Quick: Google “Delaware playground sign” right now and you will get over 4 million results.
That is all you need to know about the viral hot bilingual sign found at a playground in Milford, Delaware. The whole incident started on Saturday when, according to The Daily Kos, conservative talk show host Dan Gaffney posted it on Facebook. By Sunday morning, the story was screaming through social media. By yesterday morning, the story was showing up everywhere.
Of all the stories that speak to linguistic and cultural ignorance, why did a playground sign from Delaware become the hot story? This is the type of story that Latino-themed media pages cover all the time. Like all the time. Why did this one tip the scale?
Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled that the Milford story took off, since I seriously cannot recall when such pure outrage against insensitive bilingual content has gone viral so quickly and with such force. It’s as if all of a sudden, the U.S. woke up (2012 election, anyone?) and understood why the Milford signs were so problematic.
I have a few reasons, and they both frustrate me a bit:
- The problem was obvious and easy to spot. Any non-Spanish speaker would clearly understand the issues surrounding the signs (hey, look the English doesn’t have the word police in it). I was very encouraged that people reacted to the signs, but I doubt they would have reacted so quickly if the content was more complex and nuanced. For instance, another “bad translation sign” example was posted on Facebook this past weekend, one I think was just as awful as the Milford one. In that image, there is a “Help Wanted” English sign asking for a hostess next to a “Help Wanted” Spanish sign asking for two dishwashers. What’s up with that? Spanish-speaking people can’t be restaurant hostesses and English-speaking people can’t be dishwashers? Why not run a bilingual sign for the hostess ad and a bilingual side for the dishwasher ad? Will the Milford critics be just as outraged?
- A conservative talk show host took the picture. Ok, I don’t know Dan Gaffney, nor do I listen to his show. All I know about him is what the latest news stories are saying about his show. He has a conservative talk show, and from what he posted and share, he seems to be a decent person. I am grateful for what he posted (the signs were up for almost a year), but I really wonder if the story would have still resonated with people if it came from say, NBC Latino, La Raza, MALDEF, Cuéntame, Latino Rebels, News Taco, Pocho, or the countless of other pages that bring out these issues all the time. Gaffney is applauded in the mainstream for his investigative social media chops, while every time we run stories, we get the mandatory responses like “get over it,” “you’re being too sensitive,” and “it’s only a joke” from a select few.
Not a day goes by that the Latino social media community encounters Milford-like images and stories that continue to spread ignorance about what it is to be a U.S. Latino living in the 21st century. Like the South Carolina Mexican restaurant that defended its “How to catch an illegal immigrant” taco shirts yesterday, the Urban Outfitters “Juan at WalMart vintage shirt” that went viral last week or the casting company that is allegedly looking to cast “Hot Latina moms” for a new reality show. These are just three recent examples.
So to Gaffney and all the others who were “shocked” by the Milford signs: Welcome to our world. We really really hope that you remain here, because quite frankly, we need all the help we can get. We have plenty of stories that are just as bad as the Milford one. Are you ready to share those as well?
Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77 ) founded LatinoRebels.com in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. This year, Julito represented the Rebeldes on Face the Nation, NPR, Univision, Forbes, and The New York Times.