Do I have the right to ask my employees to only speak English at work?

Dear Mexican: I work at a large hotel in Orange County where 80 percent of the employees are Latin American, primarily Mexican. I love all of them and enjoy working with them. However, the one thing that bothers me is that when they are speaking to each other, they only speak in Spanish. They do it in front of our customers, and we have had some complaints about it. To me, it's equivalent to whispering in front of someone. In addition, we have a break room with a television, and they will always have it on the Spanish channel. Some of them will offer to change it when a non-Spanish-speaking employee comes in, but for the most part, they don't even offer, and seem annoyed if we ask to change it to a show we can all understand. I'm a supervisor and feel that I should bring to their attention how rude what they are doing can be, but I don't want to offend them or their culture. Is it rude for me to ask, or do you believe I have a right to ask them to only speak English at work?

The English Only Speaking Employee

Dear Gabacho: Two separate concerns here: the public and private workplace. As a supervisor, you can make your employees hablar English while in front of customers and not risk a discrimination complaint (although I would tell your customers that, no, the Mexicans aren't whispering about them — probably discussing Chivas soccer). But ask them to switch off the Univisión for ESPN, and beware of federal precedent. A 2008 consent decree by the United States District Court in Massachusetts allowed the Salvation Army to require workers to speak English in front of customers, but also allowed foreign-language workers to use their native tongue while on break. Break-room politics mandate that television privileges are inherited through a strict line of remote-control succession, although you can always play the gabacho card and ask the TV tlatoani to switch the channel out of common courtesy. But other than that, you're caca out of luck. Enjoy Sábado Gigante!

Dear Mexican: It seems like a large number of Mexican-Americans trace their ancestry back to west-central Mexico — Jalisco, Michoacán and nearby. Well, these areas were never controlled by the Aztecs! The Indian blood in people from that part of Mexico comes from Tarascan or other nations. So how do Mexicans of other-than-Aztec ancestry feel about the constant Aztec symbolism in the national iconography: the eagle with a snake in its mouth, the Nahuatl words and, for that matter, the name of the country itself!?

Conozco Demasiado

Dear Know-a-Lot: Gracias for reminding gabachos that Mexican indigenous society isn't just of Aztec ancestry. That said, we're so far removed from the initial contact between the Aztecs and Spaniards that most non-Nahua Mexicans don't give a segunda thought to the subsequent appropriation, integration and propagation of Aztec imagery by criollos and mestizos while creating the Mexican national character. Another history lesson, gabachos: That Mexican flag image of the eagle perched upon a cactus on a stone in a lake, with a snake gripped in its beak? Came from the Aztec myth that they were to build Tenochtitlán in the area where they found such an image. Nahuatl loan words in Mexican Spanish? Nearly all that end with the suffix -te — chocolate, tomate, zopilote, cacahuete, mayate — and hundreds of others. The name Mexico? From Mexica, what the Aztecs actually called themselves. And the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico's ultimate symbol? A syncretism of the Spanish black Madonna by the same name and the Aztec goddess Tonantzin. There still is resistance to such ideology among certain indigenous peoples, but the struggles of the Mixtecos and Zapatistas at this point is more against the current ruling class than the direct descendants of Cuauhtémoc. As for why so many Mexicans identify with their imaginary Aztec ancestry? Another pregunta, otra column — but same bat channel.

 
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