Retail and grocery stores during the holidays can get a little hectic. Everyone is trying to redeem their free turkey certificates, buying out cranberry sauce and stuffing mixes, and stocking up on after-dinner snacks or discounted holiday decorations. Normally, this is no big deal. I’ve learned to appreciate the quiet moments we get during the holidays at Giant downtown.
Only, this past week, I’ve noticed some strange things happening at work. The other day, someone randomly walked up to me and asked me if I had ever thought about how much money it costs to make the self-checkout machines be able to speak in Spanish.
As a matter of fact, I have. I took a linguistics course here at BU where we debated whether or not we should have English as our official language, for courts, official documents, and in the classroom. I learned all about the pros and cons of teaching different languages in our classrooms.
What disturbs me is that this person decided to come to me, a young woman working the self-checkout line at a grocery store, and ask me if I’ve thought about it and when I told him no, he proceeded to try and convince me that his racist ideals are correct.
While I understand that it costs money to hire interpreters, translators, and offer official documents and education in multiple languages, I can assure this man that my taxpayer dollars certainly wouldn’t go anywhere directly beneficial to me if they didn’t go there. I honestly don’t care if the government takes money from my paychecks to support other people’s right speak their own language. They deserve to speak whatever language it is they want to speak.
Our country is one of the most prominent countries in the world. It is also a country that doesn’t bother to teach their citizens to be bilingual. Imagine if we lived in a bilingual country for just a second – would it matter that our self-checkout machines could speak in English or Spanish? Would we appreciate that we had the option to click on whatever one was preferable to us?
If we refer to the whole “melting pot/salad bowl” debacle, our country was literally founded by immigrants. If we go even further back, Native Americans lived here first, and their native language most certainly wasn’t English. We’ve had people of various races and ethnicities populate our country for centuries – if that’s the case, when why shouldn’t we offer multiple languages in our checkout lines?
The exclusion of other languages is more than misguided. It ignores history. Rather than worry about what the government is “wasting your taxpayer dollars on,” why don’t you just step back and appreciate the fact that you do, in fact, live in a country where you can hit that little “English” button and carry on with your life?
We should be cultivating our country, not trying to place it in a square little box labeled “American English.”
Kristin is a junior English major and is the Op/Ed Assistant Editor for The Voice.