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Yet Another Example of a Collective Action Problem

Wednesday, June 06, 2007
I get why they're putting on a Spanish-language Presidential debate. After all, a large proportion of Hispanics are Spanish speakers, and it behooves anyone wanting to be President to reach out to them. It satisfies both the interests of the candidates and an important voting bloc. It is useful and respectful voter outreach. But.....

I still think it's probably a bad idea. Not because of the specifics of the issue, and not because of the potential backlash of white nationalists voters. No, I'm afraid this is just where I part company with my fellow liberals. No common language, no country - it's as simple as that. I am not necessarily proposing making English the official language, or getting rid of Spanish/English signs. I just think that political discourse needs to be conducted in a way in which every citizen can watch and understand. To have a Spanish-only debate is to effectively exclude the vast majority of the citizenry from the debate. A Spanish translation? Sure. But the reality is that far, far more American voters are English speakers rather than Spanish ones. As such, political discussion has to be conducted in English. I mean, having 2 languages hasn't really helped Canada all that much, has it?

I'm not even sure that a Spanish-language debate would be that helpful to Hispanic voters. From a quick google, it turns out to be 75% of Hispanics are either English-dominant or bilingual. So why is this even necessary? And as I've said before, I am deeply concerned that linguistic bifurcation would make it very, very easy for unscrupulous politicians to manipulate their constituencies.

So at risk of getting flamed or being accused of being a racist, I wish this weren't happening. It's just one of those cases where every actor has an interest in doing what may not be the right thing for the country as a whole. Univision wants ratings, Spanish-dominant speakers want a convenient Presidential debate, and candidates want a chance to appeal to to Hispanic voters and don't want to be labeled as anti-Latino.

But I'm just concerned about where this is all heading. I think it is far more likely than not that Latinos will over the long term be a fully assimilated into American culture as every other immigrant group. But stuff like this certainly doesn't help in that cause. But maybe I'm wrong - I'm more than happy to entertain an argument on this point.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:00 AM
  • Yes and no, I think. You're probably right that over time Latinos will be as assimilated as any other immigrant group, though the proximity of the US to Spanish-speaking countries makes things a little bit different. Probably the main group who are unlikely to learn English are migrant workers, who don't vote anyway. Yet those same migrant workers undoubtedly help fill out the constituency that pays the bills for Univision.

    I understand your concerns but I find it hard to be very worried about it (though I'm open to the argument that I should be worried). Is a Spanish-language debate substantively different, really, than printing campaign materials in different languages?

    It's somewhat different with Canada, because you actually have a longstanding nationalist issue. Quebec has always been a well-defined (and culturally defensive) nation within a larger federation. Hispanics in the US have far more motivation to build bridges to the politics and society of the states where they live -- if only for their own self-interest.

    By Blogger Paul Curtis, at 3:21 PM  
  • I'm still uncertain about how worried I should be. Printed campaign materials are not the chief way people get information - television is. And I can speak from experience in NYC that candidates DO use the different languages to send very different signals to their constituents.

    You're right about the Canada example - it is truly an extreme case. But there is a geographic concentration right on the border, which could play a similar role if the cultural distinction were to crystallize and be perpetuated over time. I don't think it will happen, but it could happen.

    By Blogger Arbitrista, at 3:51 PM  
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