"They speak broken English."
That's a line I heard hundreds of times as a kid after people had met my parents. Mom and Dad grew up in Nazi-occupied Poland and immigrated to the U.S. after the war. My father was born in Dunkirk near Buffalo, New York. My mother, Revin, France. Both their families were expatriates, laboring in other nations while Austria briefly occupied Poland after World War I. When the invading troops exited, my grandparents and their kids returned to Polish farms they owned along the San River. Not too many years later, the whole world shattered as a madman and his followers tried to exterminate people who varied from his so called Aryan ideal.
As a child in Detroit, Michigan, I heard plenty of jokes about "dumb Polacks," as did my Dad on his factory job, at which he excelled. In time, it dawned on me that the "broken English" line was truly dumb. Usually those criticizing the quality of my folks' English, could only speak one language. Yet they were mocking those who spoke at least two.
I find accents musical and fascinating. There's a lot of music in our new home in Chicago, Illinois. Our pastor, Fr. Sam, is from Kenya. Maribel, the teller at the bank is Hispanic. My dentist is of Greek decent and likes to tell me about the German Octoberfest and great beer at a local church and the best restaurants in Chicago's Greek Town. There are so many diverse bistros here, from Peruvian and other South American joints to a Kenyan sports bar, Persian places, Lebanese eateries, Indian, and, of course, Italian, Mexican and Irish dining halls, cafeterias and pubs. There's even a genuine "Chinatown" or Asian community, and many entire Polish neighborhoods where I speak broken Polish to order sausage, cheeses, barszcz (borscht), smoked pork tenderloin, breads, chocolates and pastries. And nobody makes fun of my poor pronunciations. They smile and encourage me.
Here I thought I came from a diverse place, living more than 30 years in Dearborn, Michigan which includes the largest Arabic population in the world outside the Middle East. People who came from Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, etc. Many of these families settled in the motor city's metro area beginning in the late 1800's alongside Germans, Poles, Irish, Italians, Indians, Jews, Muslims, Catholics and other Christians.
With the start of the Winter Olympics this week in Pyeongchang County, South Korea, I couldn't help but think about the harmony there. So many people, customs, foods, believers, unbelievers, languages and accents playing together.
It must be musical and not so broken with people from the whole world mingling in one place.