Hi 81 / Lo 73
|Volume 72, Issue 68,
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Denying the language barrier is dangerous
At a time when immigration is an explosive political issue, the Spanish language has come to the attention of the American public again. And in Georgia, an oft-stereotyped part of the Deep South, it would be easy to assume any language debate centers on forcing English on immigrants as a quasi-official state language.
But as is often the case with assumptions, that would be wrong.
Instead, Georgia is making strides to bridge the language gap between Spanish speakers and public safety officers who speak only English. The state is offering classes to dispatchers and law enforcement officers on basic Spanish terms and etiquette -- officers are being discouraged from tossing around the term "amigo" to Hispanics stopped for traffic violations, for instance, The Associated Press reported Monday.
It is also interesting to note that Georgia's actions put the state ahead of some border states in bridging the language and culture divide. Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sherriff Joe Arpaio explained it in conservative terms. "I'm not going to train my officers to speak Spanish when the illegals are in this country," he told the AP.
Though Arpaio's sentiment is surely shared by many Americans, Georgia's effort to train its officers is remarkably pragmatic. A lack of Spanish-speaking dispatchers or officers does not force Spanish speakers to learn English; that just doesn't make sense. It's like refusing to require sex education and then expecting pregnancy rates to go down -- it only results in a lack of understanding and confusion at things that could be easily explained.
Texas officials should follow Georgia's lead, because adapting to the reality of any situation is better than refusing to change based on a political ideal. And aside from the practicality of teaching officers and dispatchers Spanish, Texas has a little bit of pride at stake. Sure, it's already home to the baddest law enforcement officers this side of Wyatt Earp, the Texas Rangers. But if Georgia's going to teach its lawmen the language of Emiliano Zapata, the Lone Star State needs to keep up rather than catch up.
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