Published February 08, 2013
On Tuesday evening, it was announced Senator Marco Rubio would provide the GOP’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union address next week. No surprise, there — Rubio is the GOP’s rising star. What sent the Web into a tailspin of commentary: Rubio will present his remarks in both English and Spanish.
While the majority of Americans cheer and praise the unique, historic move, criticisms nonetheless abound — from both sides of the political aisle. Comments on Twitter range from: “the GOP’s token Hispanic” and “it’s shameless pandering” to “this prevents Latinos’ assimilation” and (shockingly) “Rubio has divided loyalties.”
Such criticisms are not only offensive (to both Latinos and non-Latinos) but woefully counterproductive. Consider the following:
1) Spanish is the second-most spoken language in the United States.
2) Nearly 50 million Americans speak Spanish.
3) Over 16 percent of the United States population is Hispanic.
4) Hispanics are the fastest-growing group in the nation.
5) In the 2012 presidential election, both candidates produced Spanish language ads.
6) Mitt Romney earned only 27 percent the Hispanic vote.
With these statistics in mind, how is Rubio’s Spanish-language address anything but a terrific idea, not only for the GOP but simply on a universal level, a welcoming-embrace of our national diversity? If a rising political star in either political party speaks fluent Spanish, the question should not be “Why is he delivering remarks in both English and Spanish?” but rather “Why isn’t he?”
As for the “You’re in America, speak English!” usual cry, many fail to realize that English is one of the most difficult languages, from a linguistic standpoint, to learn, particularly in adulthood. The assumption that some Latinos do not speak fluent English simply because they ‘have not made the effort’ is both false and lacks compassion.
Take, for example, Josie. She emigrated from Guatemala 15 years ago as an adult. A hard-working, taxpaying hairstylist with a deep love for this country, one is hard-pressed to find a greater patriot. But Josie’s English is limited — despite taking a course, she has trouble with the language structure. Although she is interested in becoming more cognizant of the political debate in America, and to ensure a strong nation for her son, her lack of English fluency often limits her participation. Yet how did Josie receive the news of Rubio’s Spanish-language address? Her DVR is already set.
Or how about 16-year-old Alex? A high school student born in America, his English is perfect. His Cuban abuelita’s, however, is not. This is the first time they can sit, watch, and discuss a major address together where the speaker’s voice is not clouded by a network translator.
Even for those millions of Latinos who are bilingual, many are nonetheless more comfortable in their native language. What’s the harm in communicating to them in the most effective way possible?
All should applaud this historic move — inclusion is simply American…and good communication is simply good politics.
So to Rubio, using a word we can all understand, I say: “Bravo.”