Monday, November 7, 2016

The Language on the Shop Signs

This evening - like many people across this great country - I engaged in my civic duty of voting. As I walked up to the ballot box, which had the words "Ballot Drop Off" written in several languages, I waited for an attractive handholding bi-racial couple to cast their ballots. The woman was of Asian descent and man looked to be of Latino descent. We made eye contact and shared a silent acknowledgment of our voting participation. 

Later, as I took my passeggiata. I encountered a young Latino boy shooting hoops in his driveway. I greeted him with a smile and he grinned and waved at me (which, of course, made me grin too). As I sashayed about my neighborhood - I encountered a woman who looked Latina running and we too addressed one another with a smile as we passed. When I came nearer my home, I watched the post lady delivering packages - she looked to be Punjabi.

My neighborhood is a quiet unassuming place but very diverse. The other day, there appeared to be a quinceanera and mariachi music was blasting from someone's garage. One can smell various ethnic cuisines wafting through the air around 6pm on any given evening. There are Filipino, Vietnamese, Punjabi, Mexican, and Honduran people who live here. Many of the signs on the stores, in this neighborhood, are written in Vietnamese or Spanish. It's a place where immigrants live and where those of us who had the great fortune of being born in America - are a minority. 

Now, my rainy hometown was probably similar to this about 100 years ago. In my rainy hometown, many the of the folks there are of Scandiwhovian or Scandisomething ancestry. Thus, there is a higher percentage of people with blue eyes, blonde hair (or a variation of it), and a bit of height. In that rainy place, there is a large white and blue building that says "Suomi Hall" on the outside. There is a hall there for "The Sons of Norway." Many of the streets have Scandinavian names too. 

I've heard my aunts tell me that they had to go visit their grandmother (who lived with them upstairs) once per day and speak Finnish to her. I imagine the families in my neighborhood have grandparents that live with them. I'll bet the children are subjected to speaking their parents native language with their grandmother too. 

Over the generations, the rainy town has lost most of the Scandinavian languages yet the Nordic heritage still lingers. There is a store in Main Street that sells Scandinavian goods - such as Marimekko textiles, reindeer hides, Marttiini knives, and those little Swedish horses (dalecarlian for all you vocabulary increasers out there). And, there is an annual Scandinavian festival complete with a May Pole. But now, the signs on the shops are in English, not Danish or Swedish. 

And ya know what? Whether in my quiet unassuming neighborhood or the rainy town - we all get to vote. Voting gives all Americans, no matter where they come from - what language they speak, or what their hair color is - a chance to participate in the oldest democracy in the world. 

And that, dear reader, is probably the most beautiful thing about America.