Speaking English in Texas Committee Hearing

Antolin Aguirre has lived in the U.S. since 1988. He testified last week in a Texas committee hearing regarding an immigration bill. He chose to speak in Spanish and use an English interpreter to communicate with the Texas Senators, despite having lived in the U.S. for approximately 23 years. Senator Chris Harris challenged Aguirre’s use of Spanish given Aguirre’s residency of over two decades but specifically includes the caveat “if he knows English”. Aguirre’s English isn’t up to snuff – he couldn’t understand Harris’ challenge to him. However, Aguirre refused to admit that after two decades his English was less than it should be.

In Bolivia, an American using English in a court of law giving testimony regarding either a civil or a criminal case in which they are the defendant – and therefore the stakes are higher – is only acceptable if the American is extremely incapable of understanding and speaking in Spanish. In one such situation, the courts objected and only barely agreed o the use of English and an interpreter when the American had lived in Bolivia for just 4 years. Had that American been proven able to speak even a single sentence of Spanish then they would have been refused an interpreter. As it stood, the American was permitted only the use of a court-appointed interpreter.

Notice that Aguirre does speak English at key points in this video. Notice, most importantly (and carefully – it’s quiet), that he almost attempts to comply with Senator Harris’ demand and begins to speak in English when his companion (interpreter) stops him and instructs him to use Spanish.

This is not a situation in which a speaker risks perjuring or implicating himself. He is offering testimony as an advocate for a political opinion. He is advocating a preference. Not only was his decision rude, it was foolish to his cause.

Texas isn’t just about legalities. Our families moved to Mexico, and later to Texas, in order to become Mexicans and Texans. Our Texian and Tejano ancestors advocated for Mexican and then fought for Texan liberty. They formed the Republic of Texas and later joined the United States. The decision to transition to a primarily English-speaking society was made over 150 years ago. Latin culture remained and blended into Texas just as American culture remained and blended. Texas is a blending of very different cultures into a unique, separate, voluntary identity. Aguirre was testifying about a Texan political issue and has lived in Texas for over two decades. Why then is he not making the effort to become a Texan, or if he is making that effort and is trying to learn the language (which is not easy) then why does he not express that?



Also, please listen to the end of the following video. You don’t need to understand Spanish to notice a difference between the testimony of Aguirre and the English translation given by his interpreter. Just listen for “Arizona”. Aguirre says, in Spanish, that he lives in Texas “because Texas can be better than Arizona.” His interpreter translates this to, “because Texas can do better.” Either his interpreter is rubbish, or the interpreter deliberately cleaned up Aguirre’s testimony because the final comment regarding Arizona was politically dicey and would have further offended some politicians and citizens.

The interpreter did previously change the testimony; Aguirre began that chunk of testimony by stating that “family is the nucleus of this society” and the interpreter translates this to “family is an inclusive society”. Again, either the interpreter is a lousy Spanish-speaker and needs a new job, or he’s deliberately changing Aguirre’s testimony to make Aguirre sound less intelligent.

I think that the “nucleus” becoming “inclusive” was an honest, albeit very careless, mistake. Omitting a whole statement, “because Texas can be better than Arizona”, which was at the very end of a sentence and therefore more difficult to miss, cannot be an accident. I am persuaded that the interpreter changed Aguirre’s testimony because he knew that Aguirre’s own words would offend the committee. This is one important example why Aguirre’s use of Spanish was offensive.

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One Comment

Nicholas June 18, 2011 Reply

Incompetent or not, the interpreter should be fired.

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