There's an interesting post in Online Journal today: Speaking in Tongues. Tunku Varadarajan reports that the mayor of Los Angeles delivered a response to the State of the Union address in Spanish.
Why not a gay response? A Teamster response? A vegan response? A gangsta response? More nitty-grittily: Why not a response in Farsi or Korean--languages spoken by people toward whom Mr. Villaraigosa has no fewer mayoral duties than he does toward his Hispanophones? There is, also, a radical question from which there should be no glib escape: If response there must be from the mayor of Los Angeles, why not one in plain old English?
I'm generally cold to the argument that people have to be stamped out of a cookie-cutter to be American. I think he does have an argument that the Persian and Korean, not to mention non-Hispanic whitebread American, people in Los Angeles might wonder if he takes his responsibilities toward them seriously. I have wondered that myself, when our black mayor has gone on the black radio stations I hear at work urging voters to vote for black candidates so "our people don't lose the gains we've made". That would make me feel a lot funnier if I didn't know some white people who've called the mayor's action center about some problem or other and gotten immediate results.
I am a first-generation migrant to this country. I believe that in settling abroad, foreigners make a brutal contract with their land of adoption. They may speak their language, eat their food and practice their religion--but at home or by private arrangement. That is as far as I would go with multiculturalism. All else--including an insistence on a public affirmation of ethnic frills and fancies--cripples the process of integration.
Does this go too far? I enjoy the ethnic character of different parts of my city. Areas where the restaurant signs or church marquees are in Spanish or some Asian language I can't recognize. Nobody is telling me I can't act like an nth generation Scottish-descent white Southerner.
On the other hand, the distress being reported in the Muslim world over the Mohammed cartoons is evidence of a severe culture clash. We in the Western world are used to being offended by cartoons (among other things). Maybe we shouldn't put up with these things, but we do. We've made a more-or-less conscious decision to tolerate a whole lot of offensive garbage because our freedom of speech is extremely precious to us, and we haven't been able to work out a way to eliminate the garbage without encroaching on our liberty. One could say that if western Europe had not seen a huge influx of immigrants from North Africa and other Muslim areas, Mohammed wouldn't have been brought to their attention and their cartoons would be about something else; so that if people have got to keep their culture exactly like it is, perhaps they should stay at home. But that's not realistic today. I used to read about globalization all the time and I thought it was a meaningless buzz-word. But it's not, it's happening in the economy, on the internet, and in real life as people mix together in unprecedented numbers.
Maybe it would be good if cartoonists developed some restraint about drawing cartoons that are gratuitously offensive - not because of fear or censorship, but just to be civil. It would also be good if Muslim women who have immigrated to France or Denmark enjoyed the same personal freedoms that ethnic French and Danish women do. Culture-clashing could be a very positive thing. It will be interesting to see how all this plays out when the dust settles. I wonder if that will happen in my lifetime.