Many observers had expected the 2016 Republican nominee for President to be Jeb Bush, a fluent Spanish speaker with a Mexican-born wife. Or perhaps Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants. But two weeks from polling day Bush’s political career seems to be over and last night Rubio was loudly booed by a Latino crowd in his home state for endorsing his party’s candidate. An election campaign that could have flown the flag for integration and strengthened bonds between neighbours like never before has done the opposite.
Where do we go from here? Maybe we should simply go back to the facts.
It’s a fact that the United States, like Britain, is becoming more diverse and is prospering from that diversity. In addition to 50 million Spanish-speakers, the US is home to 3 million Chinese speakers, a million and a half who speak Vietnamese at home and well over a million who speak Korean.
Are they a burden? Again, let’s stick to the facts. 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by first or second generation immigrants.
After the last national census, the Partnership for a New American Economy confirmed this remarkable contribution.
“The revenue generated by Fortune 500 companies founded by immigrants or children of immigrants is greater than the GDP of every country in the world outside the US, except China and Japan.”
In the UK the drive and entrepreneurial spirit of new citizens is no less admirable. One in seven business startups is the brainchild of an immigrant. Anyone browsing in a shopping mall today might reflect on the journey of Michael Marks, a Belarusian Jew who came to Britain as a teenager, and whose talent and industry built the M&S retail empire. The company’s eighty three thousand employees must be thankful he made the trip.
It’s a fact that immigration across its southern border – wall or no wall – enriches American life, and the Spanish speakers who reacted angrily to Marco Rubio last night are understandably shocked at being demonised. But they and others who speak more than one language will surely have the final word. Because it’s also a fact that bilingualism offers major cultural and economic benefits to individuals and their communities.
Bilingualism trains the brain to be more organised and creative. The act of switching between one language and another is an automatic exercise in multitasking, and authoritative research has shown that it also leads to greater empathy and problem solving skill.
A 2012 study at Lund University in Southern Sweden revealed that learning languages actually causes parts of the hippocampus and cerebral cortex to grow.
Students found that their ability to absorb and retain information was enhanced in ways that general education couldn’t achieve. Appreciation of different languages and cultures makes you more receptive to new information and better able to retain it.
It makes you smarter for longer.
If you’re sick and tired of the incoherent speeches and irrational, slanderous insults launched by the Republican nominee almost every day, console yourself with the thought that this person is a perfect example not only of bigotry, misogyny and narcissism, but also of the dangers of looking inward. Obsession with ourselves, with the small fragment of our culture that we’re comfortable with and the small fragment of language that we choose to speak doesn’t just make our world smaller. It makes our brains smaller too.
The future belongs to the tolerant, the outward looking and the educated.
It belongs to the good hombres.