NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 3, 2005

On Sunday, the Pasadena (Calif.) Star-News reported on the Pasadena city council candidacy of Herminia Ortiz. Although the race involves local issues, it has national significance in that Ortiz appears to be the nation's only candidate for office who does not speak English.

An immigrant who came to the United States from Mexico in the 1970s, Ortiz will face incumbent councilman Victor M. Gordo for the District 5 seat in the Mar. 8 election. Despite three decades in the United States, the Star-News reports that Ortiz only recently began taking English classes.

This event is troubling for what it signifies, explains Mauro E. Mujica, Chairman of the Board of U.S. English, Inc.

  • It highlights the fact that for many immigrants, English has become optional rather than a civic duty.
  • Tens of thousands of immigrants find that they don't need to learn English to survive in America.
  • Now we have an immigrant who doesn't need to learn English to run for office in America; if many immigrants take the same attitude, our national unity will be in serious jeopardy.

Moreover, there are practical considerations:

  • If Ortiz wins, will the city provide her with a translator?
  • For what events and at what cost will the translator be allowed in closed sessions, where duly authorized participants are sworn to secrecy?
  • Would the city pay for translation at political functions?

"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it," said Jane Rodriguez, the Pasadena city clerk, who is responsible for setting up translation at public hearings. "We haven't come across that before ... It would be expensive."

Source: Rob Toonkel, "California candidate would be nation's only elected official who speaks no English," U.S. English, Inc., March 1, 2005; and Gene Maddaus, "English barrier mulled in election," Pasadena Star-News, February 26, 2005.

For Toonkel text:


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