The creative process can be a messy thing.
When we sent out an S.O.S. to name a podcast designed to inspire Americans on their journey to bilingualism, we got lots of help—some of it impassioned, some of it well-argued, much of it contradictory. Some of you responded on Medium, many on Facebook, some here on my Well-Read Life blog, others on email and a few over the backyard fence.
For days we thought the winner was The Recovering Monolingual…until our editor, Mim Harrison, threw herself in front of that bus. It’s fine to call yourself that, she argued, but what an ugly name for the podcast you hope to be inspiring. Then our front-runner was Becoming Bilingual — so very descriptive and cooperatively short. Such a nice and comfy title. Except that our producer, Fernando Hernandez, called it a fine name for a government report, or maybe a language textbook. Let’s not bore our listeners to death, he pleaded.
And so, in the end, we went with our third leading contender. Below is the artwork created by the Carlos Plaza Design Studio.
It is based, of course, on “America the Beautiful,” and we chose it to help encourage us all to see bilingualism as another facet of our beautiful country.
Our aim with the vintage Americana look is to convey the long, yet largely forgotten, history of American bilingualism—like the bilingualism our Founding Fathers enjoyed, like the German and French that Teddy Roosevelt spoke publicly while he was President, and like the messages sent during the war in the Pacific by the Navajo Code Talkers that helped us win the Second World War. A bilingualism as American as Coca-Cola, as a Ford pickup, as a cowboy hat on the head of Garth Brooks. A bilingualism that feels like the patriotic act it actually is.
America from sea to shining sea, united with one language…and united with hundreds more. An America united for some Americans with Mexico, for others with Morocco; for some with France and others with the Philippines; some with Korea and others with Kenya. No country comes close to America in the quantity and diversity of our immigrant citizens. In time, I believe we will come to appreciate the treasure contained in the voices of our immigrants and other bilinguals, and view these voices as International Language Capital, an important subset of the nation’s Human Capital.
We are a country melted together in many ways; in other ways, we are an unruly garden. But we have the capability of being one glorious stained-glass window casting a thousand colors.
An America proudly bilingual will be a country capable of truly hearing the world — and, therefore, an America the world truly wants to hear.
Let’s take a trip to the future.
Picture you and me walking into a big restaurant together some years from now. Imagine we’re in Kansas City on a Friday night. We make our way slowly from the front door back to the wide-open kitchen, hearing a different language being spoken at each table we pass. Suddenly, a wine glass rings out, tapped with the back of someone’s knife. “Everyone, I would be grateful if you’ll join us in singing Happy Birthday to my mother, Mary, on her 90th birthday!” a man says in perfect English. The whole restaurant joins in a boisterous version of “Happy birthday dear Mary…happy birthday…to…you!” Applause and cheers, wine glasses ting. Conversations resume in Spanish and French, in Mandarin and Malay, in Portuguese and Bengali, in Arabic and Greek. You and I nod at each other. “America the Bilingual we truly are.”
Soon, the first episode of America the Bilingual will launch. I want to thank all of you who voted for names. In particular, I want to thank those who posted comments long and short.
Keith and Carolyn Doughty
Alma Flores Perez
Brandel France de Bravo
Tony Gannon Robledo
Carla Hernández Ramírez
Lori, Cal and Corey Leveen
Gerardo Montes de Oca
Maria Luisa Parra
Joan and Kevin Salwen
Brand and Aly Schmier
Michelle van Gilder
Dayanna Velarde Rubalcava
The creative process can be a messy thing, but it’s a grand mess. Stay tuned for the first podcast of America the Bilingual.