Saturday, September 25, 2010

Chauvinism at the Foundation

Yesterday evening, there was a meeting of a new local foundation for the performing arts, an organization being created to partner with local business and community leaders and make a performing arts district part of the city's development plans.

We met at someone's house nine miles south of the city. Since it is within a 10-mile radius, I took my bike out there and was treated to some lovely views of the Florida mountains from Rockhound Road.

The meeting mostly went rather well, with everyone feeling inspired and satisfied with the list of tasks to do for next time.

Late in the meeting, someone asked whether we would be spelling theatre with the "re" or "er" spelling. Not exactly a hot issue, but we put it to a vote. I voted for "re" just because I have spelled it that way all my life, but didn't really have anything invested in it. It never occurred to me that this would be an important issue to some.

But oh my.

The heat and vituperative tone of those in the room who wanted to spell it "er" took me by surprise. They argued with such vehemence, you'd think someone was proposing a tax increase. "This is the United States! We're Americans! We spell it ER!" Grunted agreement around the room. And this from another: "RE is just too cutesy. Deming isn't ready for that." More nods of agreement.

So the foundation will spell the word theater. The United States is safe.

What followed should have come as no surprise. Someone suggested outreach to the county's latinos, as 60% of the county is latino and the room consisted entirely of white "anglos." There was quiet assent to this. We talked about some musicians we would like to see involved. I mentioned the possibility of staging a Spanish-language drama, since the majority of Luna County speaks Spanish as a first or second language.

The protests were heated and immediate. "This is the United States!" (Apparently I keep forgetting that.) "We don't need to cater to some other language! We speak English!! And I'm not a racist! I have no problem with hispanic people! But this is our country!"


Did I point out the irony of that sentiment, as we stood on land that once was part of Mexico? No, gentle reader. I let it go. There is a time and place, but this wasn't it. We had an agenda to follow and I was watching the sunlight disappear, thinking about the ride home. Even with a light on the handlebars, it gets really dark out here, and people let their dogs run loose at night.

That argument, by the way, is not racist -- at least, there is no evidence of it. The "R" word is popular, but this is actually an example of chauvinism: the idea of an inherent superiority to one's own language and culture.

On the ride home, many replies came and went through my mind, but the best answer will be to pursue the work. For the next six months, I have something of a leadership position in this new foundation. By then, they may be ready to get rid of me, and I'll have to find other places to lock up my bike.


Nathan said...

Sounds like a good time! Who needs plays when you have that kind of drama available during your meetings...

Kelly said...

That reminds me of a poet I heard speak who came from San Antonio. She said she'd been asked before as to when her family came to this country. Her reply? Her family had lived here since long before it was the United States.

People don't always stop to think...

Algernon said...

No kidding, huh?