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Holinger: Oh, how easy it is to be smug

Published: Friday, Aug. 2, 2013 5:32 a.m. CST

On the Kane County Chronicle’s “Sound Off” page July 13, hiding behind anonymity, someone complained, “On the Fourth of July, it was heartbreaking to hear people speaking in Spanish at Pottawatomie Park as the beautiful fireworks were on display.”

Oh, the delicious irony! Sitting in a park named after the Potowatami tribe, he (or she) is disgusted that not all people speak the country’s tongue. Hello?! For the caller to expect Hispanics to speak only English because most Americans do, logic requires him to speak one of several Native-American languages, as the Indians were here first.

What an unexpected surprise when the following Saturday, three “Sound Off” contributors scolded the purist linguist, the first “dismayed” at the original caller’s “intolerant and hateful” attitude. A second suggested the bigot “get some cultural awareness” so that he’s “not superior to anyone else.” A third cited the country’s melting pot tradition, then asked rhetorically, “ ... would you have the same feelings if they were speaking French?”

Mais non! Surely the no-Spanish-tolerated-here ideologue would have shared a glass of Merlot while arguing Sartre with the Francophiles.

See how easily we stereotype? Our culture’s tsunami of images, sound bites and spin overwhelms statistics, logic and facts.

My delight over the community responding so quickly and forcefully to the intolerant caller faded, however, when I read the next “Sound Off” diatribe. After griping about the demand for George Zimmerman to face a federal civil rights trial, the person wondered, “ ... why isn’t there the same outrage about illegal immigration? These people are invading our property. They’re taking jobs ... and ruining our lives.”

Hmm. First, “outrage”? I don’t see outrage over Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict. I see peaceful demonstrations and hear constructive dialogues, both public and private.

Second, “These people”? Wow. Perhaps stereotyping illegal immigrants as all the same – poor, violent and selfish – may be compared to Zimmerman’s profiling a lone male African-American teenager cowled in a hoodie as a threat to the neighborhood.

Third, “invading our property”? Really? I wonder how many 911 calls begin, “Help! Illegal immigrants are turning my two-story Colonial with attached three-car garage into the Alamo!”

Finally, “They’re taking our jobs”? Yes, it’s hard to watch throngs of American citizens waiting on the shoulder of baking blacktops for a rusty pickup to haul them to backbreaking itinerant jobs picking ripe produce.

“Oh, generation of the thoroughly smug,” Ezra Pound chides Ernest Hemingway in the biopic “Hemingway.” The danger we face out here in the western ‘burbs is becoming too insular.

“I think it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching,” President Obama recently reflected. “Am I judging people as much as I can based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character?”

Or, he might have added, the sound of their words.

• Rick Holinger has lived in the Tri-Cities area since 1979. He teaches high school in Aurora, and his poetry, fiction, essays and book reviews have appeared in more than a hundred literary journals. He founded and facilitates the St. Charles Writers Group, and earned his Ph.D. in creative writing at UIC. Contact him at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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