Sunday, December 31, 2006

Hola, Senor from California

It's kind of ironic, really, that after being parched for cheap and fast internet access in Los Angeles and San Diego, its only once I arrived in Tijuana, Mexico, that I can sit and internetify to my heart's content. So much for affluence delivering good things in abundance!

Perhaps the most noticable thing soon after arriving in Los Angeles is the prevalence of Spanish. Southern California is a genuinely blingual part of the world, not in a patronising 'to help out those who are learning English' kind of a way, but in a way that the two sit side by side with equal validity. In some neighbourhoods, English is the minority language, with an abundance of signs, newspapers and overheard conversations all in a lightening-fast Latin American Spanish. At first it's rather charming, and you catch yourself almost apologising for speaking English to someone who's preferred tongue is far more latin. They feel no need to reciprocate the apology.

Early on its rather charming, allowing an exotic foreign adventure in downtown LA. After a while, though, it becomes clear that the language divide is merely symbolic of a far greater divide. Many of the neighbourhoods of SoCal (Southern California, dummie) are hispanic neighbourhoods, with a withered appearance and a quiet poverty-stricken desperation in the air. Mind you, many of the English-speaking neighbourhoods appear just as run down. You can't help but wonder about the limited life opportunities available to Spanish-only speakers, whose job prospects are limited and whose participation in civil society is limited to the Spanish-subset. It's easy to see how early after arrival, native Spanish speakers find it comforting to be amongst speakers of their own langauge. When this divide continues a generation later, it represents a failure of integration.

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