Remember last year on the campaign trail how Barack Obama chided the American people for not knowing more foreign languages – acting almost embarassed about it? Here’s a short refresher:
“I don’t understand when people are going around worrying about, we need to have English only. They want to pass a law, we just, we want English only,” Obama told supporters in Powder Springs, Georgia on Tuesday. “Now, I agree that immigrants should learn English, I agree with this. But understand this, instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English, they’ll learn English, you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish.”
He continued his thoughts by expressing embarrassment at Americans’ language skills compared to the Europeans. “You should be thinking about how can your child become bilingual,” he said. “We should have every child speaking more than one language. It’s embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe and all we can say is merci beacoup, right?”
Well, if public school students learning foreign languages is ever becomes an educational priority in the administration to the point that it’s made into mandatory requirement in all public schools, I urge him to sit in one of those classes and take some lessons. Why? Read on:
At President Obama’s meeting with the heads of South American countries this morning, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez stood, walked over to him, and presented him with a copy of “Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent” by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano.
Obama politely posed for a photograph with Chavez, shook his hand, and accepted the gift.
The book, first published in Spanish in 1971, offers a critique of the consequences of 500 years of European and U.S. colonization of Latin America.
“The division of labor among nations is that some specialize in winning and others in losing,” the book begins. “Our part of the world, known today as Latin America, was precocious: it has specialized in losing ever since those remote times when Renaissance Europeans ventured across the ocean and buried their teeth in the throats of the Indian civilizations. Centuries passed, and Latin America perfected its role.”
Galeano writes that while the era of “lodes of gold” and “mountains of silver” has passed, “our region still works as a menial laborer. It continues to exist at the service of others’ needs, as a source of oil and iron, of copper and meat, of fruit and coffee, the raw materials and foods destined for rich countries which profit more from consuming them than Latin America does from producing them.”
At another point in the book, Galeano writes: “Our defeat was always implicit in the victory of others; our wealth has always generated our poverty by nourishing the prosperity of others.”
The book also criticizes the U.S. for “spreading and imposing family planning. … In Latin America it is more hygienic and effective to kill future guerillas in the womb that in the mountains or the streets.”
The copy of the book Chavez gave Obama appears to be in Spanish, a language Obama does not speak.
At the start of the first plenary session at the Summit of the Americas later this morning, President Obama was asked what he thought of Chavez’s gift.
“You know, I thought it was one of Chavez’s books,” Obama answered. “I was going to give him one of mine.”
Back in July, Obama said this about his lack of foreign language skills:
“I don’t speak a foreign language. It’s embarrassing!”
Indeed. Maybe if he did he wouldn’t have accepted a book blaming Europe, the US, and the west in general for the problems present in the Latin community. Then again, considering he warmly shook hands with and smiled at the Venezuelan dictator who once declared he’d like to see America “finished” soon and called our former President “the devil,” maybe he would have.
What devoted Obama supporter would have ever guessed that the biggest US “embarassments” on the foreign language front so far in the new year would come from the Obama administration itself?