Banks County Opinions...

JULY 23, 2003


By: Jana Adams Mitcham
The Banks County News
July 23, 2003

Language (and other) barriers
“Near la escuela, en la izquierda,” I said, while gesturing with big arm movements (as if that would make a difference) to show two Spanish speaking men seeking directions that they should drive straight ahead and keep going.
Meanwhile, my husband Zach spoke in a strangely stilted way, and loudly, with an unusual accent, as if he were from another country...somewhere. We laughed about it later, his new, odd speech.
But really, how frustrating to want to communicate but to be unable to, even on the most basic of matters, because of language barriers.
One morning last week, Zach and I stopped for coffee on our way to work. When I came out of the restaurant, I saw Zach talking to two men in a mini-van. He looked relieved when I walked over and he said, “We need some help with Spanish.”
Sadly, I wasn’t much help. I can remember the basics from my high school and college classes, but the frustrating thing about another language is, if you don’t use it, you pretty much lose it. Or at least on the surface, for quick reference, you lose it – now, what tense would that be, and is that an irregular verb or not? You can dredge it back up with practice and review, but when it comes to having a spontaneous conversation in the parking lot, it’s just not always readily available. At least not for me.
I’m still not really sure what the two men needed. They had a car title and I believe they had already been to the tag office — we were able to ascertain that they had been to the building “in front of el cemeterio” — but that’s about as far as we got. The driver showed us the car title and was referring to the signature lines, but we never were able to figure out exactly what his question was.
He finally asked if there were “no Mexicana” in the area, and we tried to direct them to the Mexican restaurant, thinking that maybe someone more fluent in both languages could help out. We watched the van as they drove away and generally felt defeated by the language barrier.
We had decided in June when we spent nearly a week in Mexico that we would brush up on our Spanish before we go back so we will be able to have more of a conversation with those around us. Now I’m wishing I could take some sort of refresher course for everyday use. I wish I could remember more.
I know that the general consensus is, if you are going to live in the United States, you need to learn to speak English. I generally agree with that, if for no other reason than what happened last week — difficulties and frustrations on all sides simply trying to conduct day-to-day business. But I also know that we are spoiled because most everywhere you go in the world, typically somebody will speak at least a little English. We haven’t had to learn another language.
And I also know that the world is not always divided into clear, black and white categories – the reasons for someone moving to the United States are not always the same as the reasons an American might have for being in a Spanish-speaking country (check out’s The New Frontier/La Nueva Frontera). The way the U.S. is being affected by NAFTA and a more bicultural, or multicultural, population cannot be ignored, especially as it crops up here, close to home.
It’s a complex issue and the language barrier can’t simply be attributed to a lack of willingness to learn. For starters, there are cultural differences at work and, beyond that, even if English as a second language classes are offered, those who might benefit from them first have to know that they are available. It’s a cyclical thing — if you don’t know the language, how do you find out about language classes?
When I attended one such class at the Nicholson library back in the spring (there are also classes held at the adult learning center in Jefferson), I was impressed with the students and their desire to learn. As I tried, with my very rudimentary grasp of their language, to follow along with the conversation in Spanish, I felt just the barest inkling of what it might be like to be living in a new country where your language was not well known. How difficult it would be. Simple transactions and what would ordinarily be easy business could take on overwhelming parameters.
“If ‘they’ are going to live here, they need to learn the language – nobody asked them to move here, and it’s not my responsibility” remains a common way of thinking. That may be so. It may not be your responsibility, but you will surely find yourself increasingly in a situation at your business or in your neighborhood or at your child’s school where it would benefit you to understand those around you. It makes some people angry, these language and cultural barriers and differences, but the fact remains, the world is changing dramatically. Our region is changing dramatically.
I like to be able to communicate. I’m frustrated otherwise. I remember the teacher for the ESL class at the Nicholson library had mentioned the possibility of a basic Spanish class for speakers of English. Might be a good idea. Otherwise you end up trying to give directions but only succeeding in a strange new way of talking and big arm gestures.
Jana Adams Mitcham is features editor of The Jackson Herald and a reporter for MainStreet Newspapers, Inc.
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By: Rochelle Beckstine
The Banks County News
July 23, 2003

Comments on same-sex marriages
Has there been a time when reality forced people to change their minds about what a word means?
Open your mind just for a moment.
Why does our government exist?
To protect and serve the people it was founded for. All of the people, equally, as it has been affirmed time and again.
Something else that has been affirmed to the point it is engraved, I’m sure, into even every second-grader’s mind taking U.S. History is the separation of church and state. This guarantees religious freedom to all people in the United States. The churches are quick to push legislators away and more recently the lawmakers are pushing religion away, forcing Alabama to remove the Ten Commandments from its state courthouse.
My point is this: even though the laws are based on Christian principles, the state is not religious. Any argument we make for or against a law or policy must be based on fact.
This said, last year, seven same-sex couples sued the state of Massachusetts claiming they were being discriminated against and denied equal protection under the state’s constitution because the state did not allow them to get a marriage license. A decision is expected any day.
The Massachusetts decision will come just weeks after the Supreme Court decision that invalidated a Texas law forbidding sodomy. The Court argued that the law violates personal liberty. Martha Minow, Harvard Law School, said the ruling is a “recognition that we must tolerate practices that are performed privately by free individuals who are consenting.” She believes the decision paves the way for an acceptance of same sex marriage.
Religious leaders are weighing in on the case arguing that marriage means the union of man and woman and if same-sex marriage is allowed, then the next step would be polygamy. And while I don’t think I would carry it that far, I do see their point. I looked marriage up 13 times on the Internet thanks to Many of the larger dictionaries (Oxford, Cambridge and Merrium-Webster) do define marriage rigidly as being between man and woman only. But I was very surprised that six of the 13 were not so rigid and also included same-sex marriage in their definitions, including The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language and the Wordsmyth English Dictionary-Thesaurus. They said marriage is “a union of man and woman as husband and wife,” but the second definition was “a close union of two people having the customary but not the legal force of marriage = same-sex marriage” (taken from The American Heritage Dictionary word for word). So while the religious leaders are right when they say their church does not recognize same-sex marriage, same-sex marriage is recognized in six out of 13 English dictionaries.
In my life, marriage is intertwined with church. And my church will be the last to approve of same-sex marriages. They would probably excommunicate me first. But I know many people who don’t feel the same way about church and marriage. And I am open minded enough to say that although religion is important to me, I don’t believe everyone has to have the same values and beliefs. Gay men and lesbians aren’t asking the Catholic Church to bless their union, they want the state to recognize their partnership for civil reasons, not religious ones. They want to file joint tax returns and add their partner to their health insurance policy. They want to be able to manage the care of their dying loved one whom they’ve lived with and loved for decades. It’s their life, not mine to decide. I know what the Bible says. I’ve read it. (I know it also says tolerance and understanding are worthy virtues.) But the church is separate from the state. The state needs to decide what it will allow without the church. Each religion can decide for itself whether to recognize same-sex unions and each citizen in the United States can form whatever judgments they like about the practice, but the state must decide if it is discriminatory to disallow same-sex partners the legal benefits marriage brings. Many countries have skirted the marriage issue and recognized same-sex relationships with a civil union status whereby partners share most of the benefits that marriage brings. Vermont has even done this and it seems like a sound option. Take the Old English term marriage out of the equation and maybe people won’t get so heated up about it. Who knows?
The Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage which will bring the issue to the forefront in the United States even if the Massachusetts decision doesn’t make many waves. Usually, couples who marry in Canada are also married in the United States. But whether same-sex marriages would also be recognized is a burning question on the minds of many across the nation. It will surely turn into a legal battle with the judicial system. Thirty-seven states, including Georgia, have passed laws prohibiting people of the same sex to marry or to have a civil union. Georgia has also ruled that it will not recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions that took place elsewhere. And some Massachusetts citizens want their legislators to end the controversy before the judicial system has its say, asking them to define marriage in the state laws as existing only between man and woman. That will close the book. Sure.
Rochelle Beckstine is a columnist for MainStreet Newspapers.
The Banks County News
Homer, Georgia
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