I heard on the news last night that an American citizen and her daughter were detained for 40 minutes by border patrol personnel while her papers were reviewed. The reason given for her apprehension: speaking Spanish. People have been speaking Spanish in what is now the United States for centuries—literally. The number of Spanish-speaking citizens of the United States is on the sharp rise. Other languages also spoken by United States residents number in the hundreds, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese and French being the leaders behind Spanish. According to a study done in 2014 by the Center for Immigration Studies,* one in five U.S. residents speaks a language other than English in the home. Why is Spanish so special, especially when this study puts the number of Spanish speakers at 38+ million? Spanish as a spoken language has become a political symbol for undocumented immigration. It’s doubly ironic and destructive because so many undocumented immigrants do NOT speak Spanish and do NOT come across our southern border. The criminalization of speaking Spanish as a symbol of recent immigration unfounded since the violent crime rate among immigrants is half that of the nation as a whole. It is also a grand symbolism of collective amnesia. How quickly we forget our roots. How many of us who speak English come from roots that did not? I would venture that most of us fall into that category.
A scapegoat is an innocent person or group of people onto whom the rest place their collective sense of guilt. It justifies violence against the innocent in the name of the larger good. However, in an exhaustive study of the phenomenon of scapegoating, Rene Girard◊ shows how scapegoating never really works in the end. When the collective conscience is finally assuaged very often the victim gets deified instead. And so, the pendulum swings, from victim to god, back and forth, as successive unsuccessful oblations are made to the demon of the collective ego, leaving broken bodies and societies in its bloody footprints.
Spanish: my second native tongue—it more than hurts to see her made into the scapegoat du jour. To make the speakers of any language into scapegoats is a travesty of what it means to be human.
◊Girard’s, René, and GLS, G. The scapegoat. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.