I was in a state of dread watching the second Democratic debate last night, fearing that the candidates would feel obliged to follow in the steps of Beto O\’Rourke and Cory Booker the night before, and break into Spanish.
On the first night, when those two stammered their few ungrammatical, mostly incomprehensible sentences in the language of Cervantes, I cringed. And then I got angry. Did Booker and O\’Rourke really think that the Hispanic population would be so swept away by hearing them mumble a couple of sentences in Spanish that they would forget to examine the candidates\’ records and their policies? How much more patronizing can you get?
Julián Castro also said a few things in Spanish, but they came more naturally to him, by reason of his heritage. Nevertheless, I find the habit of larding speeches with foreign sentences in order to manipulate the emotions of a certain population silly at best–sort of like a male candidate attempting to capture the women\’s vote by dressing in drag.
Language is a powerful thing. When I hear on the news the voices of captive immigrant children crying mamá! papá! it brings tears to my eyes, because those are the names I called my parents as a child. I remember myself newly arrived in the U.S., and I imagine being separated from them. But when I hear Spanish badly used for political effect, I don\’t feel flattered or included. I feel insulted.
Still, this is a crucial moment in politics, and I am pragmatic enough to recognize that a candidate may have to resort to less than pristine tactics in order to win. So I suggest that, with the use of Spanish, brevity is best, as when Julián Castro wrapped up his remarks by promising that, on January 20, 2021, we will say adiós to Donald Trump.