July 4, 1999

...And That's My Opinion©

By Sandy Goldman

The Rogers Park Community Curmudgeon

Learn or Burn!

"Well, if that isn't something!" said my friend Hing.

I've known Hing for several years. He owns a chain of retail dry cleaning stores with a prosperous wholesale business also. Hing is a good, stable citizen, active in his community. Hing is Korean.

During the Korean War when he was a young boy he was, as he describes it, a hustler. He would run errands for the G.I.'s. You know ¾ coffee, drugs and dames. His agility in getting in and out of army camps was both baffling and amazing. Sometime between then and the time I met him, he came to America. He never told me when or how.

In Korea he learned a few English words ¾ "Papa-San, Mama-San, Boss Man, and American dollar." His vocabulary was also par-excellence in profanity proficiency.

"So what are you so excited about?", I asked.

"This", he said, holding back his proficiency. "Some organization in Edgewater wants to provide, at every meeting, an electronic translation system similar to that at the United Nations - and they are getting a $40,000 grant from the State of Illinois. Can you imagine?"

"Well," I said, "it's a way to make sure that all people are informed."

"No," Hing responded, "It's a way to influence their lives; it's a way to tell them what to think; it's a way to get their vote. It's a way to corral bodies for public meetings to express the organizations' views and to push them into public demonstrations."

"Don't you see?" he continued, "It's like when I was a go-fer for the G.I.s, if one of them spoke Korean, I believed everything he said ¾ until I figured out that just because it was bigger, a nickel was not worth more than a dime."

"Isn't that a little hard?" I responded.

"No! No! No! It only makes it easier for people not to learn English. You cannot get ahead in America if you cannot speak and understand English! When I came to America, I soon learned a new word ¾ job. I also learned that the connection between this new word and the word I knew ¾ dollars, was English. You cannot walk over the bridge without it."

"Here's what it's about", he continued never losing his breath, "Do you want to wash dishes at some Oriental Restaurant on Argyle, or do you want to eat at some Oriental Restaurant on Argyle? Do you want to peddle ice cream or do you want to manufacture ice cream? Do you want to wash windows or make windows? Do you want to clean houses in the suburbs or do you want to live in a house in the suburbs?"

"But", I interrupted, "This may help them learn English."

"No, Sandy", he responded, "you're listening but not hearing. It will only help those who know the language. It will deter those who do not. Like so many other bi-lingual programs, it will make it too easy to maintain the status quo. There are many programs in the public school for foreign speaking immigrants to learn English ¾ and in many cases they have teenage children who can help them. At a cost of up to $125,000 per translator system, it would be better to set up learning centers to 'teach the people how to fish' as the proverb goes."

"But it's not easy", I said.

"You're right, but it's the only way ¾ if people are to be free to chase the great American dream; to win or fail on their own, unencumbered by the translations of others whose motives may be suspect."

"But there are hundreds of different languages. America is the great melting pot!" I said.

"Yes, but if you're too close to the bottom of that melting pot, for too long, you'll get burned!", said my friend Hing.

...And that's my opinion.

And I'm Sandy Goldman

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