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By Jessica Zang

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About this blog: I’m Jessica Zang, a Palo Alto-born, slightly cynical Gunn High School student who’s passionate about linking high school life to the bigger picture. What’s really going on in our high schools in Palo Alto? Everything a high ...  (More)

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Why I mind my own business

Uploaded: Oct 2, 2020
If something doesn’t harm other people or affect my life, it shouldn’t be any of my concern.

That’s my general rule of thumb when it comes to many of the issues that populate America today. I stay out of business that’s not mine, unless it hurts others. Why can’t we just let people live?

I, for one, have always been perplexed by those who demand that people change their mannerisms and habits simply because they are different, especially in terms of language. English is the language of the majority here, but to be American, you do not have to speak a certain language. In fact, our country prides itself on being culturally diverse; people from many different countries immigrate to America for new opportunities or a fresh start. Although a person may not be able to fully assimilate without knowing a language, I fail to see how any of that is of another person’s concern.

Everybody is entitled to speak another language in this country, and they are allowed to practice their culture without criticism—which in no way is forcing others to adopt it. If a person follows their own traditions in public, they are likely not expecting random passerby to observe and adhere to them. Pushing a certain culture on another person is another story, but I have yet to see this done forcibly. It’s also not so hard to grasp the fact that foreign cultures are extremely fascinating and will naturally increase in popularity over time. Such a diverse melting pot is what makes America unique, and I see no harm in keeping it that way.

I, for one, have never had to assimilate: I was born here and have never lived anywhere else. I cannot imagine how hard it must be to blend in with a strange, new culture: to learn its customs, traditions, quirks, and hardest of all, its language. I don't think that non-English speaking immigrants are willfully ignorant to the world around them. Everybody wants to belong, but it will take time for people to feel comfortable, to feel like they have a grasp on the ins and outs of American life. Assimilation does not happen in a split second.

Some people have left everything behind to seek new beginnings or provide for their children. Such a choice is not easily made, and everybody has their reasons for why they end up where they do. But somebody’s worth is not determined by their ability to adjust to their new world, nor is their failure to acclimate anything to criticize. Nobody is obligated to assimilate; yes, it may affect how easily they can interact with people here. Yes, it may mean that they will have trouble understanding the intricacies of American culture. But that issue is really nobody’s concern but their own.

Another example of my philosophy put to use arises when struggling populations are given extra aid and support because existing resources do not fit their needs. This can range from bridging language barriers to leveling academic disparities, where resources are allocated to those who need them most. Helping groups of people who need unique accommodations is an act of inclusion, and promotes a world where people can all achieve the same goals, some by utilizing specialized support. I may not need particular resources, but others might, and these seemingly insignificant stepping stones can help people relieve daily struggles. Some examples of inclusive additions may include gender neutral bathrooms, free tutoring resources, and translated pamphlets. Making our community and its features as accessible as possible is always good, and rarely poses even a minor inconvenience on those who do not need it for themselves. What’s not to love?

Maybe this mindset is also for my own sake: it’s exhausting to continually criticize people who live harmlessly in the ecosystem of our city. If I don’t understand why certain measures are put in place, it’s probably because I have not experienced the struggles of someone who needs them. If I can’t understand why a person made the choices they did, I might wonder about it and move on. It’s natural to pinpoint faults in others’ philosophies because they don’t align with my own, but without context and an entire life story, it’s simply not my place to judge.

This is the way I choose to live, yet I don’t expect anybody else to do the same; it's simply none of my business.
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Comments

 +   33 people like this
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on Oct 2, 2020 at 2:31 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

Any country you live in, you should learn to speak the language -- period. This is America. Learn English. Why? We shouldn't have to pay employees MORE money to be bi-lingual, just because someone doesn't speak the language. We shouldn't have to waste money to print things in several different languages. If my taxes are paying for other languages (DMV, etc.) it IS MY BUSINESS.

In your own home -- speak any language you want.


 +   25 people like this
Posted by Jessica Zang, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 2, 2020 at 2:43 pm

Jessica Zang is a registered user.

Hey Jennifer,

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog post.

Taxes are paid to benefit the good of the American people, including those who are learning a language or are not fluent in English yet. Allocating resources to make people's lives easier does not seem problematic, and a citizen pays taxes to the government not only to benefit their own situation, but to help advance the community as a whole. It's the social contract!

Anyways, most immigrants who come to America are learning to speak English. Nobody is saying that anybody simply sits at home and refuses to assimilate. But learning a language is hard and takes time. I'll be patient because I know how hard it is to learn a new language, even as a younger person.

As for paying a bilingual worker more money, extra skillsets always make people more qualified, especially in such a diverse community. However, I'm not completely learned about that subject so will not comment on it for now.

Thanks and have an amazing day!
Jessica :)


 +   12 people like this
Posted by Languages are important , a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Oct 2, 2020 at 3:32 pm

Languages are important is a registered user.

Jessica,
Thank you for the thoughtful post. Its lovely to see a young person think about issues and discuss them calmly and reasonably.

I would add something though. I think we should be learning more languages in general, not less. Yes, it might not be easy - but it will open up your world something wonderful.
Bilingual or multilingual people have a terrific skill; and it primes their brains to learn more languages.
Frankly, its really disappointing that we only have 2 immersion programs in our school district. Every elementary school should have one; and a foreign language should be introduced in elementary schools in 2-3 grade. Learning more about a different culture (and learning a language will automatically push you to do that) is a terrific opportunity for opening one's mind. We should do more of it, not less :)


 +   21 people like this
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on Oct 2, 2020 at 3:33 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

Some 32 percent of naturalized citizens, about 5 million, fall below "basic" skills in English, the equivalent of being functionally illiterate, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.

The report is a follow up to one that found 67 percent of immigrants in the United states for 15 years or more can't speak much English. Most immigrants are NOT learning to speak English.

Which means these immigrants are UNEMPLOYABLE, and my TAXES provide their living expenses. That's NOT what my taxes are for. If you come to a country, you have to have the skills to earn a living -- including speaking the language.

Jessica... with all due respect, you're not a taxpayer.


 +   19 people like this
Posted by Jessica Zang, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 2, 2020 at 3:58 pm

Jessica Zang is a registered user.

Hi you guys!

@Languages are important:

Yes, I completely agree! Learning a new language is really a beautiful way to become more educated about the culture, and if I had the skills for it, I would be learning them left and right!

@Jennifer:

Thank you for bringing this to my attention! I am grateful for the new information and agree that learning English is important in order to get a job here in America.

I believe I found the report you are citing: https://cis.org/Immigrant-Literacy-Self-Assessment-vs-Reality

Let me know if this is right or not! According to the study, 67% of Hispanic immigrants are below basic levels in their English literacy. However, the overall percentage of immigrants who are at below basic is 43%. I understand that 43% is still a high number, but using the statistic of 67% is simply wrong.

Also, immigrants who don't speak good English are not necessarily unemployable.

Here are some examples!

Restaurant staff
Construction
Painting
Flooring
Farm work
Factory work
Cleaning
Home childcare

I believe that while these may not be the most high-paying jobs, the money may just be enough for workers to get by.

Tax dollars are paid to further the development of an entire community, not only select people who can get by without assistance.

And you are correct that I am not a taxpayer, although I believe I am still entitled to my opinion nonetheless!

Take care!
Jessica


 +   13 people like this
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on Oct 2, 2020 at 4:27 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

Jessica... I think that's the report I was referring to. There are jobs where English isn't required, but if the boss or the person doing the hiring doesn't speak your language, you won't get hired. You have to be interviewed. And there are emergency situations where English might be required.

The main reason to learn English -- the ability to succeed.

Of course you're entitled to your opinion, and if you haven't already noticed... we always disagree!

Have a great weekend!


 +   26 people like this
Posted by Lee Forrest, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Oct 2, 2020 at 4:37 pm

Lee Forrest is a registered user.

> "...immigrants who don't speak good English are not necessarily unemployable.
> "Here are some examples!"

^ Examples noted...BUT a lack of English language proficiency will probably keep them relegated to the jobs you have cited.

While assimilation can be challenging and/or problematic for a first generation of newly arrived immigrants, there is absolutely NO EXCUSE for subsequent generations to stubbornly adhere or cling to this alibi...whether it involves language proficiency and/or a working/practical knowledge of American customs & courtesies.

Some recently arrived immigrants and their family members adapt more easily and faster to American culture than other ethnicities and this factor is definitely to their advantage as 'sticking out like a sore thumb' can sometimes lead to ostracization by the 'native' inhabitants.

Cultural diversity is all fine and dandy providing there is natural fusion.





 +   15 people like this
Posted by Jessica Zang, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 2, 2020 at 5:10 pm

Jessica Zang is a registered user.

Good afternoon!

@Jennifer: I agree with you on that: being proficient in English is incredibly beneficial in the job hunt. So there's at least one thing we agree on!

@Lee:

Thanks for reading. Excuse me for the question, but aren't second generation Americans also native inhabitants? Considering the fact that they have lived here and have gone to school here for their entire life, I'd find it difficult to believe that second generation Americans can't speak English. Any that can't would be an incredibly rare exception.

It's sad to think that a person can be ostracized by their community for sticking out and being culturally different. Hopefully we can do better.

Best,
Jessica


 +   12 people like this
Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 2, 2020 at 5:23 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

Another fantastic post, Jessica!

I am a conservative woman but with very strong libertarian views. In other words, if something is not exceptionally clear in the Constitution or dangerous to the public, then I don't think that we need to legislate it. If we are going to err, then I would rather err on the side of individual and collective liberty.

Of course, I am also an immigrant (from Mexico). I did have to assimilate in terms of language and some societal norms. However, I remained my own person. I never lost my identity despite becoming a part of this "great American melting pot."

I am me. I feel that I am an "American" down to my bone marrow -- despite living in this country since just before high school. The sad thing is when people (even online here in Palo Alto) will criticize me for not adhering to what they believe I should think, feel or vote.

It takes courage to not only bear one's own conscience but to not shrink back from the voices of those who try to shame you. I am glad that there are strong, wonderful and even younger voices who will never adhere to what society (even in this area) might expect of us.


 +   21 people like this
Posted by Lee Forrest, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Oct 3, 2020 at 7:52 am

Lee Forrest is a registered user.

>"...aren't second generation Americans also native inhabitants? Considering the fact that they have lived here and have gone to school here for their entire life, I'd find it difficult to believe that second generation Americans can't speak English. Any that can't would be an incredibly rare exception.

^ You are assuming that ALL second generation 'Americans' have established the residency & language proficiency criteria you cited.

Exceptions...(1) second generation Americans with dual citizenship via 'birth mothers' who come to the United States strictly for U.S. citizenship & benefit privileges (a racket of sorts), and (2) 'dreamers' who were born in America & return to their parent's homeland as children but then re-enter the U.S. later as adults.

This is also one of the reasons why the CA DMV handbook/test (along with a variety of county/state social service forms) are offered in a multitude of obscure languages and subsequently...why there are so many ESL employees hired to accommodate countless non-native speakers.

And those government-hired ESL employees often receive a 20 point 2nd language bonus on their civil service examination scores over those who speak only English but otherwise meet the job qualifications and required test scores.

In other words & with a minimum required test score of 70%, the ESL applicant can easily score a 90 & place higher on the job wait list...all because they are needed to accommodate a significant number of social service applicants & drivers who do not possess English proficiency skills.

Lastly, this inability to grasp or interpret subtle American colloquialisms and vernacular can also be problematic to those native-born' U.S. citizens who only speak English...in other words, 'a failure to communicate' effectively.

After all...it is not the duty nor responsibility of English-speaking American citizens to fully comprehend the language and/or cultures of every newly or recently arrived person to this country.




 +   5 people like this
Posted by Languages are important , a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Oct 3, 2020 at 8:05 am

Languages are important is a registered user.

Second generation not speaking English is extremely rare; and exclusively by choice. Mostly this is small and highly exclusive religious groups that limit outside world influences on their children - think Amish or Chasidim. And of course being closed groups they have jobs for people who do not speak English and pay taxes of course.
I pay taxes. Lots of taxes. And as everyone else I have my own priorities and preferences. I do not mind my tax dollars going towards helping new immigrants get integrated into US; in part because I know that immigration benefits my country tremendously. As for not being able to speak English and not be able to find jobs. Look at our FLOTUS (and my thoughts are with her and her husband for the fastest and easiest recovery). Her English is below levels that are considered standard for the citizenship test, but she does just fine. Many essential jobs out there do not require more then rudimentary levels of comprehension - yet these are the jobs that support our lives as well as of course pay taxes.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Languages are important , a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Oct 3, 2020 at 8:05 am

Languages are important is a registered user.

Second generation not speaking English is extremely rare; and exclusively by choice. Mostly this is small and highly exclusive religious groups that limit outside world influences on their children - think Amish or Chasidim. And of course being closed groups they have jobs for people who do not speak English and pay taxes of course.
I pay taxes. Lots of taxes. And as everyone else I have my own priorities and preferences. I do not mind my tax dollars going towards helping new immigrants get integrated into US; in part because I know that immigration benefits my country tremendously. As for not being able to speak English and not be able to find jobs. Look at our FLOTUS (and my thoughts are with her and her husband for the fastest and easiest recovery). Her English is below levels that are considered standard for the citizenship test, but she does just fine. Many essential jobs out there do not require more then rudimentary levels of comprehension - yet these are the jobs that support our lives as well as of course pay taxes.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Languages are important , a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Oct 3, 2020 at 8:29 am

Languages are important is a registered user.

Dear Lee - the two examples you cited are factually false. Children born in US do not need to be naturalized (therefore would not be part of statistics), and dreamers cannot leave the country and come back. They are not going to be part of statistics either .


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Lee Forrest, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Oct 3, 2020 at 9:33 am

Lee Forrest is a registered user.

> "Second generation not speaking English is extremely rare...think Amish or Chasidim."

^ The Amish speak Pennsylvania Dutch or German on the farm and at home. They converse with the 'outside world' in fluent English...necessary in order to conduct business. They are proficiently bi-lingual.

>"Children born in US do not need to be naturalized (therefore would not be part of statistics), and dreamers cannot leave the country and come back.

^ Being initially born in the United States & growing up in another country is not an assurance of English language proficiency upon return even though these individuals are technically American citizens.

Some DACA children do leave the United States to accompany their parents but face re-entry obstacles upon return.


 +   13 people like this
Posted by Jessica Zang, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 3, 2020 at 10:38 am

Jessica Zang is a registered user.

Hey Lee,

Good morning!

I see that you mentioned a few exceptions to my assumption, and I thank you for that.

First off, dreamers are typically born in a foreign country, so I think they would be categorized as first generation immigrants and not second generation.

Secondly, these circumstances you mentioned (especially considering the fact that the Amish often have a fluent proficiency in English) seem to be pretty rare exceptions, and therefore shouldn't be the subject of too much concern.

Anyways, I was always under the impression that people with more skillsets that allow them to serve more people would be favored in the hiring process (though perhaps 20 points is too large a margin). This isn't always pertaining to language, but I don't see why a bilingual person who can speak multiple languages and thus serve a wider range of people shouldn't be favored more than a person with a narrower range of service. Plus, being bilingual isn't restricted to certain people. If anybody wants that extra 20 points, they can learn a second language, just like bilingual people had to do (whether as children or adults).

And finally, I agree that it's not anyone's job to thoroughly comprehend another person's language or culture, but I see no harm in being understanding. I feel like while a person's "failure to communicate effectively" can be confusing to others, patience is key; it's important to cut people some slack as they are probably trying their best to be understood. If anybody happens to be impatient, that's okay too. I don't think this particular problem poses a huge hassle to them, as most people can speak enough English to get by in a brief conversation.

Take care!
Jessica


 +   12 people like this
Posted by Love For All, a resident of Charleston Meadows,
on Oct 3, 2020 at 12:26 pm

Love For All is a registered user.

Hi there, Jessica!

First off, extremely well written. You are truly talented.

I'd like to point out that everything you have written here is neither offensive nor derogatory. You provide a peaceful, considerate perspective, and I completely agree with what you have written.

And what's so wrong with minding your own business? I see comments on this post trying to tear down your perspective, but what is there to tear down? Kindness? Everyone's living their own lives, experiencing their own ups and downs, why not just let people live?

Thank you again for this blog post! :)


 +   15 people like this
Posted by Lee Forrest, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Oct 3, 2020 at 12:30 pm

Lee Forrest is a registered user.

Immigration & assimilation appear to be the key topics here...of which language is a key element.

Sinclair Lewis once wrote that the use of 'pigeon English' can be attributed to those individuals who have not mastered either their native tongue NOR the predominant language of their newly adopted country.

Thus we have various regional & cultural dialects such as Hawaiian 'pigeon', Ebonics, and hillbilly vernacular in addition to countless other examples of butchered English language including Cockney in the UK.

Personally speaking...I do not size up a another person's wisdom and/or knowledge based upon the manner in which they speak BUT butchered English can be a distraction & I imagine the same goes for American expatriates who cannot properly speak the native languages of their newly adopted countries



 +   4 people like this
Posted by Green Gables, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Oct 5, 2020 at 10:51 am

Green Gables is a registered user.

Our tax dollars also go to pay for immigrants who live in HUD sponsored living facilities whose adult children have very nice incomes from working in high tech. Many of those immigrants do not seem to have any interest in learning to speak English as I get spoken to in a loud voice because I do not understand what they are saying (as a volunteer).


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Lee Forrest, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Oct 5, 2020 at 11:15 am

Lee Forrest is a registered user.

> "Our tax dollars also go to pay for immigrants who live in HUD sponsored living facilities whose adult children have very nice incomes from working in high tech. Many of those immigrants do not seem to have any interest in learning to speak English.."

^ Curious...why don't the adult children with 'very nice incomes' from working in high tech take care of their own relatives providing they can afford to do so?

This 'free ride' loophole for immigrants is starting to get old...especially when/if there is no effort on their part to assimilate via learning the English language, adapt to American customs & courtesies + their well-to-do children working in high-tech & medicine are not willing to assume any of the key responsibilities.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Cut people a little slack as they try to learn., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 5, 2020 at 1:55 pm

Cut people a little slack as they try to learn. is a registered user.

English is a difficult language to learn. Even some people for whom it is a first language have trouble with it. Just look at our president. Why not give someone who is struggling to learn a second language some slack as well?


 +   5 people like this
Posted by A Midtown Parent, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 5, 2020 at 3:58 pm

A Midtown Parent is a registered user.

Very well written, Jessica!

I especially like the following that shows your idea of inclusion and tolerance instead of rushing to judgement.

"If I don't understand why certain measures are put in place, it's probably because I have not experienced the struggles of someone who needs them. If I can't understand why a person made the choices they did, I might wonder about it and move on. It's natural to pinpoint faults in others' philosophies because they don't align with my own, but without context and an entire life story, it's simply not my place to judge."


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Mike, a resident of Professorville,
on Oct 5, 2020 at 5:11 pm

Mike is a registered user.

Jessica,
1) I always enjoy your columns, probably because of the civil tone you use, including and especially in response to some respondents, who sometimes come across as condescending or rude.
2) I have on many occasions (playing pick-up soccer, volunteer tutoring, etc.) encountered people with sub-fluent but understandable English skills, and my first thought is: "wow, their English is so much better than I would be in speaking Spanish/Chinese/Russian/etc." -- and, as someone above pointed out, English is so much tougher to learn than almost any other language.
3) Warren Buffet (among others) points out that the biggest single reason for success in life (while not the only one) is winning the birth lottery: where and when and to whom you were born. The fact that native born Americans grow up naturally learning English, which is the most powerful language in world commerce, is just another aspect of winning the birth lottery.
4) I remember reading a while back of studies on assimilation that showed that recent immigrants are completely in line with virtually all previous immigrant waves in our country's history. (In the early 1900's, there were more German language newspapers in Philadelphia than English.) !st gens: not much English, 2nd dramatically more, and by 3rd gen virtually all
5) Speaking of our country's history, fun fact: the first American-born US president (Martin Van Buren) grew up speaking Dutch!


 +   31 people like this
Posted by Lee Forrest, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Oct 5, 2020 at 7:48 pm

Lee Forrest is a registered user.

>"Taxes are paid to benefit the good of the American people, including those who are learning a language or are not fluent in English yet."

^ Should these taxes also be applied to benefit those who are not American citizens (i.e. social services, DMV etc.)?



 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Daymarea Green, a resident of another community,
on Nov 13, 2020 at 9:57 am

Daymarea Green is a registered user.

@Jennifer

Good afternoon! I greatly understand your frustrations as you feel as though it's unnecessary to pay employees more to be bilingual using your tax dollars, but please be open-minded and hear me out. First, advocating for every American citizen or resident to speak English is helpful, but shouldn't be mandatory. Yes, the majority of Americans speak English, but the United States has no official language. Secondly, correct me if I'm wrong, but does it make your life that much harder trying to communicate with someone who speaks a different language than you? For example, I've never met a Hispanic that REFUSED to speak English. It's not easy to only speak a certain language your entire life and then have to assimilate and learn a new one as an adult, especially a language as difficult as English. In this situation, we BOTH use skills outside of language to communicate with each other as best as possible, with understanding, patience, and kindness. As Jessica stated, 43% of Hispanic immigrants are below basic in the English language, but they still speak English do they not? So basically you're saying that not only do you want them to speak English, but they should be absolutely fluent. I think that's unfair. Lastly, you mentioned that you shouldn't have to pay tax dollars for employees to be bilingual. Being it as though the United States was originally inhabited by indigenous people (Native Americans) then was taken over by settlers from all around the world, a variety of different languages are spoken here. Therefore, being able to speak multiple languages bridges the culture gap and acts as a way to be mindful and considerate of foreign customers, travelers, etc. Bilingual employees have a useful skill that can translate into increased revenue for the company, and as a result, they are compensated more. So really your frustration should be directed toward the companies and not the individual. Speaking another language not only helps the company or the place of employment by opening up the organization to a wider pool of consumers, but it also helps the individual as well. Being bilingual increases one's chances of being able to travel, seeking different job opportunities, and increases the likelihood to be hired. Similar to someone who has an Associate's degree in nursing vs an individual with a Bachelor's degree in nursing- who do you think is more likely to not only be hired, but also be compensated more? Is it unfair that the person who pursued a higher degree of education should be paid more? Does that not in a way make them more valuable and qualified?...just like someone who is bi or trilingual vs someone who speaks only one language. Money aside, there are also many cognitive reasons for learning another language, including executive function, improved memory, and the increased ability to concentrate. So, you're not just paying for someone who speaks another language, you're paying for someone who will bring in more revenue by being able to bridge the culture gap as well as an individual who is partly more cognitively advanced. Sources below



 +  Like this comment
Posted by Daymarea Green, a resident of another community,
on Nov 13, 2020 at 9:57 am

Daymarea Green is a registered user.

Web Link
Web Link
Web Link


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Daymarea Green, a resident of another community,
on Nov 13, 2020 at 10:13 am

Daymarea Green is a registered user.

@Jennifer

It'd also be pretty brainless to not print text such as newspapers, magazines, menus, etc in other languages due to the fact that the United States has more immigrants than any other country in the world. Immigrants account for 13.7% of the U.S. population (over 44 million people), so to do this would be vastly anti-immigrant.


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