Hola, P?jaro Grande

May 07, 2007

The public's worst xenophobic instincts are not hard to tap - it requires only a bit of fear and misinformation - so it's not surprising to hear that Maryland Public Television has gotten some heat over its decision to broadcast a startup 24-hour Spanish network called V-me (pronounced "veh-meh"). But despite the best efforts of the local talk-radio crowd and Internet flamethrowers to whip up outrage, MPT officials reported only about 50 complaints as of late last week. Pre-empting Antiques Roadshow would probably have been more vexing to its core constituency.

Still, it's troubling to hear these know-nothing critics treat V-me's programming (which is similar to PBS content but in Spanish) as somehow unpatriotic. Maryland is home to more than 300,000 Latinos who are here perfectly legally and shouldn't have to apologize for their Spanish fluency. They are the state's fastest-growing ethnic group and merit the chance to watch TV shows of greater consequence than the chest-heaving soap operas and variety shows that are typical fare on commercial Spanish-language TV.

MPT may be an independent state agency (about one-third of its funding comes from state tax revenues), but its agreement with V-me isn't costing taxpayers a dime. MPT had the extra digital bandwidth; V-me content is supplied without charge. If only MPT could squeeze such a good deal out of the Public Broadcasting Service for its English-language programming - but apparently Clifford the Big Red Dog and his ilk have to be fed a few more bones.

One hears in the complaints about V-me the echoes of ethnic conflicts past, from the public distrust of 18th-century Pennsylvania Dutch for speaking German to the contemporary English-only movement in schools. Our nation's insecurity over language is as long-standing as it is excessive. For all the waves of immigration, the U.S. has remained an overwhelmingly English-speaking country - and in the modern global market, that's a burden, not an asset.

One of V-me's goals is to offer better-quality educational programming for immigrant preschool children. How can that not be in the public interest? People who are threatened by a Spanish-speaking Big Bird probably need to have their inner Snuffleupagus examined.

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