Monday, April 25, 2005

The Language of Latino-Angeleno Politics

The LA Times looks at Villaraigosa's linguistic skills over his political career - and the slow evolution of intra-Latino reaction to Latino candidates with poor Spanish language skills.

Though I'm not Villaraigosa supporter, I would definitely stick up for anyone who chose to slam him for poor Spanish skills. The "real Latino" syndrome is a fairly destructive force. Villaraigosa, for his part, is making his occasional grammatical errors (hey, I was never great at the subjunctive voice either) into fodder for self-deprecating humor: a humbling, very savvy tactic that the article notes also works well for George Bush.

Villaraigosa, for his part, offers this absolute truism:

"If I could speak Korean, Mandarin, Armenian and Farsi and there were cameras representing those stations, I would speak in those languages as well," he said.
Also smart.

Language and cultural identity are thorny issues in Los Angeles politics and in California generally. During Arnold Schwarzenegger's bid for governor, his accent (Culeeeofrornia) was frequently mocked - which should bother you if you consider the guaranteed backlash against anyone mocking a Spanish or Chinese accent. Mocking Schwarzenegger is fun and easy enough to do on substantive grounds. Making fun of his second language, however . . . . The same, however, goes for intra-Latino community condemnation of Spanish language deficiency in candidates. It's both hypocritical and another example of an interest group eating its young.

It's a Catch-22 for Latinas like me who grew up in multi-cultural, English (with healthy doses of Italian) language homes. What's in my blood is in my blood - but what comes out of my mouth won't ever be from-infancy Spanish. It will always have been learned later in life, which to some, will never be good enough.

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