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Kathleen Parker / Politics

El Futuro Habla Espanol (The Future Speaks Spanish)

WASHINGTON -- The new year has begun with an avalanche of Republican retrospectives: What went wrong? What must the GOP do?

In attempting to navigate my own thoughts, I keep bumping into advice my father gave me a long time ago: "Learn Spanish. You will need it to survive in the world you will inherit."

Living in Florida then, the trends were becoming obvious. They were literally in our neighborhood, where in 1960 a recently arrived Cuban family moved in a few doors down. Having just escaped Castro's Cuba with only a few coins sewn in the hems of the mother's and daughters' dresses, this family of six spoke little English.

We became close friends and eventually, as much out of fascination and affection as pragmatism, I did learn their language -- and they mine.

My father's advice was prescient, if somewhat exaggerated. I haven't needed Spanish to survive, though being bilingual has helped. A lot. As I often tell college audiences, I was hired for my first job not because I had a journalism degree (I didn't) but because I spoke Spanish.

What was clear to my father even then is that our hemisphere could not long be segregated by language. Nor, apparently, can we be kept apart by borders, no matter how many fences we build or drones we deploy.

Meanwhile, and not incidentally, our new, 113th U.S. Congress has welcomed 31 Hispanic members. Three are in the Senate, including GOP superstar Marco Rubio of Florida and Republican Ted Cruz of Texas, as well as Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey. All are Cuban-American.

Of the 28 Latinos in the House of Representatives, all but five are Democrats.

Why so few Republicans? Therein lurks the relevant question for the GOP and perhaps the most important answer to the puzzle: Learn Spanish.

I offer my father's imperative not literally but as metaphor. When even some of the Latino candidates don't speak their forebears' tongue, one needn't feign fluency. Though endearing at times, nothing sounds more ridiculous -- or inauthentic -- than a politician pandering with a faux accent or foreign phrase. (Think Barack Obama droppin' his g's in the South, or Hillary Clinton's rendering of James Cleveland's freedom hymn at the 42nd anniversary of "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, Ala.)

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