Outside view: The Spanish debate

By MARC LEVIN, Special to United Press International  |  March 8, 2002 at 12:17 AM
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AUSTIN, Texas, March 6 (UPI) -- On March 1, 1836, Texans convened to declare their independence from Mexico.

On March 1, 2002, Texas retreated from one common culture with an unprecedented Democratic gubernatorial candidate debate in a foreign language. In a state and nation that once encouraged immigrants to assimilate, a gubernatorial candidate has now been pilloried for trying to speak to Texans in the language of this state and country.

In his opening statement of the English debate that was proceeded an hour later by the Spanish debate, Dan Morales declared, "In Texas we speak English as our primary language, and I think it is imperative that we promote the notion, and that we influence young Hispanic children to learn English as quickly as they possibly can."

On several occasions, the journalists serving as panelists chided Morales for giving part of his Spanish debate answers in English. Moderator Jaime Ruìz of Univision even told Morales the organizers of the debate "do not approve" of him speaking partly in English.

Ironically, Ruìz, who moderated both the English and Spanish gubernatorial debates, made countless grammatical errors when speaking in English, yet it was Morales' Spanish that was ridiculed as "dubious" on News 8 Austin by University of Texas Mexican-American studies professor Jose Limon.

Morales was also subjected to race-baiting by Tony Sanchez. In the Spanish debate, Sanchez, according to the stilted live translation, said, "He (Morales) has never shown the pride of being Hispanic" and "is embarrassed to be Hispanic."

After the debate, Dallas Morning News editorial writer Ruben Navarrette revealed on Texas Cable News that the Spanish word Sanchez used was even stronger than "embarrassed" because it means "ashamed."

This illustrates the enormous context and precision that is lost in translation. The inaccuracy of translation is one reason why a state and nation must, as a practical matter, have one common language. When time is not an issue, translations may eventually convey full meaning, but who could imagine the U.S. military giving instantaneous field orders to soldiers who cannot speak English?

While some claim that holding two debates solves the language gap, legislative debate can only be conducted in one language, and that language is English. By pretending otherwise, Morales correctly concluded the Spanish debate does a disservice because it sends the message that learning English is unimportant for good citizenship.

To be sure, English is no more superior to Spanish than Chinese food is superior to Italian food. However, what Sanchez, who recently claimed that he was "bicultural," fails to realize is that the United States is superior to Bosnia in part because we have one shared culture, which includes English as our common language.

Even more disheartening were the implications of Sanchez's race-baiting attacks. His accusation that Morales is not a true Hispanic because he prefers English and opposes racial preferences is beneath contempt. The notion that all Hispanics must favor Spanish to English and support quotas wrongly assumes that Hispanics are monolothic and unable to think independently. In fact, many Hispanics in Texas do not even speak Spanish.

While Sanchez claimed in the Spanish debate that Morales "does not respect" Hispanics because he is speaking in English and that GOP Gov. Rick Perry also "does not respect" Hispanics, it is Sanchez who fails to respect Hispanics by falsely presuming that they all adhere to his separatist orthodoxy.

Additionally, Sanchez belittled Morales by calling him "an affirmative action baby" because he was accepted to Harvard Law School as a result of a preference and is now "removing the ladder behind him" by opposing racial preferences.

Sanchez's remarks demonstrate the lifelong stigma that minorities are forced to endure as a result of doubts that preferences (often unfairly) raise about their qualifications. In fact, because many minority applicants admitted by institutions such as Harvard that practice affirmative action would be admitted without the preference, Sanchez cannot prove his demeaning claim that Morales is a hypocrite because he benefited from a preference.

Sanchez also endlessly pandered to Hispanics. When asked about the issue of amnesty, Sanchez said he supports amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants without indicating there would be any limits. Sanchez stated, "they (the illegal immigrants) are respecting the law." This is simply not true, as by definition illegal immigrants are violating the law.

Dan Morales is unlikely to win the gubernatorial nomination, but he will be remembered for reaffirming that Texas is one state and America is one nation, both of which have English as their primary language. This is a theme that Sanchez never echoed.

On the other hand, Sanchez has sown the seeds that will reap a future of ethnic division. Instead of the American tradition of one melting pot, this debate and Sanchez's remarks portend a state whose people will be increasingly divided by language and government programs that give preference on the basis of skin color.


Marc Levin is president of the American Freedom Center and vice chairman of the Young Conservatives of Texas. He can be reached at mrmarclv@aol.com

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