Friday, January 27, 2012

Arizona Candidate's English Under Challenge

At last night's debate, Newt Gingrich indicated that English should be the official language of government business.

Perhaps he had this article in mind, at New York Times, "Arizona Candidate Challenged Over English Skills":
SAN LUIS, Ariz. — When Alejandrina Cabrera speaks English, her face takes on an expression somewhere between deep discomfort and outright despair. Her tongue, which darts around her mouth in her native Spanish, slows to a crawl.

“I speak little English,” she said in a hesitant and heavily accented interview in her lawyer’s office. “But my English is fine for San Luis.”

Mrs. Cabrera may be able to get her point across in English, but whether she is proficient enough in the language to serve on the governing board of this bilingual border city has deeply divided the 25,000 residents.

What began as an effort by political opponents to block Mrs. Cabrera from the ballot for a seat on the City Council has mushroomed into an uncomfortable discussion of just how fluent Arizona officeholders need to be. Like many other states, Arizona has long required politicians at all levels to speak, read and write English, but the law fails to spell out just what that means. Is grade-school knowledge enough? Must one speak flawlessly? Who is to decide?

“I do feel this opening a box of Pandora, and we don’t know where it’s going to lead,” said Mayor Juan Carlos Escamilla, who filed a legal challenge of Mrs. Cabrera’s English ability.

He acknowledged on local television that his own English was far from perfect. “I feel I don’t dominate 100 percent, but I can still get by,” said Mr. Escamilla, who graduated from the same Arizona high school as Mrs. Cabrera. “I can write, read and understand it very well.”

It was Guillermina Fuentes, a former San Luis mayor, who first raised Mrs. Cabrera’s English skills as an issue last month. Former friends, the two women had a political falling out.

“You’re hearing my broken English,” Ms. Fuentes said in a telephone interview. “I know people have a hard time understanding me at times, but I understand the language and I was the one always interpreting for Alejandrina Cabrera.”

Ultimately, the matter is to be decided in court. On Jan. 13, Judge John Nelson of the Yuma County Superior Court ordered a linguist to evaluate Mrs. Cabrera after she took the stand and failed to answer a straightforward question from her lawyer, John Minore, about where she went to high school. Mrs. Cabrera explained later that it was anxiety, not failure to understand the question, that had her tongue tied. She went to a hearing specialist in an effort to show that auditory problems were also an issue.

“I was in shock,” she said. “My brain, my mind was white. That was my first time in court.”
Continue reading.

I think this lady should forget about running for office and instead focus on learning the language. This is utterly ridiculous.

That said, the town's 90 percent Mexican-American and everybody speaks Spanish. At city council meetings an interpreter is on hand and participants can wear audio headphones to follow the discussions. This is where things are going in the U.S. Honestly, we're to the point where candidates for office feel as though English proficiency is irrelevant. And who can blame them? Who needs English anyway? This is exactly what Samuel Huntington warned about years ago, and he was widely attacked as "racist." It's going to take some political willpower among state officials to prevent the elimination of the language requirement for public office, which has been on the books since 1910. Clearly, many in the Hispanic population simply to not care. Reconquista anybody?