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The Politics of Language

Posted on: February 2nd, 2012 by Larry

A woman has been barred from running for city council in the small border town of San Luis, Arizona. Alejandrina Cabrera is of legal age. She’s a U.S. citizen and a resident of that town. She hasn’t been convicted of a federal crime. She attended an Arizona high school and earned her diploma. So what’s the problem? She doesn’t speak or understand English very well. But neither do many of her constituents, she argues.

Cabrera’s candidacy was challenged by the mayor, who admits that his English isn’t perfect, either. Cabrera says most of the everyday business that’s done in her town is done in Spanish, and that is the preferred language for most of the people that would be her constituents. But the mayor says – and a judge agrees – that Cabrera’s English proficiency is insufficient to permit her to hold public office. Read more.

Like many states, Arizona has a law that requires public office holders to be proficient in English. (In that case, perhaps it would be appropriate to change the name of the town from San Luis to Saint Louis?)

  • Isn’t it up to the voters to decide if Cabrera is the right person to represent them?
  • What do you think should be the standard for language proficiency?   Reading?  Writing?  Speaking?  Understanding?
  • Provisions are made all the time for people with disabilities. In fact, they are required. Do you think there would be wrong with providing Cabrera with a translator? Why or why not?
  • With the way demographics are changing in the United States, is it important for English speakers to try to learn Spanish?