I was in a bank the other day depositing a modest few dollars in my Christmas savings account when the teller looked up from her computer, said what sounded like “Wazashee canalonie?” in a thick accent and waited for a reply.
I have no ear for accents. I said, “I beg your pardon?” and she repeated the phrase, “Wazashee canalonie?”
It was obvious from the tilt of her head and the questioning look in her eyes that she expected an answer.
Her fingers remained poised over her keyboard. Time stood still.
I could have repeated “Wazashee canalonie” in a bold, declarative manner and let it go at that, hoping it would somehow all work out.
It is a technique I employ when faced with the unknown. But this was a bank, and banks are no place to fool around.
The teller looked Arabic. I suspect she was from Kuwait. Maybe her daddy owned controlling interest in the bank. Maybe he owned Kuwait.
“Look,” I said, taking it from the top, “I only want to deposit $15 in my account.”
She seemed confused, so I raised my voice. Foreigners understand better when you shout at them.
“Put the $15 in,” I hollered, “and give me back my deposit book and I’ll leave!”
An armed guard at the far end of the bank was beginning to take notice. Lord help me if he thought I’d said, “Put all the money in a paper bag, and no one will get hurt!”
Shouting Bandit Hits Town. Film at 11.
And all because of an accent. The whole thing reminded me of Barry Hatch.
Hatch is the mayor of Monterey Park. He’s been in the news lately because he believes that foreign accents and foreign cultures are ruining America, and he’s not going to take it anymore.
He wants to ban immigration into the United States for three years and make English the nation’s official language.
These are matters not usually handled out of Monterey Park, but Barry has decided to speak up on the subject for the sake of those Silent Americans who, wisely, remain silent most of the time.
When Barry first began talking about his plan to give America back to the Americans (not the Indians but the more recent Americans), he wanted immigration halted for one year.
By the time I reached him, he’d raised the ante to three years.
“We are being colonized by other countries,” Hatch said in his Monterey Park office. “Immigration built us, and now it’s destroying us.”
He is a pink-faced man of 52 with thin, graying hair and the manner of a junior high school social studies teacher, which he is. Sometimes he plays tapes of his talk show appearances to his classes.
Barry believes that if Third World people keep coming to America, we will turn into a Third World nation. And because Third World people are have-nots, they will be going for the throats of us haves and it will be adios, peace and quiet.
It would be a better nation with a better future, he hints, if everyone were exactly like . . . well . . . him.
My first inclination was to argue that everyone ought to be more like me , but then I realized I am one of the little brown people being discussed in the first place, so that wouldn’t work out.
It’s him or nobody.
Barry speaks in very clear teacher’s English so at least there wouldn’t be a communications problem if America were limited to people who looked and thought and talked exactly like him.
No bank teller from Kuwait would ask, “Wazashee canalonie?” No elderly Asian lady at Anne’s Chinese Deli would ask, “Shunshing?”
Anne’s Chinese Deli is in Chatsworth. I ate there for years and always said no to shunshing because I thought it was a sauce made of decaying fish.
Then one day I learned she was saying, “Something?” which was short for “Something to drink?”
Now I know enough to say, “A Diet Pepsi, please,” and she says, “Frontang.” That means thank you.
Barry wants America’s golden doors closed to people like that. Throw up barbed wire. Send the wretched refuse back to their teeming shores.
I have a better idea.
Beat them at their own game, Barry. Migrate.
Find an island or a mountaintop somewhere without a medley of languages, without infringing cultures, without the wretched refuse of those teeming shores.
Build a fence around your own pure enclave, and there you’ll achieve what must be the ultimate purpose or your effort anyhow.
You’ll discover not that you’ve locked everyone out, but that you’ve locked yourself in, and in the end that’s a lonely place to be.