Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Column 112 - Privilege

My business has taken me away from Incline, indeed out of the country, for much of the summer and I can't say I'm fully up on current events in our community. I've tried to stay informed about the beach access issue but don't know what if anything else is going on that's of interest.


The other hot issue of the summer seems to revolve around what I would have otherwise thought would be an innocuous matter, that of the Bonanza's publishing a page in Spanish once a week. This has given rise to a spate of letters that were surprising in the level of their calumny and specious arguments.


As Jim Clark pointed out in his column on Sunday, the approach advocated by the usual gang of mossbacks has been shown historically to produce the opposite of the effect it's proponents claim to want, yet here it is again.


I don't think it's stretching things too much to draw a parallel between the two issues. Both seem to me to stem from an attitude of "I've got mine, now if anyone else wants a piece they will have to pay dearly for it." No one has advanced a rational argument to show that opening the Incline beaches to the 400 or so Crystal Bay properties will have the slightest adverse effect on Incline – logically, the increase in beach use would be negligible, and there is nothing to indicate that there would be any effect on property values or home sales. Yet IVGID meetings have seen those opposed to the change turn out in droves, and the rhetoric has been extreme, vilifying trustees who were acting in good faith to try to find a solution, and characterizing those who disagreed with them in the most negative terms.


Similarly, there is, as far as I can tell, no intelligent argument against people speaking Spanish (or for that matter Cantonese, Italian, Farsi, or any other language) while living in the US. Other than remote parts of Idaho, Northern Sweden, and China, I have not been anywhere in the world where only one language was spoken. With the exception of France, I have not been anywhere where this was not accepted and even welcomed. Yet here in Incline we find that one page in a local paper is cause for bemoaning the invasion of the US by Spanish-Speakers. Well guess what, folks, that ship has sailed. Just as Chinese, Brits, Irish, Germans, Scandinavians, and Jews immigrated and left their mark on our language, cuisine, and culture, so have the Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and other Spanish-speakers. And in a small area like ours, where it's probably not feasible to have newspapers in different languages, it makes economic and social sense for the Bonanza to reach out to this audience.


Now here's the part nobody is saying, so I'll say it. I believe that what is at issue here is not beaches or language, but privilege. If Crystal Bay gets beach access, then Incliners have lost a privilege. Never mind that they really haven't lost anything, there is the appearance of loss. If people speak Spanish, then somehow native speakers of English are diminished. Don't ask me how – I don't understand it – but a certain kind of American has always found it somehow personally offensive that others do not speak English. This same American, who demands that everyone who comes to America speak English, when he goes abroad blithely speaks only English and expects to be understood wherever he goes.


So one more time: English is not the official language of the United States. The United States does not have a national language. We are all free to speak whatever language we want, including in public, on signs and in advertisements, and in the newspapers. I would suggest that if we are going to be concerned about language as a public matter, a good thing to be concerned about would be the use of obscene language in public and on t-shirts.


And one more time: the so-called privacy of our beaches hangs by a thread. We are one court case away from having our beaches opened to the public (including the Spanish-speaking public) and no one knows which court case that would be. The Board had a chance to settle this issue in a way that had the potential to put it to bed for the long-term, and some Trustees at least caved to pressure. Enjoy the privileges while you can – they are unlikely to last.

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