Thursday, December 28, 2006


As you may already know, I work in a homeless shelter/transitional housing facility for the homeless mentally ill. And every Wednesday night, I host a bingo game that lasts about an hour. It's a big event, complete with prizes from the dollar store, and everybody loves it.

Last night as I was calling the numbers, I realized that two of the people playing were native Spanish speakers who also spoke English very well. I wondered whether it was harder to play bingo in your second language than in your first. I imagined if I was playing Spanish bingo, I would have at least a two-second gap between hearing the Spanish letter and number and translating it, not necessarily into English, but at least into an image of a letter and number to play on the game.

So, without thinking much more, I started calling bingo in both English and Spanish. I guess it's really the height of my language ability that I can say the letters and numbers in bingo in Spanish. Jealous? You should be, bingo numbers go all the way up to O-75. That's "oh-setenta-y-cinco" in case you were wondering.

I stumbled over a few of my numbers and asked the native Spanish speaker sitting near me to correct me on my numbers if I got any wrong. She looked at me like I was crazy and looked back at her cards. That's when I wondered if calling the numbers in both languages was really a good idea. In this country that, at least right now, seems to hate immigrants, maybe these folks don't want any extra attention called to their bi-lingual, bi-cultural, bi-national status. Maybe they just want to blend in and maybe a way they can blend in is to play bingo in English without any help.

I thought about my two coworkers of the night, Fat Tony and Chunk, who, in real life, share the same Latin first name. They are both second or third generation Mexican Americans and neither of them know Spanish. Neither of them could say even the whole B column of numbers (1-15, for those who don't stare at the bingo mainframe at least one hour a week), much less the rest of it. I thought also about my cousin J@n whose mom is from the Phillipines and who never in her life wanted to learn to speak her mom's native language. Instead, she made fun of her mom when she talked on the phone to relatives and shunned anything that wasn't white-American.

It's complicated in this country, maybe in this whole world. Language. Race. Even religion, to go back to a post of a few days ago. I had a comment from someone who asked "since when is Islam a race," in response to my calling nasty comments about Muslims racism. Maybe it's *not* a race, but racism certainly underpins the fear and loathing of Islam in this country. Racism, Xenophobia, etc, etc. It must be scary to live here. I eventually stopped calling the numbers out in Spanish because I was afraid I was alienating the Spanish speakers and they were doing fine in English anyway.


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