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Chicago White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen’s Latest Rant Sparks Language Barrier Debate

Chicago White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen
Chicago White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen

Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen is known for his attitude and outbursts, especially when it comes to the treatment of Latino baseball players. His latest rant was heard just before the team played the Oakland Athletics Sunday, August 1, 2010.

According to ESPN, Ozzie said, “Very bad. I say, why do we have Japanese interpreters and we don’t have a Spanish one. I always say that. Why do they have that privilege and we don’t? Don’t take this wrong, but they take advantage of us. We bring a Japanese player and they are very good and they bring all these privileges to them. We bring a Dominican kid…go to the minor leagues, good luck. Good luck. And it’s always going to be like that. It’s never going to change. But that’s the way it is.”

Ozzie’s words bring up an interesting debate that I’ve had with many friends from home and those I’ve met during my travels: If you live and work in the United States, should you become fluent in the primary language of English?

Ozzie continues with his take on the MLB’s attitude toward foreign (excluding Japanese) athletes: “We’re in the United States, we don’t have to bring any coaches that speak Spanish to help anybody. You choose to come to this country and you better speak English. It’s just not the White Sox, it’s baseball. We have a pitching coach that is Latino, but the pitching coach can’t talk about hitting with a Latino guy and that’s the way it is and we have to overcome all those [obstacles]. You know why? Because we’re hungry, we grow up the right way, we come here to compete.”

First of all, the question is: Is English the primary language in Chicago? With such a diverse population, it’s likely you’ll overhear conversations in Spanish, Polish, Russian, German and Chinese (to name a few) while riding the CTA, sitting at a restaurant or even walking down the street. However, most of these people will speak English in a social situation when surrounded by mostly English-speaking individuals or when they’re a consumer interacting with service providers. And English is arguably the most widely known language in the city, so suffice it to say that it’s the primary language. Some people may even speak broken English. But what if they don’t speak English at all? What then?

Imagine yourself in their shoes. Say you’re in studying abroad or on a 6-month consulting job in Paris and you don’t know a lick of French. Do you walk into a café speaking English, ignoring the country’s primary language, and expect to get a response in your language? Many people would say yes because English is considered to be the universal language. However, I say no because it’s rude. You should, at the very least, buy a French phrase book and try your best to plunk out “How much is this?” or “Where is the bathroom?” in French. Most likely, the server will notice you’re struggling and speak to you in English. But why wouldn’t you attempt to speak the native/primary language? And if you’re living there permanently, you might as well learn the language.

The same goes for the U.S. and Chicago. If you live and work here, you should try to communicate using the primary language. Okay, Ozzie…your Dominican players come here to compete, but does that mean you can’t communicate? Of course, some professional athletes are afforded a translator because they have that luxury. But is it fair? Should Ozzie be upset that his Latino players don’t have translators like Japanese athletes Hideki Matsui formerly of the New York Yankees or Kosuke Fukudome of the Chicago Cubs (btw…their translators are part of their team contract, which also lists their salary, ticket allowance for family, flights home and more)?

From a Major League Baseball standpoint, it’s all part of the contract. So Ozzie should really take it up with the White Sox, not the league. And as I stated earlier, professional athletes do have the luxury of hiring a translator. While I think doing so hinders them from integrating with the American culture and communicating with the American media, that’s the way the celebrity world works. So this debate can now be split into two different arguments: one for Average Juans and Juanitas, and one for celebrities. When you make millions of dollars, you can pretty much do anything you want as long as it’s legal. And it’s not like there is a law stating all foreigners must learn English. Although, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if many Chicagoans felt a law like that should be created.

Here are my final questions to you…

  • Should everyone living in Chicago become fluent in English?
  • Is it okay for celebrities, professional athletes and millionaires to live by their own standards and refuse to integrate into the culture of the city in which they live?