The start of a new year is full of hopes and expectations. One of them for me is that there won’t be any incidents like this one. In a Sydney Morning Herald article by Kate Aubusson, we can read (and watch) all about it. You may say I’m a dreamer, quoting John Lennon, but I do hope some monolingual Australians will get a grip and realise they’re living in a multicultural country.

This SMH article has been shared countless times on social media, as well as by other news outlets online. I don’t want to add to the social media style ranting, but I would like to deconstruct the over-the-top reaction of the woman caught abusing young Natalie Soto on video.

The situation took place on a train carriage, on the way to Sydney CBD. Natalie Soto happened to be speaking to her mother in Spanish when she started getting verbally abused by a blonde woman, who said ‘get that dirty wog off the train, she’s giving me a headache’—the ‘dirty wog’ of course being Natalie for speaking in a language other than English. Fortunately, Natalie’s fellow passengers were quick to defend her, especially another young lady called Nicky Strong. The young man sitting next to Natalie also cheered her up, telling her that he thought Spanish was a beautiful language.

Race relations may be problematic. Even the expression ‘race relations’ is a misnomer, for what it refers to is intercultural relations. It seems to me quite obvious that the abuser hasn’t been exposed to the third most spoken language in the world—Spanish—because she referred to Natalie’s words as ‘ramblings’. It is quite surprising that in this day and age a middle-aged adult like this lady would refer to Spanish speech as ‘ramblings’, which brings in the issue of bigotry. The ugly issue of bigotry.

According to Dictionary.com, bigotry means:

  1. stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinionthat differs from one’s own.
  2. the actions, beliefs, prejudices, etc., of a bigot.

And the Dictionary.com definition of bigot is:

  1. a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion.

In this case it’s the foreign language that signifies that difference, which is implied in the dictionary definition. The blonde bigot is ultimately surprised when she hears Natalie speak English, which can be probably construed as a sign that her warped sense of superiority is challenged, if not shattered.

It has been my life experience that monolinguals in general feel confronted—whenever they discover that those whom they deem less worthy than themselves for apparently not speaking the language of the land—do actually speak it, as well as other language(s). I copped ridicule and scorn when I was living in Argentina whenever I spoke English to an English-speaking person in front of a Spanish-speaking monolingual. Since I moved to Australia, I had to endure “the stare” of some around me on the train when speaking English and Spanish in the same (or different) conversations.

I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if the blonde bigot and those like her felt a sense of inferiority and extreme self-consciousness for lacking foreign language skills. A subset of the like-minded population may even feel paranoid when they hear others speaking a language they don’t understand. It probably makes them feel ‘excluded’ in a twisted sort of way, or in danger, or something … However, in a multicultural country like Australia, citizens like the blonde bigot need to change their attitudes and get a grip—and pronto!

Keep calm and learn a foreign language.
A good thing to do to expand your horizons…

I believe that there should be more foreign language education in Australian schools. In order to achieve that, Australian schools need fully qualified foreign language teachers and well structured foreign language programs. Many Central and South American countries have had European foreign language courses in the school curriculum for decades. The result of that hasn’t been a multilingual population as such, but it isn’t unusual at all for people living south of the Río Grande to finish high school having at least been exposed to two foreign languages.

Australia (and probably most of the English-speaking world) have a lot of catch-up to play.

Happy 2016, hopefully without this kind of bigotry

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