Para espanol, oprima el dos.
Even if one does not speak Spanish, most Americans are familiar with those words. They hear them nearly any time they make a call to the phone, utility or other company that offers service in two languages. "For Spanish, press two."
Even though I speak and love Spanish, I find myself increasingly annoyed by this unsubtle notice that the U.S. is gradually becoming a bilingual nation. And therein lies the source of much aggravation American citizens feel as Congress weighs in on illegal immigration.
Welcome to the U.S. one and all - within reason and according to the law - but all must become one if we are to remain a strong republic. That's the single most compelling truth we seem to know instinctively even if no one is willing to say it.
Whatever one's views in the abstract regarding a guest worker or modified amnesty program, the concrete reality is that many of those seeking to stay in the U.S. are not seeking also to become Americans of the U.S. variety. Indeed, the clear message from some of those protesting the past week or so - and the content of many e-mails that found their way to my mailbox - is that Mexican immigrants are taking back what they consider to be theirs.
At least a segment of those protesting consider themselves to be neither immigrant nor illegal. Signs at one recent rally, for example, read "This is our country, not yours!" and "All Europeans are illegal." "Reconquista" is the word they choose to define their mission, meaning "reconquest."
An e-mailer suggested that I get myself ready for the boat back home because I - being of European descent - don't belong in the U.S. Only American Indians have a rightful claim to the lands my family has occupied since the 1600s, according to the writer's historical yardstick. And only Mexicans have a right to border states that formerly belonged to Mexico.
Well. Where to begin? More to the point, where to end?
If we're all going back to the nations of our origins, we're going to need a mighty big fleet and some sophisticated splicing equipment. I don't know about my correspondents, but I'm a little bit this and a little bit that, though most of my family names would place me in Ireland. I'm of course happy to reclaim the kingdom, but I'm not sure the present landowners in Connemara would welcome me back as the queen I'm certain I deserve to be.
The truth is, I doubt that most illegal immigrants now in the U.S. are interested in reclaiming conquered lands. Most just want a good job and a decent place to raise a family. But the sight of so many who feel entitled to a piece of the U.S., combined with a sense of encroaching bilingualism, contribute to a spirit of diminishing empathies among even the likeliest of sympathizers.
The idea of "reconquest," meanwhile, is silly. Human populations have been migrating, conquering, surrendering and ceding for 60,000 years or so. We're a rambling sort by nature, apparently, and find national borders annoying obstacles to the wanderlust with which we were, for good or bad, endowed.
Rearranging borders and rewriting history to satisfy grudges or to right wrongs would certainly keep us busy, but where would we draw the last line? In the ashes of human history, most likely. The only unequivocal ending to unhappy history, unfortunately, has no sequel. Only when everyone is dead is no one offended.
Barring the final solution, we might ask this: Do illegal Mexican immigrants really want Texas or Arizona or California without the U.S. economy, or the U.S. social services, or the inspired government instruments that have made this country so attractive to so many?
That's the pinch, isn't it? The country's riches and benefits are not free for the picking - nor are they all necessarily indigenous to the physical territory - but are part of a national package that demands citizenship of its citizenry.
Mexicans are as welcome as any other group of people - and we all came from somewhere else, including the American Indians whose ancestors migrated from elsewhere - but reconquering, alas, requires a military action that could get messy. A simpler, more civilized course involves taking a number, waiting in line, and signing on to the principles of assimilation, without which we will not long be a united states of anything or a worthy destination for immigrants.
Para espanol, meanwhile, Mexico is lovely this time of year.