Xenophobia strikes deep.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump criticizes rival Jeb Bush for speaking Spanish during a campaign event. Energy Secretary wannabee Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor who was almost the proverbial heartbeat away from the presidency, agrees and says immigrants should speak “American.”
And Gov. Bobby Jindal continues his crusade against “hyphenated Americans” with his wild charge that “immigration without assimilation is invasion.”
But there’s something different going on in New Orleans. Monday is being billed as Spanish Heritage Day. There will be a three-hour session that afternoon at the Old U.S. Mint examining the influences of Spain and its colonies on New Orleans and Louisiana.
Of course, for four decades, Louisiana was one of those colonies, ceded to Spain by France as a result of a peace treaty.
That was a formative time for the culture of Louisiana.
It was during the period of Spanish rule that Acadians settled here, welcomed by the colony’s leaders.
The character of the French Quarter was largely set during the Spanish era since it had to be mostly rebuilt after a huge fire. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, the Cabildo and the Presbytère all were built when Spain was in charge.
It’s also the period when the Isleños, former residents of the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, were brought to Louisiana. Their descendants are a major component of the population in St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes.
Louisiana and New Orleans abound with signs of the Spanish presence. We have Iberia Parish and the city of New Iberia. There’s a Desoto Street in New Orleans as well as many named after former Spanish governors — Ulloa, Gayoso, Salcedo and Galvez.
French Quarter tourists can’t miss the signs that say what a street was called during the time Spain ruled the city.
The campaign against other languages and the supposed refusal to assimilate is just silly. Every new wave of immigrants throughout the history of the United States has made an effort to fit in.
Many Louisiana residents of Italian descent will tell you that it was common for the children of immigrants to learn English even while older generations clung to their mother tongue. Often, older members of the family would say things in Italian that they didn’t want the younger ones to understand, since the younger generations knew only English.
The Internet has connected us to the world, and I’m often surprised at how many people in other countries I come across who also know English.
For some, it is awkward and broken; others communicate in “American” much better than many Americans I know.
English is the world’s lingua franca (I assume it’s OK to use a foreign term to describe the primacy of English). There are good reasons for people to learn it, and they will.
Monday’s commemoration, beginning at 1 p.m., isn’t the only recent event noting the contributions of Spanish-speaking people to Louisiana.
On the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a street party called “Gracias Latinos” was held to mark the role Latino workers played in the rebuilding of New Orleans.
Many of those workers and their families have stayed in the city, leaving their mark on its culture.
Spanish Heritage Day is being held on a significant anniversary, that of the 1779 Battle of Baton Rouge. Then, Bernardo de Gálvez, who was both a colonial administrator and a military leader, defeated the British in a skirmish that was part of the Revolutionary War.
Beating the British military on New World soil — what could be more American than that?
Dennis Persica’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.