Friday, December 14, 2007

Rear Ended by Another Language

I'm driving North on the 101 Ventura Freeway. It's 5:10 pm. It's dark. The traffic is heavy . . . stop and go. A typical Wednesday night drive in overcrowded Los Angeles.

I cross the intersection where the 405 meets the 101. I travel about 1/2 mile and notice an ocean of red stop lights before me. I come to a stop safely behind a vehicle. I look into my rear view mirror, and I see the car behind me is coming full speed right at my car. It doesn't look the vehicle is going to stop. I brace myself for the impact. I place my foot on the brake to see if I can prevent my car from hitting the auto in front of me. At least I can spare myself some frontal damage as my car is about to absorb some heavy impact.

The collision occurs. I am hit hard. Metal crunching metal. I am so upset. I calm down after the impact. I am wearing a seat belt, and I'm in a Volvo. A winning combination for an LA guy from New Jersey.

I pull over to the shoulder of the road, hoping the other car will follow suit and not take off. It's LA . . . remember. The other vehicle, a Mercury van crosses the lanes to the right hand side of the road. I get out of my car and four Hispanic women exit the other vehicle.

None of them speak English. I've been rear ended by another language. This is one of those times when it would really help if we all spoke the same language. . . specifically the tongue of America . . . English . . . as a first language.

I knew I needed to get insurance information, the driver's California driver's license number, her phone number and license plate number. But for them not knowing English, this was going to be interesting and very frustrating.

I asked for the basics. Instead of responding to me, they spoke to each other trying to figure out what I was requesting. So I took over. I asked for the woman's purse and copied her driver's license info. She could not understand my request for her insurance company's name and policy number. The car's license plate was a no brainer.

But the experience was frustrating. For those in California who feel Hispanics do not need to learn English, here is a prime example of a situation where the lack of communication was a hindrance. When I spoke to the claims adjuster at Allstate the next day he asked me all kinds of questions I could not answer because I could not ask any of these women due to the language barrier.

Thank God her husband knew some English. While at the scene of the accident, she called him on her cell phone and we spoke. I was able to retrieve some more information despite his partially English accent.

He was also a very honest individual who called me the next day and gave me the rest of the information I needed.

So do people from other countries who come into the USA, need to learn English? Should a grasp of the English language be a requirement to become a U.S. citizen?

My response is predictable. My Jewish ancestors who came to America from Eastern Europe to escape whoever was persecuting them, thought learning English was a the greatest privilege. To these immigrants, the ability to speak the language of America was a cause for pride. For the one who spoke English could truly boast with pride, "I'm an American now!"

We've lost this sense of American dignity in the name of sensitivity and political correctness towards Latinos. Why are they getting a free pass? Why do English speaking people need to sidestep the reality that it is frustrating to have to communicate important information to people who can't understand a word we're saying.

English is the language of the United States. Spanish is the language of Mexico. If you are going to be a citizen of either country, one should be required to learn the native tongue.

if not, the next time you or I are rear ended, you might need some vital information that cannot be gained. What if the driver was hurt, needed medical attention and was allergic to some medications? Are the paramedics going to be required to speak Spanish to gain important medical data? Will they have to take an interpreter with them? What if there is a Hebrew speaking person who is injured or a Chinese individual? Will we need to bring an ambulance full of U.N. interpreters to accompany the paramedics every time they answer a 911 call?

Let's stop the political correctness rhetoric and not allow ourselves to be rear ended by another language.

1 comment:

kylie said...

Very well put! I couldn't agree with you more. I thought I'd let you know about an article I read in the newspaper yesterday. The LAPD has bought these instruments that look almost like a glorified palm pilot. These handheld machines have information stored on them so that if an officer arrests a non-English speaking indiviual, he can speak or type into the machine, and the machine will show him the translation into the language of choice. It was first used by soldiers overseas so they were able to ask citizens if they were hurt, need help, etc. Now our police have to have them to help with people in our neighborhoods. Our own police can't even arrest people without a translator. If you're not going to speak English and decide to commit a crime, the least you can do is understand "Put your hands in the air. You're under arrest."