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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Ernie Pyle on Spanish speaking Americans

I'm late to this by a few days, but apparently people on the right think there might be something unAmerican about Americans speaking or singing in Spanish. A reader at Digby raised a good question.

A reader writes in to ask:
Please tell us again why the Spanish translation of the National Anthem is making wingnut heads explode when they all but genuflect at the waving of the Confederate Rebel flag? Tell me please, which of these was meant to turn hearts to America, and which is meant to tear the country apart?
I don't know the answer to that. Apparently honoring the confederate flag is ok because it's a tribute to the heritage and culture of some Americans' forebears. But that's the only culture and heritage to which Americans are allowed to pay such tribute. The one that seceded from the United States and created its own country.
So I'm re-reading Ernie Pyle's Brave Men. I go through phrases where I break out all of Ernie Pyle's books and re-read them. He's got an incredible gift for words and imagery. And then I came upon some passages that he wrote during the Sicily campaign that are relevant to the debate today. So what does Ernie Pyle write?:
The bulk of the 120th  hailed from my adopted state of New Mexico. They were part of the old New Mexico outfit, most of which was lost on Bataan.  It was good to get back to those slow-talking, wise and easy people of the desert, and good to speak of places like Las Croces, Socorro, and Santa Rosa. snip The 120th was made up of Spanish Americans, Indians, straight New Mexicans, and a smattering of men from the East.
[There's a long section of names and addresses the way Pyle, an old time newspaper columnist would do]
The unit's losses from lines and shellfire were moderately heavy. Colonel Frantz estimated that half their work had been done under at least spasmodic shellfire, and at one time his engineers were eight and half miles out ahead of the infantry.
[More on the tough conditions and the Colonel living just like the men.]
A large percentage of the battalion spoke Spanish, and occasionally I heard some of the officers talking Spanish among themselves, just to keep in practice, I suppose. That New Mexico bunch missed more than anything, I believe, the Spanish dishes they were accustomed to back home.
[Any typos are mine and not Ernie's.] So why is the heritage of Spanish speaking Americans less desirable that that of the Confederacy? Beats the hell out of me.


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