Immigrants learning English: Not so fast

October 22, 2008

Economics fans, pay attention:  Immigrants tend not to learn English when they move to America.  Moreover, they do well without it.

Greg Laden’s got a nice write up of a study on immigrants learning English.  I especially liked this story:

I once met … at a centenary celebration of some kind … the grandchild of a man who moved as a teenager from the old country to southern Wisconsin, ahead of his family, to learn the local customs, farming techniques, and language. After a few years in a small town in Wisconsin, his family arrived to start farming. The young man had indeed learned the local practices, the local farming techniques, and the local language. German. His family, arab speakers from Palestine, were well served by this young man because German was all they needed to get along in the US.

Not what the “English only” crowd wants to hear.

Here’s the citation on the study Greg Laden wrote about:

M. E. Wilkerson, J. Salmons (2008). “GOOD OLD IMMIGRANTS OF YESTERYEAR,” WHO DIDN’T LEARN ENGLISH: GERMANS IN WISCONSIN American Speech, 83 (3), 259-283 DOI: 10.1215/00031283-2008-020 [you’ll need a paid subscription for the full text]


Fixing personal history

October 22, 2008

You know how you think about things in history, about your view of things, and then come to realize that how you had been thinking about them, it couldn’t have happened that way?

I just came to the realization that my father couldn’t have been working on Liberty Ships during World War II, I don’t think.  He was north of Los Angeles, in the Bay Area during World War II.  His plumbing and pipefitting would have had to have been in the 1930s.

Who is left alive to tell?  Another case of “I wish he’d written it down,” and “I shoulda got the tape recorder and wired myself up to ask those questions.”

(Here’s where we discover my older siblings don’t read this blog, as we’ve suspected all along.)


Dad the Mechanic, vs. Joe the Plumber

October 22, 2008

Ms. Cornelius at A Shrewdness of Apes nails things down again. Tip of the old scrub brush, with extra bubbles, to JD2718.

My father tended to vote Republican, too.  For the first nine years of my life he remained a small business owner, in Burley, Idaho.  When the workers at J. R. Simplot went out on strike one November (1961 as I recall, but I was a child), it doomed several furniture stores in and around Cassia County, and my parents’ was just one.  For the rest of my life my father worked for other people, until he retired.

Still he voted Republican.  He even had a union card, from the old plumbers and pipefitters union in Los Angeles, from when he worked on Liberty Ships during World War II.  I never could figure it.

I do recall the stern lecture I got when I went to the Democrats’ mass meeting my first election, and then when I got elected as a delegate for McGovern and — the only one in my town, as I recall — I put up the McGovern bumpersticker (McGovern finished third in parts of Utah County, behind the American Party candidate).  My father told me that no one in the family had ever voted Democratic before.

It was a great comic scene, somthing right out of Woody Allen.  My father lecturing me about how voting Republican was rather a family duty, with my mother behind him shaking her head “no,” and mouthing “Don’t believe him.  Not true.  No.”

The only president I ever smuggled him in to see was Jimmy Carter.  Carter showed up in Salt Lake City, and spoke in the Latter-day Saints’ Tabernacle on Temple Square, as I recall.  I wangled the tickets, got Dad there and sat with him.  Better than Christmas.  Almost as good as when we watched Henry Mancini from nearly the same seats.

I don’t really know how my father would vote in this election, though.  He was nervous about the civil rights campaigns, about Martin Luther King, Jr.  He’d tell the stories about why he had problems with unions, about how the unions kept him from promoting African Americans he’d hire at United Cigar Stores in Los Angeles (before the Liberty Ship gig).  And he’d say that he wouldn’t have any problem voting for a black man who had a history of accomplishment in areas outside of civil rights, too.   He said he could vote for a black man from Harvard, someone who had the educational background of Kennedy, though he voted for Nixon against Kennedy (and Nixon twice more). Barack Obama might be the guy my father would have voted for.

Life sometimes imitates Thomas Kuhn’s observations about scientific revolutions.  Sometimes the children have to go vote the interests of the parents, especially when the parents don’t, or won’t.

My father voted against Lyndon Johnson, too — twice.  Johnson’s reforms of Social Security, designed to keep American senior citizens out of the county poor houses, kept my father out of poverty after he finally retired (at 75?  77?).  The Republican businessmen he’d put his faith in managed to squander the pension funds he might have had, or cheat him out of the share of the business that would have kept him from having to rely on Social Security.  My father put his faith in Republicans, but Lyndon Johnson rescued him.

I don’t know this “Joe the plumber.”  I knew my father, the former plumber and pipefitter, the erstwhile small business owner, the man who worked from the time he was 14 to help his family get enough education to get out of poverty, first his sisters in college, then his own family.  He never made enough to benefit from tax cuts for the rich.  My father was real, and deserved better.

Go read Mrs. Cornelius’s story.


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