Foreign languages, jus sanguinis and American xenophobia

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While American society claims to be proud of its multicultural heritage, in reality it probably unnerves many Americans. Donald Trump’s rise as the 45th United States president certainly highlights this clear inability to accept America’s multicultural heritage and globalization. While nations like Japan and Germany are making successful strides to welcome cultural exchanges and educational sponsorships for other nation’s citizens, America has certainly regressed compared to the rest of the world. I found this especially clear when I recently began exploring my Filipino heritage by learning one of its national languages, Tagalog. Despite California’s strong proclamation that it is an inclusive state with possibly the highest concentration of immigrants besides New York, questions about my nativity seemed to be at the forefront of people’s minds once I identified that I was a Filipino-American.

Questions like, “Were you born here?” or “Were your parents born here?” seemed to come from people of all ages and backgrounds. Perhaps these nativity-oriented questions further prove the validity of foreign language professor John Rassias’s criticism that America’s educational system likens foreign language learning to a chore, instead of something that is not only challenging but exciting to learn about. In this way, it is somewhat understandable why people are inclined to ask these nativity-oriented questions. If a majority of Americans plan to work and live in America in the future, the importance of knowing a foreign language is irrelevant. In fact, for those who do seriously pursue learning a foreign language, these nativity-oriented questions reflect an ingrained apprehension against foreigners. This is despite a U.S. Census Bureau study finding that 17.3 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 44 were foreign-born in 2014, out of the total 115 million Americans aged between 18 and 44.

When this statistic is juxtaposed with this country’s citizenship policy that claims any child born, regardless of the birth location, by an American parent is automatically an American citizen, this blurs the line of what being a foreigner implies. The Philippines and Germany likewise follow this concept known as jus sanguinis, citizenship through birthright. This further brings into question what the ramifications of dual citizenship and the acquiring of a foreign language are in relation to America’s apparent xenophobia. This is already evident based off of statistics such as how only 40 percent of Americans have college degrees and how pre-K to 12 textbooks are infamously racist and historically inaccurate. This means that roughly 129 million out of the estimated 324 million Americans are raised to not have a multicultural understanding of their country. In other words, our American educational system has certainly failed to prepare and prevent us from phrasing our language as borderline or literally xenophobic.

In an increasingly globalized society, the identification of one’s nativity should not be a factor in determining how connected or culturally perceptive one is to their racial heritage. In fact, perhaps Americans should try to adopt Sheikha Al Mayassa’s perspective on multiculturalism instead, where she was “changing (her) culture from within but at the same time (she was) reconnecting with (her) traditions” through the globalization of Qatar via the arts. Instead of seeing “nativity” as a sort of “authenticity” qualifier that bars individuals from learning about other cultures, just like how a German person might immerse themselves in French culture. “Were you born here?” questions turn into borders that are contradictory to society’s increasing move toward becoming globalized. It is quite sad that learning different languages and cultures are immediately associated with needing to be validated by nativity, instead of genuine curiosity that is untainted by anti-immigrant overtones which subconsciously exist in many Americans’ minds.

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