The case of Alejandrina Cabrera, who was barred from running as city council member in San Luis, Arizona, because it was believed she didn’t speak English well enough, goes against the basic principle that voters are the ones who should decide who will represent them.
Requirements for council members in San Luis don’t include having a certain level of English fluency or taking a language tests. It is hard to accept the fact that it was one of Cabrera’s political rivals who complained about her lack of English fluency, and that judges are the ones deciding what is best for the citizens of San Luis. This opens a dangerous door that lends itself to discrimination.
The story of Cabrera, however, brings up a separate but related issue: the immigrant community’s need to speak English in order to progress in the U.S.
In a case like Cabrera’s, it’s very possible she speaks enough English to communicate with her electorate, since they’re mostly Spanish-speaking. But whether her fluency is enough, for example, to directly lobby on behalf of her constituents on a state and federal level, is open to discussion-especially given the precision and clarity necessary for government issues.
This valid discussion about Cabrera’s ability to adequately represent her voters should be debated in an election campaign and not in court.
Beyond the legal issues, we think this should also resonate with the Latino community as an example of the importance of learning English when living in the United States. It’s important to maintain the mother tongue and cultural richness, but also to learn the local language.
Therefore, it’s unnecessary to create new laws making English the official language in the U.S. That’s a waste of time and resources to reaffirm what is obvious. No one denies the importance of speaking English. On the contrary, schools can’t cope with the demand from immigrants wanting to learn English.
But, make no mistake, one thing is to recognize the importance of learning English, it is a whole other story to deny an entire constituency the opportunity to elect the best person to represent them.