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by Abigail Van Buren

Witness Deplores Bigotry Disguised as Patriotism

DEAR ABBY: I recently witnessed something outside the local Kmart that left me livid. A man was speaking to a young lady in a foreign language, when all of a sudden, another man who appeared to be in his 60s began to chastise them for not speaking English. His exact words were: "What the hell is the matter with you? This is America. People speak English here!" He stormed off when I stepped in and pointed out that HIS ancestors weren't born here, and they probably didn't speak English, either.

When I ride the train to work, I see people with Middle Eastern backgrounds get dirty looks from other passengers. Where exactly is this "newfound patriotism" I keep hearing about? All I see are people using terrorism as an excuse to act like bigots.

Patriotism isn't slapping an American flag on your car. It's remembering the principles this country was built on. THAT is how you honor the people who died protecting our freedom, not by infringing on the rights of people who aren't exactly the same as you. -- A DISILLUSIONED AMERICAN

DEAR DISILLUSIONED: What happened in front of Kmart was a textbook example of xenophobia, which Webster's defines as "fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign." Unless the person who did the "chastising" was a part of the conversation, he was rude, aggressive, and a mile out of line.

With the recent war on terrorism and fear of terrorist activity from the Middle East, there have been incidents of hostility aimed at people from Middle Eastern backgrounds and those who resemble them. With that in mind, it's important to remember that no one can tell by looking what is going on in other people's hearts. It is quite likely they are American-born or naturalized citizens, and as fervently patriotic as those of us who have been here for generations.

DEAR ABBY: I am a Hispanic male. Most of my extended family lives in Mexico. My parents and some aunts, uncles and cousins live near me in East Texas.

My girlfriend, "Cyndi," and I have been dating for three years. She recently decided to move to San Antonio to be closer to her parents -- and to "find herself."

Cyndi has met my parents several times and told me she intended to learn Spanish so she could better communicate with them. (They speak little English.) I was delighted because when we visit my family in Mexico, Cyndi would not feel left out of our conversations.

Cyndi and I spoke over the weekend. She told me she had signed up for language classes. When I called her last night, she informed me that she's taking German. Then she gave me a lecture about how my family needs to learn English because they live in America. (They try hard.) Then I asked her how she intends to communicate with my family in Mexico. She ignored the question.

Abby, Cyndi and I have split up several times over the past three years. We always seem to find something to argue about. Now this. What do you think about this, and what should I do? -- ERNESTO IN EAST TEXAS

DEAR ERNESTO: Face it. Cyndi has no interest in communicating with your family. She's moved on. Tell her adios or auf Wiedersehen -- whichever comes first.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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