I am multilingual. I speak Hindi, Tamil and English fluently.
Normally, speaking a different language is not a skill people frown upon, but as I spoke to my family in Hindi over the phone a couple weeks ago, a South Dakota State student interrupted my phone call.
He told me, “You don’t live in your Third World country anymore. Speak English! You’re in America.”
I have a few issues regarding that statement. First, living in the United States does not mean I have to erase my ability to speak all the languages I know. From what I know of U.S. history, everyone spoke different languages when immigrants from European countries settled here.
Second, there is no defined federal law that requires English communication once I am in the United States.
Third, and most importantly, why does anyone care what language anyone speaks?
I’m not sorry if you happen to feel insecure about failing to understand my native language.
Additionally, I am an international student and I speak conversational English when it is required of me.
On campus and around South Dakota, I speak English only because it is easier to communicate my thoughts.
I communicate with my family in Hindi, so why shame me for speaking to my family as I normally would?
The only time it is appropriate to ask me to speak English is if I’m in a one-on-one conversation with someone and I abruptly speak fluent Hindi. This would never happen because I know my lingual audience.
Fun fact! India is the second largest English-speaking country, with approximately 125 million English speakers. This is second to the United States.
In addition, “Third World” originated as a term to define countries that did not align with the following views: NATO, capitalism, the Soviet Union and communism.
I know it is sometimes intended intended to call my country poor but that’s not what that term originally meant.
It is hilarious to me when people use the freedom of speech argument to validate the use of hateful rhetoric, rather than the freedom to speak a different language.
Telling me to “speak English” is a statement of thinly-veiled xenophobia; he might as well have told me to go back to India.
In the future, understand the United States’ background and get to know me before you pass judgment about my linguistic abilities and background. If you’re nice, perhaps I can help you learn a new language.
If anyone who is reading this has experienced similar behavior, I advise you to avoid these confrontations.
To acknowledge these comments is to give these individuals power. Instead, report it to the police, the Title IX Office and the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Access.
Sameer Keshavan is a mechanical engineering major and
can be reached at