I was reading the monthly newsletter of SF SAFE, or San Francisco Safety Awareness for Everyone, a local nonprofit "that guides residents, business owners, and community members to improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods." It's hard to find fault with that mission statement (and in fact, the group has helped our hardscrabble neighborhood become slightly softer-scrabble). But the following item gave me pause.
SAFE Provides Unique Services to Mono-Lingual Seniors
San Francisco has a very large Russian-speaking community, many of it’s [sic] members are elderly, and do not speak adequate English. By making presentations and developing and distributing brochures on personal and pedestrian safety in their native language, SAFE has been helping these people tremendously....SAFE also provides customized presentations in Spanish and Cantonese.
"Monolingual"? I'm not sure the problem is that they're monolingual — I think it's that they don't speak English. Is "non-English speakers" frowned upon nowadays? Because that always seemed like a reasonably PC improvement over "them got-damn forners."
The thing is, the term isn't very precise. Most seniors in the United States are monolingual (that language being English), and yet, there's no concerted effort to provide them with pedestrian-safety pamphlets.
I tried to see if this term had spread elsewhere in San Francisco, and indeed it has. The city-run Laguna Honda hospital has embraced "monolingual":
Laguna Honda’s mission is to provide culturally competent healthcare to the diverse communities of San Francisco. Laguna Honda residents whose sole language is Spanish or Chinese receive care in their native tongue. Our Chinese and Spanish focus units not only help to eliminate barriers to proper care, they also provide a welcoming environment for residents from Chinese and Latino cultures.
Here's where it gets personal. Shortly after my mother immigrated to America, she was in a car accident (don't worry, she recovered). She had a hard time communicating with doctors and nurses because she couldn't speak English very well — just French and Spanish.
Thank God that didn't happen today because she would have been kicked out of the monolingual ward!