English Requirement for Public Office?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Alejandrina Cabrera appearing in Yuma Superior Court before Judge John Nelson. (KSWT News)

By her own admission, Alejandrina Cabrera does not speak English very well. Yet this didn't prevent her from running for city council in San Luis, Arizona, a town where 90 percent of its resident speak Spanish. Former Mayor Guillermina Fuentes — a former friend of Cabrera's but now a political enemy — asked a court to remove her name from the ballet because of "inadequate" language skills. Cabrera subsequently failed a court-ordered English language proficiency test.

Comments [21]

Lynn from NJ from Lynn - New Jersey USA

I do apologize in advance for my winded rant but really who can fault me.

The topic/debate of whether the English language should be the number one spoken language of the United States of America is one of the most controversial issues. I am a American citizen born and raised. I value and respect the opinion of others as is the American way. In particular, I thank Marie Russo from Miami, Florida, who refers to her family's immigration, the respect and values for the USA, as taught by her Grandparents. Clearly, Marie embraces those values as I do.

My forefathers who immigrated to this country learned the English language and respected it! They were proud to be an American and assimilate into society by learning the language and customs of the USA. Something is very wrong with any person(s) wishing to immigrate to the USA yet do not wish to embrace our American society as a whole. Immigrants are afforded many benefits, at the very least it is a matter of respect that it be acknowledged and accepted that English is the written and spoken language of our nation. That is the challenge they must live up to as a member of this society!

There has to be order within each governing society as to not become a Tower of Babel.Our government officials must speak and understand the written language of English as anything less is ludicrous. For the past twenty years that I recall, Spanish has been accepted as the second language. However, that may have occurred and not overnight I assure you,those officials that struggled and managed to have that ideal accepted here on American soil have now lead to the "trickle effect". This article "English Requirement for Public Office?" is a prime example of someone thinking they can be a council person without adequate command of the English language. Although I give credit where credit is due, Ms. Cabrera's heart is in the right place by wishing to serve her non-English speaking community (What about her English speaking community?)Fellow Americans, yes we do indeed accept diversity but they must be English standards.

Jan. 31 2012 10:02 AM
Bryan from Nova Scotia from Nova Scotia

Oh dear! This story makes me recall certain unfortunate persons here in Canada who were tested in both English and French and found to speak both equally badly! To laugh or cry? I guess official bilingualism can confer the right to mangle two languages rather than just one!

Jan. 30 2012 08:06 PM
Pam W. from Bronx, New York

This is ridiculous! There is no way that she could effectively perform the duties for her role in public office if she isn't English proficient. I don't know any other country where this would even be an issue. If you choose to live,work or run for public office in a country you gotta learn the language.

Jan. 29 2012 05:44 PM
Margaret from UWS Manhattan

On the one hand, speak as much English as soon as possible, if you intend to join a society, and participate as a citizen; on the other hand,require hiring an interpreter-translator to function as a councilperson,like a blind student requiring a reader, or an amputee needing a wheelchair. You can't say one doesn't have the mind to practice law because they're blind, but they've got to afford the help. You can say a blind person can't do surgery. What does it take to be a city councilperson?

Jan. 27 2012 03:57 PM
Osborne from Rhode Island

I thought we lived in a democratic society where the VOTERS are supposed to elect those who will govern them. Electing Ms. Cabrera does not mean the city will suddenly have to do all their work in Spanish. Are the voters of San Luis incapable of factoring the linguistic abilities of the candidates when making their decision? Kicking her off the ballot feels like a huge invasion on the right of the People to vote and decide.

Jan. 27 2012 12:49 PM
Marie Russo from Miami, FL

I was born in Brazil. My grandparents, from my father's side, immigrated from Ukraine and always said to him that he had to learn and speak the language from the country that received and gave them a place to grow and have a family. My grandparents spoke Ukrainian between them but always spoke Portuguese with their kids.
I've lived here for 16 years, adore and respect this country more than one I was born in. In my house we speak Portuguese but English is the language with which we communicate elsewhere.
My husband and I were at Versailles, in Miami, one day and a couple from California wanted to know about the pastries in the bakery. Nobody, nobody would speak English with them. My husband had to go and explain what they wanted to know, poor guys, foreigners in their own country!
I'm a liberal but I have to say when it comes to the subject of immigration it goes this way: nobody forces you to migrate, it's your own free will; if the motive is political, you must stay in your country and fight; if it's the economy, do something to make it better. In any circumstances, don't quit and profit from the way of life that others built with much sacrifice and impose your set of rules to them.
I live by my grandparents motto: if you live in the US, speak English, it's a matter of respect!

Jan. 27 2012 10:41 AM
Patricia from Miami, FL

I am Cuban born, US citizen.
This is the USA and in this country English is the official language.
There are a great number of people in Miami who have lived in the USA for 30+ years and who are proud of not speaking English. This is nothing to brag about. They obviously did not come to the USA in their 70s so they should have made an effort and learnt the language. The USA being a melting pot is not an excuse not to speak its language. I grew up in different countries because my father worked for the WHO, so I speak Spanish, Russian, French, English and Hungarian-and learnt them in that order. At no point did we have an equivalent of ESOL and the countries where I went to school expected you to speak their language like any other native student. It was either sink or swim and ultimately that is how you learn a language well. The more one knows in life the better-be it languages, skills, etc but when it comes to language there should be one national language since it is part of a national identity and unifies the people of a given country. The USA is the only country I know of where some people think it is OK not to speak the country's language and in fact it is their right not to. It is simply absurd.

Jan. 27 2012 10:26 AM
Daniel NP from East Coast, U.S.A.

I am a foreign born, very proud American citizen. Not a Democrat nor a Republican. I am an advocate for the U.S.A. declaring English as the only legal national language. There are some points that the "politically correct" will not touch, here are some of them: 1) A language divided country will have a 1st and 2nd class citizen (example: Canada, Belgium, Rwanda, Philippines, etc ...); 2) Spanish immigrants in the U.S.A., in great numbers, are NOT truly Bi-Lingual. Progress is historically elusive in any career because of a less than 6th grade writing skills and careless pronunciation; complex ideas, commands, corrections in BOTH languages are not possible. 3) The "community" is self-imposed insular; there is not encouragement to integrate into this Society. The fallacy of how-good-the-old-country-is versus the reality of a grand majority never returning to their birth nations, is a sad impediment. Not only Spanish, but all immigrants consider our culture and ways to be unsavory. 4) If the States and Federal Government continue to encourage and nourish this equal-but-separate societal trend, atrocities such as making excuses to have a "token" person, who is totally inadequate for public office, will continue to occur. -- These are issues that HAVE to be addressed! Coming from an Legal Immigrant, it is NOT being unreasonable or unethical to make people comply with basic common sense rules and requirements: learn English (to be competitive); have Spanish TV with sub-titles, such as China Central TV, Japan NHK, Indian channels. Polish channels ...) and signs be in English with the foreign language at 40% smaller font. This is a smart start.

Jan. 27 2012 09:56 AM
Susannah from Fort Lauderdale, Florida

As a teacher in South Florida I work with many women who speak English as a second language. Some have been here for a few years and some for many years. They have made an effort and continue to make an effort to be as proficient in the English language as possible. However, there are plenty of student's parents that have lived in the United States for years (6 years, 10 years, etc) who continue to rely on Spanish speaking teacher's aides to translate for them and make NO EFFORT to learn English. It is frustrating for myself and frustrating for those teacher's aides who have made the effort to learn the dominate language of the United States and the language their children will be learning and speaking.
I don't know that there should be an English-only law, but a person running for office should set a precedent for the rest of the population. Learning the dominant language of the country should be something new citizens strive for. If I were to move to another country I would most certainly want to become bilingual and do all I can to make that possible. I admire these women I work with who leave insecurities behind and push forward to become bilingual.

Jan. 27 2012 09:52 AM
Tony from Miami, Fl.

I support having English continued as official language. I always noticed people from non-english speaking countries trying to convert the U.S. into their language. They all need to remember that they are coming here, the U.S. is not going to them so immigrants need to accommodate themselves to the new country. Same thing here as in France. I'm not advocating pushing aside other languages but accepting more languages as standard here defies the unity of Americans here to always have a common language.

By the way, I'm central american and I will still say, LEARN ENGLISH DARNIT!

Jan. 27 2012 09:44 AM
Jane from Salem MA

I grew up in western Canada, a bi-lingual nation. In my experience, bi-lingualism just doesn't work. The French we were taught in school was Parisian, not Montreal style; the Quebecois didn't really understand us when we visited them. As I see it now, French is very strong in Quebec, but less so the further West one gets from Quebec, but no way is Canada a functioning bi-lingual society from sea to shining sea!

Jan. 27 2012 09:38 AM

In the Miami metro area, there are government workers appointed or hired by public officials who cannot, and sometimes will not, speak English while performing their job duties. It affects the way these workers interpret contracts and ordinances. In fact you will hear so much Spanish in government buildings that it tends to alienate visiting non-Spanish speaking citizens.

While I cannot stand behind an English-only law, I do believe that English MUST be the one language for conducting the duties of American government. English is the single trait that unifies all Americans. I would like to say it's the Constitution and Bill of Rights but one needs to know English to personally understand it.

Jan. 27 2012 09:37 AM
Julian from Manhattan

I understand the need for an official language, but the English-only initiatives are veiled racism. The Hispanic population is increasing at a faster rate than other segments. To try to cut them off from their language is not only unrealistic, it just doesn't make sense. Many other countries have more than one language that is officially recognized. Perhaps this ethnocentrism expressed in terms of language is another reason Americans don't understand other cultures, let alone being able to find foreign countries on a map.

Jan. 27 2012 09:36 AM
Dan from Rumson, NJ

At the risk of sounding "anti-immigrant" (which I am not) there is a legitimate reason for English proficiency in our elected officials. The principle task of city councils, state legislatures and our congress is to write laws, and when writing laws language does matter.

There is too much opportunity for unintended consequences in sloppily written laws and regulations.

Jan. 27 2012 09:36 AM
Sandy from Toronto, Canada

In Canada, we've had at least one recent prime minister who didn't speak English fluently. (Granted we are a bilingual country, however the majority speak English.) This Prime Minister is the one that set up our banking regulations which helped Canada survive the recent financial crisis in fairly robust condition.

I also have a colleague who uses interpreters because most of us aren't fluent in ASL. Doesn't seem to be a problem.

Does the United States even have an 'official' language?

Diversity is to be embraced!


Jan. 27 2012 09:36 AM
Deborah from Massachusetts

Cabrera should take English classes to bring her English up to par, and then run for office again. This would set a good example for the community she wants to represent. Learning and improving foreign language skills is very rewarding. I am a native Enlish speaker, I am proficient in French, and I am now studying Turkish as well.

Jan. 27 2012 09:33 AM
Dorothy from Boston

I understand Ms Cabrera graduated from an AZ high school. What does her lack of proficiency say about the quality of AZ's education system? Not much that's good!

Jan. 27 2012 09:31 AM
Laura from Natick

I work full time as an American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreter in the Boston area. Everyday I see Deaf professionals run meetings, departments, companies, and movements using ASL. The Deaf community is a linguistic minority and its an honor to be a part of their daily lives. It is also true that Deaf people are viewed as less intelligent and less competent because their first language is not English. It is sad that in 2012 America is so behind in the fact that knowing several languages is beneficial to our brains, our minds, and our professions.

Jan. 27 2012 09:15 AM
natalie from Masachusetts

I am trilingual English, Spanish and French I learn English at the British Institute in Chile French in High School perfected at the Alliance Francaise and made languages a life endeavor. My feeling is "the more the better" I don't condone the idea that if you live in this country you wouldn't be able to communicate in the native language. And that brings me to the point of: How do you think native Americans felt about this topic?

Jan. 27 2012 09:14 AM
Susan from Upper West Side

I spent 18 years of my life starting with Peace Corps and continuing in international nutrition where I had to pick up MANY languages. I had to teach biology and chemistry in French to high school students. My students would always correct the accent marks I never mastered. Then I had to learn Lingala for two reasons, the women in the market did not speak French so I would have starved had I not learned the basics quickly and because my students would cheat on tests by telling each other the answers in Lingala. I learned Lingala from a five year old who thought it was hilarious to teach an adult to speak properly. I then went to Peru where I basically spoke French with a Spanish accent. I never did rise to the level of thinking in Spanish. I always thought in French and spoke Franish. I was understood and eventually could carry on fairly sophisticated political conversations in Spanish. Much later I had to do a training in Mozambique. Most spoke Spanish, but Portuguese was their first language. I hate to imagine how my mixture of Spanish with a few words of Portuguese sounded to them. They were VERY patient with me. I've found that people in most of the 33 countries I've visited are very tolerant when an American attempts to speak their language. The one exception is Paris. I always pretended I didn't know a word of French because they would laugh at the African accent I had when I spoke French. I just don't understand all the anger over language.

Jan. 27 2012 08:42 AM
atif qadir from Brooklyn

What are the actual requirements for running in that district? This smells like political opportunism by a jealous rival.

Jan. 27 2012 07:30 AM

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