be similar to those of the Ellis Island days.
The problem is, they most assuredly are not.
A plethora of government services is provided in Spanish. Politicians of both parties fall over themselves to use Spanish campaign advertising. This encourages the growth of an electorate divided by language. For a concrete example, read my description of how campaign ads for a Texas gubernatorial candidate presented two quite different political platforms—one in English and one in Spanish.
The very existence of an official ethnic category called "Hispanic" further hinders assimilation. It encourages even white Hispanics to identify as Hispanic rather than as mainstream Americans. The Germans and Italians didn't have separate categories to be subsumed under.
If today's Open Borders supporters have their way, immigration will never be reduced. Rather, it will increase indefinitely.
These are all significant factors that differentiate today's immigration from that of the Ellis Island days. Yet they are all completely ignored in Do You Speak American? Instead, we get happy talk about perpetual assimilation.
No, these are not the old Ellis Island days. And if we still think it's important that our countrymen "speak American", it behooves us to understand how things are different, why they are different—and what ought to be done about it.
American citizen Allan Wall (email him) resides in Mexico, with a legal permit issued him by the Mexican government. Allan recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq with the Texas Army National Guard. His VDARE.COM articles are archived here; his FRONTPAGEMAG.COM articles are archived here his "Dispatches from Iraq" are archived here his website is here.