If I had a dollar for every time somebody told me that my English was so good, my parents probably wouldn't have had to immigrate to the U.S. in the first place. This happened quite often during my adolescent and early adult years and I would typically just smile coyly and mumble something like, "Well, my family has been here for a long time." or "I grew up in the Midwest." Last night when introducing actress Selma Hayek, Oscar host, Seth McFarlane could have mentioned that she was a former nominee for an Academy Award for her role in the movie Frida. Or that she served on the national board of V-Day, a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. I know, snooze. We wouldn't want to put the audience to sleep, right? So instead Mr. McFarlane said, "We have no idea what they (Salma Hayek, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz) are saying but we don't care because they're so attractive."
I can't begin to tell you how back-handed racist and sexist comments like these, cloaked in humor, are detrimental to any progress that we will ever make as a society, to break down barriers and to seek commonality. Unlike me, Selma Hayek's English wasn't good enough, but thank God she is easy on the eyes, so for all we care, she can just shut up and stand there looking hot.
Clearly the norm for people like Mr. McFarlane is that it is perfectly OK to mock the fact that many immigrants struggle to acquire a language that is not their own, just to be accepted by privileged white men like Mr. McFarlane himself.
I wish somebody today would ask me why my English is so good. Because this time, I don't think I would smile coyly and just pray that they would go away. I would tell them this: My English is so good because my parents, who immigrated to Chicago in the early 70's, didn't want their only daughter to experience the racism that they did, and while it almost killed them, they committed to only speaking English inside their home, in hopes that she might one day fit in perfectly with the Seth McFarlanes of the world. My English is so good because just like Mr. McFarlane, I grew up watching MASH, Eight is Enough, Mork and Mindy, and other boringly Midwestern shows, listening to, picking up small tidbits of the perfect American dialect. My English is so good because unlike Ms. Hayek, I don't have dyslexia hindering my capacity to easily acquire another language, and it came easy for me to pick up a second language...........Thai. My English is so good, Mr. McFarlane because English is actually my first language. Because my parents hoped for a better life for me. My English is so good because my parents wanted so badly for people like you to never single me out just because I was born to immigrants.