Friday, August 3, 2007

Peggy Noonan Does it Again

I like Peggy Noonan's writing. She has a big heart and a pragmatic mind and much skill at connecting the two in her Wall Street Journal essays.

About a month ago, I called your attention to an immigration essay she had written. Now there's another, this one from the July 7-8 edition of the WSJ. In this newer essay, she once again proclaims her love of immigration, but then goes on to explain why we really need to be an "English only" society.

Here's the first half of her essay:

It is late afternoon in Manhattan on the Fourth of July, and I'm walking along on Lexington and 59th, in front of Bloomingdale's. Suddenly in my sight there's a young woman standing on a street grate. She is short, about 5 feet tall, and stocky, with a broad brown face. She is, I think, Latin American, maybe of Indian blood. She has a big pile of advertisements in her hand, and puts one toward me. "MENS SUITS NEW YORK--40% to 60% Off Sale!--Armani, Canali, Hugo Boss, DKNY, Zegna. TAILOR ON PREMISES. EXCELLENT SERVICE LARGE SELECTION." Then the address and phone number.

You might have seen this person before. She's one of a small army of advertisement giver-outers in New York. Which means her life right now consists of standing in whatever weather and trying to give passersby a thing most of them don't want. If this is her regular job, she spends most of her time being rebuffed or ignored by busy people blurring by. You should always take an advertisement, or 10, from the advertisement giver-outers, just to give them a break, because once they give out all the ads, they can go back and get paid. So I took the ad and thanked her and walked on.

And then, half a block later, I turned around. I thought of a woman I'd met recently who had gone through various reverses in life and now had a new job, as a clerk in the back room of a store. She was happy to have it, a new beginning. But there was this thing: They didn't want to pay for air conditioning, so she sweltered all day. This made her want to weep, just talking about it. Ever since that conversation, I have been so grateful for my air conditioning. I had forgotten long ago to be grateful for it.

Anyway, I look back at the woman on the street grate. It's summer and she's in heavy jeans and a black sweatshirt with a hood. On top of that, literally, she's wearing a sandwich board--MENS SUITS NEW YORK. Her hair is long and heavy, her ponytail limp on her shoulders. She's out here on a day when everybody else, as she well knows--the streets are not crowded--is at a ballgame or the beach. Everyone else is off.

So I turned around and went back. I wanted to say something--I don't know what, find out where she was from, encourage her. I said hello, and she looked at me and I patted her arm and said, "Happy Fourth of July, my friend." She was startled and then shy, and she smiled and made a sound, and I realized: She doesn't speak English. "God bless you," I said, because a little while in America and you know the word God just as 10 minutes in Mexico and you learn the word Dios. And we both smiled and nodded and I left.

I went into Bloomingdale's and wrote these words: "We must speak the same language so we can hearten each other."

Please read the rest of the essay here, in which she lays out the case for speaking English in America. Hardly a novel position, but expressed well.

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