and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Barbara's Column
September 2003 #2

Bilingual debate pandered, patronized
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, September 12, 2003

En primo lugar, voy a presentar mi columna en español, después voy a traducirlo en inglés.

First, I am going to give you this column in Spanish, then I’ll translate it into English.

Why?: so that I can pander to Hispanics who might otherwise not understand what I am writing.

On the other hand, this would mean I can say only half as much in the space I’m allotted. And since the rest of the newspaper is in English, this whole exercise would just be silly, wouldn’t it?

So now you can appreciate how silly the first Democrat presidential debate was.

OK, if you didn’t watch it, I can understand. It’s too early to be doing yet another presidential election; they just finished counting the votes in Florida! I didn’t really want to pay attention for another six months either.

But there we were, my partner Chip Ford and I, settling down to watch the Democrats go at it and maybe witness John Kerry losing ground. The format was simple: two media personalities asking questions of the candidates.

But to our astonishment, they asked the questions first in Spanish, then translated them into English. The candidates of course responded in English.

So what was the point? If a viewer couldn’t understand the English questions, then he also couldn’t understand the English answers.

The entire exercise was insulting and patronizing to Hispanics, and extremely annoying to us. There are lots of issues, an hour to cover them, and they were wasting time on bilingual nonsense. Never mind that the actual debate took place in Albuquerque; it was televised nationwide. If they hold the next debate in Minnesota, will they ask the questions in Swedish?

Chip was yelling at the television, “You’re in New Mexico, not Mexico. This is the United States of America, not Mexico”!

I calmly pointed out that as we watched, we were dipping nachos in salsa, and he was drinking a margarita. “At least I’m having a good old American coke”, I said. But I was beginning to see the point that he and other “English as our official language” advocates have been making. I want to see the campaign for President of the United States done in English. And while I’m on the subject, I’m tired of hearing Spanish as a choice on voice mail messages. And when we do an initiative petition, I do not order petition sheets with instructions printed in Spanish from the Secretary of State, although the option is available. This is the United States of America, and here we speak English.

I can speak Spanish well enough myself, because I once lived in Mexico. I didn’t expect the Mexicans to speak English or offer it to me on official documents; it was their country and their language, and my job to adjust and learn.

I understand that learning Spanish is much easier than learning English. But Greek is difficult for Americans, yet when I lived in Greece I had to learn a whole new alphabet just to read street signs! This seemed reasonable: I was a guest there, and if I had wanted to become a citizen, I would have expected a requirement that I learn the language first.

The Democrat who seemed most presidential during the debate was Howard Dean, dignified and elegant in his grey suit and tie – until like most of the others, he felt a need to throw out a sentence in Spanish. Then he looked as goofy as the rest of them.

The Democratic Party encourages illegal immigration, hoping that Hispanics will support those politicians who support services for non-citizens, which is one of the reasons that there is a fiscal crisis in California.

We can all understand why so many people in other countries yearn for the American dream, but immigration must be limited, and non-emergency taxpayer-funded services available only to those who follow the rules toward citizenship. There are 103 million Mexicans, not to mention 355 million people in South American: they can’t all come here. If enough do, they will outnumber non-Hispanics and the official language of the United States will be Spanish. Our culture will change.

I enjoy the Hispanic cultures, but they’re different from our melting pot. Americans often keep their immigrant foods and celebrations to enrich that pot, but the mixing is the important thing. We share American values that are hard to define but are easily recognized by outside observers. And we speak a common English language that brings us together and keeps everyone who learns to speak it, from whatever ethnic background, in constant communication.

The second televised debate was sponsored by the Black Congressional Congress last Tuesday night. It was held in New York City, where the melting pot bubbles, and everyone spoke one language to a diverse audience of English-speaking Americans.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence Journal and other newspapers.

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