Beyond the IT Angle: Ethnic Cleansing in Arizona

Don Tennant

There's been a lot of conjecture about how recent immigration-related issues in Arizona will hurt the state from an IT perspective. We've read, for example, that the perceived anti-foreigner sentiment will make it more difficult to find needed IT skills because foreign students and H-1B workers will avoid the state. But there's a much more fundamental and far-reaching problem brewing here.


A good friend of mine who teaches at the university level in Massachusetts sent me a link to an opinion piece by Andrei Codrescu, an NPR commentator who emigrated to the United States from Romania in 1966. Codrescu's piece, titled "Arizona Education Loses the Accent of America," laments the fact that Arizona now forbids teachers with "heavy" or "ungrammatical" accents to teach English to students who are learning to speak the language:

Did I land back behind the Iron Curtain half a century ago? My last 40 years of teaching would have never happened if the Arizona law had been the law of the land in 1966. Forty years of accented instruction gone by the wayside! Gone also the 40 years when American education, lower and higher, finally recognized the diversity of America. It is amazing that we have to be reminded once again that America was made great by people with accents. Would Albert Einstein have made a better baker? We'll never know.

Let's consider this matter of accents. I grew up in suburban Washington, D.C., one of the most transient areas in the nation, and I lived in Asia for 17 years, so I've probably heard English spoken with as many different accents as anyone. And I can tell you that I never really had a problem understanding any of those accents until I came here to Worcester County, Mass., in 2000. No, the problem wasn't with the large Brazilian and Indian populations in the area. The problem was with people who were born and raised in Worcester. For someone who's never been exposed to it, the Worcester accent can be almost incomprehensible.


My friend who sent me that link happens to be from the Dominican Republic, and I find his accent much easier to understand than the Worcester accent. And I can guarantee you that if someone from Worcester went to Arizona to teach English, he would be far more difficult for the kids to understand than someone from Arizona who speaks English with a Spanish accent.


People from Worcester pride themselves in their American roots and heritage. This is, by far, the least transient area I've ever lived in-families have lived in the same towns for generations, and can often trace their roots back to the earliest settlers. And yet they speak English with an accent that is as "heavy" and "ungrammatical" as any that one is likely to encounter in the teaching profession in the United States.


There are any number of examples of this sort of thing that can be cited around the country. I was recently at a Lawson Software user conference, and I couldn't help but notice that the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, where Lawson is headquartered, appears to be as non-transient as Worcester. Most of the Lawson employees I met were born and raised in the area, and their accents were a little odd to those of us who had never lived there. The running joke at the conference was that when the people from Lawson spoke about a new product called the "Lawson Cloud Console," they couldn't pronounce "console" correctly. They kept pronouncing it as if they were saying "council." Yes, they typically have blonde hair and blue eyes in that part of the country, so they would likely be more than welcome to teach in Arizona. But their accent is hardly what you'd call standard.


And therein lies the crux of the question-or questions -- at hand. What is the standard? Which accents are acceptable, and which aren't? And who is the judge? Who in Arizona decides whose accent is too heavy?


According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, educators in the trenches in Arizona are concerned that it's an arbitrary standard designed to make it easier to get rid of immigrant teachers:

State education officials say the move is intended to ensure that students with limited English have teachers who speak the language flawlessly. But some school principals and administrators say the department is imposing arbitrary fluency standards that could undermine students by thinning the ranks of experienced educators.
The teacher controversy comes amid an increasingly tense debate over immigration. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer [in April] signed the nation's toughest law to crack down on illegal immigrants. Critics charge that the broader political climate has emboldened state education officials to target immigrant teachers at a time when a budget crisis has forced layoffs.

It's essential that we not get caught up in politics or such narrowly focused issues as the H-1B debate. This isn't the time to wring our hands over such relatively frivolous matters as whether IT conference organizers should boycott Arizona. There's an ethnic-cleansing dimension to what's happening in Arizona that needs to be at the center of the discussion. The peripheral issues are, in comparison, inconsequential chatter.

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Sign up now and get the best business technology insights direct to your inbox.


Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
May 12, 2010 8:05 AM Bob Bob  says:

"We've read, for example, that the perceived anti-foreigner sentiment will make it more difficult to find needed IT skills because foreign students and H-1B workers will avoid the state."

translation: 'will make it harder to continue the ethnic cleansing of white citizens out of IT in favor of east Indians'

May 12, 2010 8:16 AM Indian_H1B Indian_H1B  says: in response to yoyome

It's quite amusing to see that you decided to bite especially given the blog relates to English language skills. Brave move!!

2 months into my early days in the US, I was required to take an English language test to teach a graduate class. The university department made me read a few paragraphs and concluded that I was good to go. One said I had a Bostonian accent. Another thought New England.  Nobody said Worcester county though: )

Having grown up watching BBC, I am sorry to say that the formal English spoken here sizably trails that spoken from across the pond.

I have winced at poor spelling (especially the loose use of loose in lieu of lose), punctuation and diction all too often. Looks like they threw out the English texts along with Calculus in high school.

May 12, 2010 8:24 AM yoyome yoyome  says: in response to Indian_H1B

It is OK for you to criticize my English skill. Just let you know I type very quick and rarely check what I typed. I realize I made stupid out of myself more because of my typing .. Anyway I will pay attention more next time..

May 12, 2010 9:10 AM Indian_H1B Indian_H1B  says: in response to yoyome

If you are a native English speaker, then I am America's elixir to rid it of fraudulent H-1Bs and persecution complex nutjobs like Bob all in one fell swoop. How's that?

May 12, 2010 12:05 PM Jake Leone Jake Leone  says:

The accent is irrelevant, what is more critical is the grammar.  Accent isn't the same thing as grammar, and the law (in my opinion) is incorrect to exclude on solely accent. 

Being able to be heard clearly may be a tie-breaker, and to the extent that accent might interfere with this, it could exclude a candidate in a tie with someone equally qualified (for a teaching position).

Exposure to different accents is probably good, if for no other reason then to simply respect others enough to really listen to what they have to say.  The U.S. does have a variety of native accents.   For example George Bush or Ted Kennedy.

And it enriches our life to have a variety of people with different characteristics, such as accent.

Although there are times when clear speaking is critical.  So accent native or foreign can be factor in some careers.

So even though I want immigration reform, accent should not (generally) be a factor when discussing immigration.

May 12, 2010 2:57 PM Bob Bob  says: in response to Indian_H1B

"persecution complex nutjobs like Bob all in one fell swoop. How's that?"

that's a cheap shot - the title of this article is "Ethnic Cleansing", with the implication being that white Americans are 'the culprit'.  Last I checked, Arizona is hardly 'cleansed of Latinos'.   And I was pointing out, on that topic, there are areas where you could make the arguement that white citizens are actually the target of cleaning (such as IT) more that ny 'culprit'

May 12, 2010 4:13 PM P Henry P Henry  says:

  Well, Don, I grew up in Springfield and have lived in several places in Massachusetts.  The so-called "Worcester accent" doesn't exist and if you can't understand people in the area you should have your hearing checked.  

  By the way, how many IT jobs are available in Worcester right now?  I'll save you the trouble of looking, THERE ARE NONE.  Yet you want to flood the market with foreigners.  What is your motivation?  Are they paying you to be a shill for the large IT corporations?  Or do you really believe your own nonsense?

May 12, 2010 4:39 PM Chandu Chandu  says: in response to Bob

This from John Miano, who's been watching and documenting the ethnic cleansing of American workers from American IT.

"You get laid off. They get a bonus.

"If someone steals your wallet you have more protection than if they steal your job."

"The media has been glaringly silent while millions of Americans have lost critical high-tech jobs, and while billions of dollars of US technologies have been transferred into foreign hands.""


May 12, 2010 5:28 PM Bob Bob  says:

IT has had a breathtaking ethnic cleansing in the last 15 years

From white American to east Indian

May 12, 2010 7:02 PM yoyome yoyome  says:

What a stupid post from Mr. Tofu. Don't you understand what is legal and illegal is. This country has laws and orders. If you are coming here with valid and legal paper work , there would not be any problem. This law is supposed to be passed by every states of America. If this law attacked the legal ones, then you can say ethnic cleansing.

May 12, 2010 7:36 PM Ken C Ken C  says:

Writing this from Scottdales, AZ - I will grant you that there is a certain amount of paranoia in the air around enthnicity related to immigration.  It is the same kind of sentiment that led to the forced segregation of Japanese-Americans during World War II.  Neither was the right thing to do, but both were the will of the people.

In the hurry to get on one side of the immigration issue or the other, some basic information seems to go unaddressed.  First, not a day goes by that the news does not highlight a the "drop house" for illegals.  Typically the operation involves immigrants held for ransom against their will, not being fed, physical punishment & restraint, etc.  This is not pretty.

Likewise, there was the recent murder of a rancher in Southern Arizona  - illegals are the principal suspects.

Film footage from a hidden Border Patrol camera documented around 700 illegals crossing the border in one month.  Approximately 400 were aprehended and returned to Mexico to try again...and again until they are successsful.

All this is troubling in the larger view of potential terrorism in this country, where the next strike is not a question of "if" but a question of "when".

However, the larger issue that is not significantly disucussed is the economics of illegal immigration.  I will grant you that very few if any of the illegals we see here are going be looking for Sr. DBA or Network Admin jobs - that's not the point.  It is valid to say that the jobs captured or retained by illegals are jobs that most Americans wouldn't work at anyway.  Very true.

The larger reality is that illegals all over the US are placing a huge demand upon the social services suppported by the taxes we all pay, while American citizens do not receive these government supported services.  Pick your special interest group - veterans, mentally disabled, physically disabled, minorities, low income groups - they all have a valid gripe.

To me I wonder if is not time to question the long standing immigration policies of the US - this is not 19th century where we are building the nation - at least not in same sense.  Our economy is deeply troubled, jobs are limited.

The economic reality is that this may not the land of opportunty any more.

May 17, 2010 10:21 AM theHook theHook  says: in response to Chandu

I'll work in Arizona anytime!

Feb 26, 2011 9:23 AM nathan rose nathan rose  says: in response to theHook

I can't imagine how English literacy could affect the IT in US. Skills should be given much weight than English proficiency. Also, I just found out that it was the states shortcoming why Arizona Fall short in English Proficiency. "In 2000, a federal judge declared that the state of Arizona was in violation of the federal law. The judge said the state had failed to put in place trained teachers and programs reasonably calculated to teach English."


Post a comment





(Maximum characters: 1200). You have 1200 characters left.




Subscribe Daily Edge Newsletters

Sign up now and get the best business technology insights direct to your inbox.

Subscribe Daily Edge Newsletters

Sign up now and get the best business technology insights direct to your inbox.