By Inmaculada García-Sánchez and Marjorie Faulstich Orellana
There’s a saying in Spanish: “Mi casa es su casa.” (My home is your home.) It’s a kind and loving phrase, assuring people that they are welcome in one’s home, akin to the English saying, “Make yourself at home.”
The White House sent the opposite message to Spanish speakers in the U.S. when it took down the Spanish language links on Whitehouse.gov on Inauguration Day.
The new administration wasted no time in engaging in all kinds of highly symbolic executive actions to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that there is a new sheriff in town. The new winds that swirled through every institution of government on January 21st, 2017 were even felt on the White House website. As was much publicized both in the national and international press, minutes after the oath of office, the climate change, health care, civil rights, and LGTBQIA rights pages were taken down. But the disappearance of the Spanish language links on Whitehouse.gov has received much less attention.
This decision did not come out of left field, of course. The nativist tone of Trump’s campaign included ridiculing political opponents, such as former Gov. Jeb Bush, for speaking Spanish on the campaign trail. But it is still shocking in its short-sightedness, and it breaks with an almost sixteen-year tradition of providing bilingual access to government information, started by the Republican administration of George W. Bush.
How can an administration, whose avowed goal is to make America great, purposely curtail civic engagement and access to vital government information to the 41 million Spanish-speakers who currently live in the U.S.? The measure of removing the Spanish language links from the White House website is punitive, exclusionary, and at odds with the fundamental democratic principles of our nation of equality and justice for all.
Let’s be clear. Most – a full 68% - of Spanish speakers in the U.S. are also fluent in English (Pew Report 2015). But, of course, the ability to speak in everyday conversation does not immediately translate into the skills needed to make sense of dense, political and bureaucratic language in its written form. Even for young people who spend every day studying language in school, it can take up to ten years to acquire that kind of fluency. Why, then, exclude millions and millions of people from an in-depth understanding of civic obligations and government information? How is that going to make America great?
These are the points made by authors of a new petition trending in We The People, the White House citizen-initiated petition page. Written by Ana Celia Zentella, Professor Emerita of the University of California, San Diego and backed by scholars from the Society for Linguistic Anthropology (SLA) Committee on Language and Social Justice, the petition asks the White House to reinstate the Spanish language links on WhiteHouse.gov.
The U.S. has been home to millions of Spanish speakers since 1848, when the U.S. annexed a large part of Mexican territory. To remove the Spanish language links on WhiteHouse.gov is like slamming the door of the First House of the nation in the face of millions of our fellow citizens.
The text of the petition in English and in Spanish can also be found below:
We, the undersigned, are committed supporters of our nation’s democracy and its fundamental principles: liberty, equality, and justice for all. Recent actions by the Trump administration threaten those principles, including the elimination – as of Jan., 21st, Inauguration Day- of links to information in Spanish on the White House webpage, WhiteHouse.gov. Liberty, equality, and justice FOR ALL require access to important information. Although the majority (68%) of native speakers of Spanish in the U.S. are also proficient in English (Pew Report 2015), previous administrations have provided links to Spanish versions of written materials, to ensure in-depth understanding of those issues.
We urge you to reinstate the Spanish links on WhiteHouse.gov, so as to confirm that your avowed goal to “make America great” includes the entire nation.
Nosotros, los abajo firmantes, estamos comprometidos a apoyar la democracia de nuestra nación y sus principios fundamentales: libertad, igualdad y justicia para todos. Algunas recientes decisiones de la administración del Sr. Presidente Trump presentan una amenazan a estos principios. Una de ellas es la eliminación –a partir del Día de la Inauguración Presidencial 2017- de los enlaces de páginas Web que contienen información en español de WhiteHouse.gov. Para que haya libertad, igualdad y justicia PARA TODOS se requiere acceso a esta importante información. Aunque la mayoría (el 68%) de los nativo hablantes del español en los EE.UU también hablan el inglés bien (Pew Report 2015), proveer la traducción en español de la página Web del Gobierno, como en el caso de administraciones anteriores, asegura una mayor comprensión de los materiales a un mayor número de personas.
Les exhortamos a que por favor reinstalen los enlaces en español de la página WhiteHouse.gov, para así dar acto de fe de que la meta declarada “to make America great” incluye a toda la nación estadounidense.