Before she died, my Swedish grandmother observed that she thought people today were in some ways more racist than they had been when she first came to America. She blamed it on immigrants, but not on Americans.
She came to America in 1910 being the oldest of sixteen children because she
wanted to get away from the farm. At age 19, her first year here, she worked
in a boarding-house, got her citizenship and an american high school
equivalency. Though she always had an accent, she took great pains to speak
clearly and her spelling and written english was flawless.
She used to say "before the damn airplanes, you came to America and adopted
it. You cherished the old country, but this now was your country and you
learned how to be American and were proud to be one."
I've read sociologists who said the same thing as Grandma -- that people are
less interested in becoming american because they see their stay here as
only temporary; home is still their mother country.
Grandma said that as long as foreigners refused to learn english well they
would perpretrate racism, and they would only have themselves to blame. She
also said that people never treated her with prejudice because she pulled
her weight. She was very feisty up in to her eighties and loved fishing and
I remember shopping with her and she'd harass people in her funny sing-song
english about their inability to speak this beautiful language. She ran a
boarding-house herself on the docs once and was apparently a real tyrant;
only english was to be spoken at the dinner table.
She loved her country and taught me a lot of swedish when I was a child.
Last week, while I was unwinding an old-fashioned skein of yarn in to a
ball, I remembered how she'd taught me this when I was five. She also taught
me how to make yeast bread without recipes, and even though she never went
to college she was far more comfortable having a blind grand-daughter than
lots of well-educated american parents I saw later in life.
Fast forward now to my year after high school where I lived in Germany as an
exchange student. I worked very hard to learn German, and my friends and I
used to make fun of the american soldiers who never even tried.
Our problem with foreigners isn't their foreign-ness, but rather their
unwillingness to work on their english. As blind people we come in to
contact with more service personel, drivers, restaurant help, etc. and we
should be sure to praise anyone who is trying to learn. We should save our
scorn for the lazy ones who do not try. We should continue to insist that
people have good english skills, but we shouldn't treat them with prejudice
just because they were not born here.