Sunday, July 06, 2008

Proof Louisiana has the worst schools in the state

You have to admit, it's a solid plan.

Foreigners arrive in America, settle in and eventually sire children. While the parents acclimate to the U.S. through trial, error and pluck, the children grow up in a thoroughly American culture, go to American schools and have American friends. At home, the family imparts the significance of their native culture. After 18 years of such indoctrination, the kids reach the top of their class. During their graduation speech, the kids speak of all-American values, but then reveal their secret anti-U.S. agenda in the form of code words indecipherable to all but those with a common pocket translator (or ears to hear the immediate translation). Spurred by the children's secret words, the local foreign cabal gets to work UNDERMINING THE VERY FABRIC OF AMERICA AS WE KNOW IT!!!

Scary stuff. And guess what, Louisiana? It's happening right in your backyard!

Cindy Vo, a Vietnamese-American student at Ellender High School in Houma, was co-valedictorian of her graduating class. Near the end of her address on May 19, the American-born Vo offered a piece of advice in Vietnamese dialect, dedicating it to her parents. According to, she said, "Co len minh khong bang ai, co suon khong ai bang minh," which she translated to mean, "Be your own person." Her cousin, co-valedictorian Hue Vo, also spoke partially in Vietnamese. The girls said their respective parents, who are from south Vietnam, don't speak fluent English.

For centuries, Louisiana has been known for its multicultural heritage. The state is known for the vast tapestry that is New Orleans, Cajun and Creole cultures, one of the most diverse populations in the U.S. and, among many other touchstones, the first Indian-American governor in history.

On the other hand, Louisiana is also known for its massive reserve of narrow-mindedness and far-right politics (hence, the aforementioned governor). And true to form, such idiocy reared its ignorant head in public furor over Vo's address. Now officials in Terrebonne Parish are considering banning all foreign language in commencement speeches:

Board member Rickie Pitre supports English as the only language at graduations. If a message is spoken in another language, it should be phrased in English first and then paraphrased in translation.

"I don't like them addressing in a foreign language," Pitre said. "They should be in English."

And to think I tell people I'm from this state.

Come on, citizenry! Back me up on this. Surely you aren't all ignorant, xenophobic, hypocritical and factually challenged, right?

Welcome to America, Now Speak ENGLISH! My grandparents spoke French fluently as children and were forced to speak English in school, so why is this an issue for today's immigrants? English is the national language and therefore as Americans we should not have to conform to every immigrants language or culture because we may infringe on their civil liberties. Furthermore, there should be a law banning bill boards printed in any language other than the English language.

(Sigh) Take two. Come on, citizenry! Back me up on this. Surely you aren't all ignorant, xenophobic, hypocritical and factually challenged, right?

A common language isn't the problem the problem is with the school boards going beyond there elected duty. Maybe if they would concern themselves with the students who are failing and the teachers who are failing the students instead of the valedictorian of the class then Louisiana wouldn't have the worst schools in the state. [Emphasis mine]

Good point, bad grammar. But it'll do for now.

As some readers on both sites have noted, there are certain fallacies and hypocrisies in what the board seems intent to do. Lots, actually. Some of the board members may have to go back to school so they can count that high.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume the critics object to other languages on the grounds that they don't belong in U.S. discourse. A controversial stance, I know. But don't they know that English itself is derived from a variety of languages, including (and especially) Latin, a language often spoken at commencements and Catholic masses alike? Or that the vernacular we speak today has co-opted a variety of words from other languages, such as "souvenir," "amigo" and "banana?" As one of my professors so succinctly put it years ago, "English is a whore." In addition to that whore, high school students across Louisiana are required to flirt with at least one foreign language to graduate. In an increasingly global society, that actually seems insufficient.

The above points are unfortunately relevant anywhere, as the world grows increasingly afraid of its neighbors. But the fact that this happened in south Louisiana is as puzzling as it is sad.

Simply put, Cajuns should know better. I know Terrebonne Parish isn't exactly Acadiana, but they too are fully aware of the foremost lesson of the culture. To wit: schools attempted to suppress all French-speaking among children, along with other cultural traits, in the name of assimilation. Because of this, the Cajun culture nearly died outright. Go to any Cajun attraction such as Vermilionville or Acadian Village, and the guides will stress this with a passion rarely heard outside of a Barack Obama speech. And they're exactly right. But yet, these same people attack other cultures with dumbfounding zeal. As long as I live, I'll never understand how otherwise good people can be blind to such irony.

Always one to anticipate the worst-case scenario - I did, after all, support the Saints in December 2002 - I'll assume for a moment that the board does move to make English the only tongue for the cap and gown. Hell, let's say all of Louisiana adopts it, like they do with all of the best horrid ideas.

Whose dialect of English are they going to speak? In the Lafayette area alone, you can tell which of 300 small towns someone comes from by their first five words. Never mind Baton Rouge and New Orleans - when I was a kid, they were whole other planets, language-wise. Then there are people like myself, who have no accent, who are automatically assumed to be tourists (or worse, yuppies). Even Bobby Jindal sounds more like where he went to college than where he went to high school. Good luck with that one!

If the state must make English its official language, then at least make it a clear and concise version everyone can understand, even if they can't articulate it themselves. Something an educated person might speak, to show Louisiana cares about its schools. Perhaps a common tongue that speaks well of the individual and their willingness to participate as an active citizen in a world society. Someone like, I don't know, Cindy or Hue Vo?

(Hat tip to Oyster)


Maitri said...

They speak English in Terrebonne Parish? Is that what they call it?

rhonda said...

so, i guess if a deaf speaker wants to address a crowd, that speaker and any deaf audience members all have to just suck it up and go through the entire speech before getting the ASL version, right?

pudding-monkey said...

See, they might be talking about you in their crazy moon language! They might be saying bad things and you won't know! Then you'll look like an idiot!

I suspect this is at least half of the problem English-only advocates have with other languages. Because, you know, they're so important that everyone else must be talking about them.

Cana said...

Education is one of the most important thing for families, the country and the global society.
Respecting each other should be the key for multi-culture society.

Nick said...

Yes Maitri, they do speak English in Terrebonne Parish, and sometimes, they speak it better than the ebonics spoken in Orleans Parish.

GumboFilé said...

Is your caption (Proof Louisiana has the worst schools in the state) tongue-in-cheek, or additional proof?

David in Grand Coteau,
home of the worst schools in Grand Coteau

Ian McGibboney said...


It's from a quoted comment about halfway down the post.

Maitri said...

So, when is this Anglophile parish going to change its name to Good Earth?

GumboFilé said...

Sorry. I obviously didn't read the whole thing. It was long and had lots of words.

David in Louisiana

Ian McGibboney said...

Yeah, my mistake. I forgot no one has an attention span any -

Did I dry my clothes?

Michael said...

Oh noez! Our childrun might have to lurn another langwage in skool! What's the world coming to?

Criminy. By the time a kid graduates from high school in Europe, s/he speaks English and at least one other modern language other than the one s/he grew up speaking. Doesn't seem to hurt them any--and emulating their example would do us a world of good in my book.

Anonymous said...

Everyone has an accent. Even people who speak like the newscasters on the national news. And it's not the case that the standard dialect (the national news dialect) is any better linguistically than any of the 300 small town dialects you talked about.

Ian McGibboney said...

Someone's defensive.

What I mean is, no one knows where I'm from by how I talk. No one can guess either. And I'm not saying it's better, but it did make it hard for some people in my own hometown to accept me. And, yes, some accents do sound uneducated.

As this thread proves, language is not something that everyone can be told to emulate exactly. Even within English.

Anonymous said...

"I know Terrebonne Parish isn't exactly Acadiana, but they too are fully aware of the foremost lesson of the culture."

Actually, you don't know. Terrebonne Parish IS Acadiana. You need to go back and read House Concurrent Resolution #496 which states:

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the House of Representatives of the Legislature of Louisiana, the Senate thereof concurring that the Legislature of Louisiana designate the cultural region known as The Heart of Acadiana within the state of Louisiana consisting of, but not exclusively, the following parishes: Acadia, Avoyelles, Ascension, Assumption, Calcasieu, Cameron, Evangeline, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson, Davis, Lafayette, Lafourche, Pointe Coupee, St. Charles, St. James, St. John, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, Terrebonne, Vermilion, West Baton Rouge, and other parishes of similar cultural environment.

Ian McGibboney said...

Well, that's the first time I've ever heard that. It actually reinforces my point.