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Slap at Spanish speakers by mag rooted in bigotry
 February 18, 2003
By Maria Elena Salinas

A few laughs are not worth offending millions of people and perpetuating false stereotypes. That's why I didn't find anything amusing in recent comments made by the flamboyant cross-dressing character Dame Edna Everage in the February issue of Vanity Fair magazine.

Asked by a fictitious reader whether Spanish lessons are a good idea, Dame Edna responded by saying that learning Spanish is "twaddle" and the only possible reason to learn it would be to talk to "the help" or to "leaf blowers."

Dame Edna went on to say that there isn't anything Spanish has to offer except "Don Quixote."

Dame Edna, who is really Australian comic Barry Humphries dressed in drag, managed to offend a rather sizeable ethnic group, when you consider that Spanish is the second-most-spoken language in the world, after Mandarin.

In the United States, there are some 37 million Hispanics, 30 million of whom speak Spanish. And it didn't take long for many of them to respond.

"We understand that the column's advice is not intended to be taken seriously. We also understand the question . . . was supposed to elicit laughter," Juan Gonzalez, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, wrote in a letter to Vanity Fair. "We simply don't see what's so amusing about an appalling display of bigotry."

"Your column in Vanity Fair caused me a great deal of distress," wrote Betty Cortina, editor of Latina magazine.

She went on to list such world-renowned Spanish-language writers as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentes, Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda and Octavio Paz.

"Such disrespect and disparagement of our fellow Americans is not just bad manners, it is offensive to us all," stated Lisa Navarrete, of the National Council of La Raza.

Dame Edna's stinging remarks had Hispanic groups threatening to boycott Vanity Fair and demanding an apology from the magazine and from Dame Edna herself (or is it himself?).

As for me, I support the efforts to get an apology. As someone who uses Spanish on a daily basis, I know that it is not "twaddle" and is indeed spoken by more than maids and gardeners, not as Dame Edna would have us believe.

As a matter of fact, it would be beneficial for everyone to learn how to speak one of the richest and most beautiful languages on Earth, and be able to communicate with the more than 400 million native Spanish speakers in the world.

Defenders of Dame Edna point out that she/he is a fictional character who insults everybody. An equal-opportunity distributor of insults is how Vanity Fair described her/him.

Dame Edna might be make-believe, but there was nothing fictional about her insulting remarks. They show a lack of sensitivity not only on her/his part, but on the part of the editors of Vanity Fair, who allowed them to be published.

They just don't get it. Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States.

Instead of insulting Hispanics, Vanity Fair should consider publishing its magazine in Spanish. And that is no joke.

* Maria Elena Salinas is an anchor for"Noticiero Univision" and a columnist with King Features, 888 7th Ave., New York, NY 10019; e-mail: msalinas@univision.net. Salinas also maintains a bilingual Web site: www.mariaesalinas.com.