Monday, March 15, 2010

Eddie V. Garcia: the Hispanic Nashvillian who writes and fights for ProEnglish

One November in the 1970's when Eddie V. Garcia was three years old, his Italian mother Dee and her Chilean-Cuban husband Lou immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba.  The Garcia family settled thirty miles north of Boston, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where Eddie was raised (see related story: Garcia's Massachusetts home is "immigrant city" reminiscent of historic Germantown and Nolensville Road.)  Eddie and his family became U.S. citizens when Eddie was five years old.

The Garcias spoke the languages of Eddie's parents' respective mother countries when they hung out with their Italian and Spanish neighbors in the ethnically segregated Boston suburb. When family business required dealing with English-speaking institutions, Garcia became the family interpreter - at the bank and with the service companies providing water, phone, and cable.

Garcia now describes himself as fluent in English, Spanish, and Italian.  He sings parts of his song "Sacred Land" in Spanish (audio at the top of this page) and has appeared in LifeWay en EspaƱol videos in Spanish (one is above).  Garcia's teenage daughter speaks four languages.


From 1994 to 2000 Garcia was a senior aide to Florida state legislator, during which time (1996) he graduated from the University of Central Florida.  In 2001 he worked for seven months as a Managing Director in the PR firm Hill & Knowlton.  At other times he was self-employed or worked as a PR/communications contractor.  Up until 2005, Garcia worked in advertising, marketing and PR in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  At some point Garcia worked in D.C. as a lobbyist for English-speaking and Spanish-speaking clients.

Music entered the picture in college.  In 2006 Garcia recorded his debut album Wouldn't Hurt to Try.  Looking for a record deal, Eddie came to Nashville in 2008, from Florida.  He describes his music as indie country and also Christian.

The Christian music part of the story traces back to a December 2008 faith experience Garcia describes as a need for Jesus.

2009: family revelation, new faith, frustration on Music Row, and English Only

The year 2009 was a big year for Eddie Garcia, but his biggest news of the year - by far - came from a half-brother he didn't know he had, who introduced Eddie to his birth father Eddy Montalvo and that side of the family.  Garcia posted a video of one of their first in-person meetings, much of it in Spanish, on YouTube.

Faith-wise, in January 2009 Garcia was at Smyrna's LifePoint Church, originally First Baptist Church, Smyrna.  Garcia started a radio show on Christian radio station WNAH on June 20, 2009 and tweeted and blogged for a month about it, but the show appears to be defunct now.

From a business perspective, Garcia turned his attention in 2009 to what he describes as the "seedy side of Music Row," after a recording contract went sour.  Garcia created two blogs to level complaints against the music industry figure on the other end of his contract.  In what looks like the taking of lemons and turning them into entrepreneurial lemonade, Garcia also announced plans for a documentary to expose the alleged wrongdoing in the Nashville music business and also laid plans for a business called True Music, Inc. with the stated purpose of steering new artists toward legitimate opportunities and away from the "unscrupulous."  The True Music corporate filing, however, went inactive last week.

Also in January 2009, Garcia was in full advocacy mode for the failed English Only ballot initiative in Nashville, the same one I and others were working to defeat, as Nashville for All of Us.  Garcia recorded a radio spot for Nashville English First (audio under "Radio Ad #2" here).  About 93% of the funding for that radio spot and the rest of the the pro-referendum advocacy came from the Virginia group ProEnglish, where Garcia now performs a PR/new media role on the advisory board (see below).

Garcia, language, and ProEnglish

Fighting for English to be the official language of government is a task that has been given to him by God, Garcia says, even though it has cost him Hispanic friends.  As mentioned above, Garcia and his daughter are multilingual, and Garcia defends the practices of his childhood in which immigrants got help from friends and family to translate into English as needed.  But he emphasizes that they didn't get that help from the government.

Somewhere along the way, Garcia's ties to ProEnglish were strengthened, and in 2009 he became the "blogmaster" (and apparent new media guru) and a board of advisors member of that group, where John Tanton, MD also currently serves on the board of directors.

Garcia's latest representation of ProEnglish has been before the Tennessee legislature this month, in support of a bill to eliminate the handful of foreign language translations of the state drivers license test, even though Eddie's own father had to get around Lawrence, Massachusetts for at least a year while he was unable to speak English on his own. (And as I've written before, my wife took the Spanish-language written test when she came to the U.S., and its availability made me proud to be a Tennessean.)

Garcia's dim immigrant view goes beyond language

Just as ProEnglish co-founder and board member Dr. Tanton is interested in more than just English as official language, Garcia is similarly more than just an English advocate.  Even though Garcia's family came to the U.S. from Cuba under an unprecedented and generous immigration regime that considered any Cuban footfall on U.S. soil to be legal immigration, with permanent residency available within one year - without the most precious component of legal immigration for the rest of the world, a visa - Garcia has starkly negative opinions about other immigrants' visaless arrival and lack of permanent residence status.  Garcia wants the federal government to start requiring a visa or U.S. citizenship as a condition of eligibility for health insurance and also for being counted in the census, to name two examples of his proxicidal views.  On the other hand, even though his dim view of certain immigrants and his resulting desire to exclude them isn't only language-focused, Garcia won't take the bait at every opportunity to de-neighbor.  On December 13, 2009, for instance, Garcia was presumably sought out by the Tennessean as a pro-restrictionist source to comment on the practice of denying children Christmas gifts provided by charities such as the Salvation Army or Angel Tree in the event a social security number could not be provided by the child or the parent.  Garcia told the reporter he was against turning the children away.

Breaking down Garcia's official language argument

Garcia says that he wants immigrants to learn English for their own good, which no one disputes.  What's wrong-headed is his solution is to starve them of translation/interpreting, as if everyone who needs translation or interpreting is the lazy, complacent immigrant he complains above.  The heroes of his English-only anecdotes, however, are the very immigrants who want to learn English but do not yet speak or understand English.  This is true when he's talking about a German mother whose husband had to relate a story she couldn't tell Garcia herself (at minute 15:50 of his inaugural radio show; audio at the end of this page) or when Garcia is talking about his own mother who took 3-year-old Eddie to a Boston hospital shortly after her arrival in the U.S., and her traumatization at the experience until a Spanish-speaking hospital worker came to the rescue. 

Garcia knows that kids in the U.S. who live in Spanish-speaking households overwhelmingly (unanimously!) favor English themselves (Garcia found this out by asking some Nashville school kids that very question - in Spanish).

Garcia also knows that those kids' parents and other older relatives struggle with learning a new language.  Garcia also says (at minute 17:34 of his inaugural radio show; audio at the end of this page) that he does not want people to leave their culture or heritage behind.

He knows that multilingual outreach addresses social problems, telling the City Paper of his interest in cancer outreach to the Spanish-speaking community, where awareness lags (Garcia's mother is a cancer survivor).

His point, however, is that government is different.  Garcia argues that private citizens and companies can and should be comfortable navigating in more than one language, but government, however, should not make living without English "easy" by offering translations, because they remove an incentive to learn English (Garcia complains on his ProEnglish blog and elsewhere of lazy and complacent immigrants).  Accordingly, American governmental institutions should "nudge" non-English-speaking immigrants toward language acquisition - by withdrawing interpreters and translators.  It's a tough love approach.  A mix of "sink or swim" and "teach a man to fish."  It's for their own good.  Otherwise, there will be kids who enter bilingual education at elementary school but will still be in bilingual classes in middle school, which Garcia describes as a prison sentence.

It's OK to help at first, Garcia says, but don't let the help linger.

The flaw with Garcia's "linger" logic is that any supposedly ideal time to wean one immigrant will always be the arrival date of another, and Garcia would deny a helping hand to both.

And I'm sure I've missed a Garcia anecdote in which he describes a person he knows who learned English because the government required it in a key moment and their language skills just weren't up to snuff, and they were left out in the lurch as a result.  But the Garcia stories that stick in my mind are the stories of kindness in Garcia's own family when language assistance was not denied.  Eddie tells the story of his Boston schoolmate Jesus from Puerto Rico, who learned English in part due to his friendship with Eddie.

To me, that's where ProEnglish and Eddie have strayed.  They've focused on what they defend as so-called tough love policies instead of promoting one-on-one interactions like the Boston nurse interpreting for Eddie's mother, like Eddie interpreting for his Dad at the bank, and like Eddie coaching Jesus from Puerto Rico.

I don't know Eddie.  Three of my Facebook friends do know him, and the one I contacted said he's an OK guy.  We have a lot in common - we live in Nashville, we profess to be Christian, we use Macs, we speak Spanish, we have a passion for Spanish speakers, and we have not only Spanish-speaking family but also Chilean family, as well.

Perhaps this post here at will give me and Eddie a chance to talk.  After hearing Eddie out, I bet I'd still want to remind him of the sentiment behind the words of his Dad's bank manager, with whom I would tend to agree:
That is a fine boy you have there to help you with this stuff.
See related story: Garcia's Massachusetts home is "immigrant city" reminiscent of historic Germantown and Nolensville Road.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you John! This helps put ProEnglish and other English Only developments into perspective - always good to know who is behind what and why.


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