Bilingual ballots? No, gracias!

Politically correct Reno Gazette-Journal columnist Emma Sepulveda, a Chilean - American, was at it again recently with a column titled "Bilingual Ballots? Si, Gracias." With that offering she demonstrated once again that after many years in the U.S. she still doesn't understand how things work and how most people think in her adopted country.

"Let me start by saying that translating the ballot into Spanish or any other language is about giving more people access to the voting booth," she wrote. Is it ever! Translating the ballot into other languages grants precious voting rights to people who understand little if anything about the candidates or the issues, and that's not what our Founding Fathers intended. Elections are only meaningful if the electorate is at least semi-informed about the candidates and the issues on the ballot.

Although my Appeal friend and editorial page colleague Kirk Caraway and I frequently disagree, both of us think that U.S. voters should read, write, speak and understand English. "I'm sorry but if you can't speak English you have no business voting," Caraway wrote a few weeks ago. "Our Constitution is written in English. So is our history. And if you want to know anything about this country, especially local government and politics, then you had better speak the language." Well said, Kirk.

I worked at the Carson Mall during the Aug. 15 Primary Election and didn't encounter a single Spanish-only voter. In fact, most of my Spanish-speaking friends are equally fluent in English, as they should be in order to vote in our elections. Although we speak Spanish from time to time, it's English-only when we go to the polls as fellow Americans. At this point, I want to endorse the Hispanic voter registration drives being conducted at the Sierra Bakery and elsewhere around town. With approximately 20 percent of the local population, Hispanics are entitled to proportional representation - but only if they understand English and know who and what they're voting for.

In Washoe County, private donations paid for the translation and printing of Spanish-language ballots. But if county clerks and voting supervisors are going to permit ballots in other languages, why don't we also have ballots in Chinese, Russian, Vietnamese and other common second languages? The answer is that English is the lengua franca of the United States; it's what permits naturalized citizens to integrate themselves into the daily life of the American melting pot.

Now, I realize that there are those who oppose the melting pot theory. They promote the Balkanization of America by attempting to divide us up into separate ethnic and linguistic enclaves so that they can continue to control their foreign-born constituencies. I think that's a dangerous concept because without a common language, naturalized Americans are doomed to second-class citizenship for life. And that's why I oppose bilingual education, which condemns children to a confusing never-never land between languages. While I favor the teaching of foreign languages in our public schools - after all, Spanish has been good to me and my bilingual children - the principle language of taxpayer-funded public instruction should be English, not "Spanglish."

But Ms. Sepulveda argues that "voting should not be left only to people who have mastered the English language. In a democratic process, one of the goals should be to have the most people possible engaged and participating in the process." I quite agree with the last part of her argument, which is why I urge Homeland Security Department immigration examiners to ensure that new citizens have a working knowledge of the English language, one of the bedrock requirements of American citizenship. After all, my late Mexican-born wife, Consuelo, had to learn English before she became a proud American citizen in 1967. And if it was good enough for her, it's good enough for 21st century immigrants to our country.

I speak for Consuelo and millions of naturalized American citizens when I assert that the privilege of voting should be reserved for those who have taken the time and effort to learn our national language, English. Ms. Sepulveda's efforts should be directed at teaching English to Spanish-speakers rather than at promoting bilingual ballots. Most U.S.-born Hispanics agree with me on this important issue because they don't want Ms. Sepulveda or anyone else telling them how to vote. Most Hispanic Americans, including my bilingual children, don't consider themselves to be anything other than full-fledged American citizens with the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else despite political pressure from those who want to segregate them into a separate, Spanish-speaking voting bloc.

If Ms. Sepulveda really wants her fellow Hispanics to participate fully in American democracy and the voting process, she'll make sure that they learn English and educate themselves on the candidates and the issues before they go to the polls in November. Otherwise, we'll be creating a separate but equal status for Spanish-speaking voters, a flawed concept that was rejected long ago in our nation's public school system.

I'll close with a message to Ms. Sepulveda and her misguided followers: Welcome to America, and please learn English so that you can be full participants in the civic and political life of your adopted country. Bilingual ballots? No, gracias!

• Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, has been a Carson City election worker since 1996.


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