Listening to WWOZ, our hometown "indigenous music" public radio outlet while cutting the grass and tending to other yard work this morning, I enjoyed dancing the lawn mower and curb edger through the tail end of the Traditional New Orleans Jazz show, followed by the Irish themed, Music From The Glen, and the start of the Latin based, Tiene Sabor.
We have always been a port city to beat the band. In fact, this whole country has been a great safe harbor in the storm for wave after wave of immigrants. We should be awash in a multitude of languages, but we never quite picked-up on the chance to get the lingo. Mind you, I really do not believe this arose so much from some sort of oppressively suffocating jingoism, imposed by the already established citizen base, as from the determination by the newly arrived to insist their children shed the old country markers, especially the language, and adopt that of the dominant culture. Who could blame them? Assimilation on all fronts was the ticket to upward mobility. Yet, I can't help thinking, "What a shame!"
My maternal grandmother, Eva Bielenberg, managed to retain some German; I have none. My paternal grandmother was English; oh, well, you might say, but I did manage to learn American. And too well do I know that that is not nearly the same as the rich inheritance of a completely distinct intellectual and cultural legacy. I studied Spanish for two years in secondary school, and two semesters in college. But today I have very, very little Spanish. Absent complete immersion or at least a daily dip in or dousing by a new language, becoming fluent in it is very hard woik. As you can see, though, I have a natural affinity for the pleasures of diverse linguistic patterns, as reflected by my undying affection for the Irish Channel neighborhood dialect of my New Orleans roots.
Today, the rising world is coming up and coming at us in the music of many tongues. And while I believe we have been tone deaf for far too long, this should in no way be taken as some sort of hard boiled criticism of this great country. Hardly. I am, in fact, rather hard core red, white, and blue for a raft of reasons, parochial and general. Some of which I would bet my life even our most hard bitten critics would have to bow to. Here I have in mind the fact that this great land of freedom and liberty and fealty to the principle of individual human dignity sacrificed mightily and successfully fought like hell to rescue the world from the scourge of Nazism, Imperialism, and Communism during most of the last century. If it does nothing else worthy of praise in the course of human events, that alone will stand through the ages as testament to a great people.
I believe that the last century indeed deserves the title, "American century." Our energy enlivened almost every crucial area of human societal organization; it was clearly dominant, and, for the most part, undeniably admirable. You can hear it to this day in the American songbook of great standards from the 1940s and 50s, feast on it from the most bountiful tables agriculture has ever produced, and take heart that despotism and tyranny of every form will one day be chased from the face of the earth, as our imperfect but consistently freedom loving voice chastises and challenges both the dauntingly powerful dictatorial regimes in places like China and Russia, as well as the tin-pot potentates of a lesser order.
I also believe we can and will be a light unto the world in the century now unfolding. Two friends I have made while building the new Algiers Regional Library during the last eight months are Ricardo and Carlos, a painter and carpenter, respectively. They are de Honduras. And they have been graciously indulging my rudimentary Espanol, while generously endeavouring to assist me in acquiring a stronger facility. They both are pretty damn proficient in English, and they are determined to pass both Spanish and English on to their children. To which I say, "Salute!"
These sentiments are those of a committed labor advocate. The plutocratic, profit seeking, greed driven approach to the globalization of economic affairs has undermined unions and working standards in this country, as well as driven many desperately poor and dislocated "third world" people to illegally find a way here. The immigrant, legal or illegal, is not your enemy. He and she are you and me, only differently situated. It is up to us to come together to overcome our common enemy. And to tell the truth, in whatever language I can get it across to you, the first enemy is bigoted ignorance.