Friday, January 1, 2010

Press 1 For English, 2 For Spanish

 It seems every time I dial an 800 number, the first response from the automated voice asks if I want their menu in English or Spanish. It is such a frequent request that I press 1 before the recorded voice finishes its instructions.

This ritual doesn't annoy me. Not even close to the frustration of selecting the menu items in which invariably I press the number to speak to a live operator, which oftentimes is another automated voice.

Now, I recognize that automated phone trees save the company I am calling some administrative costs at the expense of old-fashion good PR. I also recognize it is good business.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports nearly 50 million within our diverse population is Hispanic -- about one in six among us.

Not only businesses, but our governments accommodate those who are uncomfortable reading and speaking English as a second language. In California, state and federal ballots are offered in more than a dozen languages.

I have never been an advocate of declaring English the official language of the United States. Until about 50 years ago, it was never a problem. Officially. If you migrated to the U.S. for permanent residency, you either learned English in your neighborhood, schools or from your children. If you didn't and still survived, more power to you.

Pat Buchanon, the conservative who launched two unsuccessful campaigns for president, has written and expressed on talk shows that no country in history has survived under dual or multiple languages. He may be right to some extent. The closest example I can think of is Canada which has experienced a rocky relationship between French Quebec and the rest of the English speaking provinces.

But why preferential treatment for Hispanics? I suppose we as a nation have grown more tolerant in the past half century and the pursuit of the almighty dollar reigns.

A CNN story in September sheds light on the Hispanic impact on our society.

The quickly expanding Latino population is having a healthy impact on the economy, according to Ken Gronbach, author of "The Age Curve: How to Profit from the Growing Demographic Trend."
"Latinos have saved our country," he said. "They represent 14 percent of the population but 25 percent of the live births. The United States is the only western industrialized nation with a fertility rate above the 2.2% replacement rate."

It is seen in housing.

They will also help to prop up the real-estate market once the economy begins to recover, according to Rakesh Kochhar, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center. During the housing boom, minorities closed much of the homeownership gap, although the bust has worked to widen that again.

And a windfall for Social Security.

Latinos and other minority workers contribute to keeping the Social Security system solvent, according to Monique Morrissey, an economist for the Economic Policy Institute. The undocumented workers among them often pay more into the Social Security pool than they will take out in benefits. Morrissey said estimates of deficits in the pool's finances were reduced last year when a Social Security advisory board's technical panel revised some unrealistically low assumptions it had made about Latino immigration.
"They took into account people without papers [paying into Social Security] but not accessing funds from there," she said. "That's bad for workers but very good for Social Security."

Living close to the Mexican border nearly all my life and where the Hispanic population is nearly a third of California's 33 million population today, the merging of the Latino and white cultures has its bumps but for the most part is like a duck takes to water. I know it from personal experience. I married a Latina.

Just as their predecessors from other cultures, second generation Latinos speak English. Being fluent in English and Spanish is an economic and sociological benefit.

Whether you move to Mexico, Germany or Japan, you are expected to learn their languages. No special favors offered.

Some of my extended Latino family and the homies I know for the most part are offended when you speak to them in terrible Spanish dialect. They are a proud people and some are grateful you at least try to communicate with them in their native tongues.

So why Press 2 for Spanish when it involves not one-sixth of our population but only a small percentage of that same group who resettled here?

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