GINGRICH TALKS JEWISH "GHETTO," GETS HISTORY WRONG
After being caught in the racist slur of calling Spanish a "ghetto" language, Newt Gingrich tried to correct the record. "What I meant is," said Gingrich speaking to FOX News' Alan Colmes,"we ought to have a program of intensive education so that every person who comes to America learns English as rapidly as possible." Gingrich then went on to explain in his inimitable pedantic way that "ghetto, historically had referred as a Jewish reference originally. I did not mention Hispanics, and I certainly do not want anybody who speaks Spanish to think I'm in any way less than respectful of Spanish or any other language spoken by people who come to the United States" (Think Progress has the whole story).
Oy! What a shandeh this Gingrich remark.
The problem with Gingrich's example is that it gets the history of the Jewish ghetto completely wrong--backwards even. Historically, Jews who lived in the first ghettos did not suffer the social stigma brought on by a lack of language education, but from the political consequences of too much language skill.
Most scholars agree that the word "ghetto" originates with the 16c Ventian verb gettare meaning "to cast" (as in foundry casting of iron)--as such because the first Jewish ghetto in Venice was located on an island that once housed iron casting factories.
Rather than complain about the Jews' inability to speak the local languages, authorities in the vicinity those original Italian ghettos often complained that the Jews were fluent in too many languages--that they were nervous about being able to control the Jews because they were much better at language than the local population. It wasn't until the 18c when people started to accuse Jews of not
being able to function in society because they couldn't speak the local
In other words, if we follow Newt's example of the Jewish ghettos, the moral of the story should not be that foreigners need help learning languages, but that the immigrants among us are actually smarter at language than the rest of us.
And this makes sense. After all, to function in a new country, immigrants have to work twice as hard as the rest of us to keep up linguistically--often times being fluent in a minimum of two languages.
If Newt had spent even 5 minutes in an immigrant community in America he would discover himself completely at the mercy of a group of polyglots much more capable than the average American. Being an immigrant, in fact, is most often synonymous with language fluency as rapid language facility is often the key to Immigrants being able, in a relatively short period of time, to function in two cultures simultaneously--to hold a job, navigate a new set of laws, and so forth.
Sorry, Newt. It looks like you are obviously not smart enough to think these things through.
Maybe the former Speaker of the House is the one who needs some education to bring him up to speed--not the immigrants that he is so desperately trying to smear as somehow lacking the education
to function in American society.
Maybe we should propose night classes for Republicans so their racism at least has some sound logic behind it?
© 2007 Jeffrey Feldman, Frameshop