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Spanish Ballots

By Mara Zuniga

At the first Athens-Clarke County budget hearing, I suggested to the local government to redirect funding for the Board of Elections for Spanish translation of ballots to Casa de Amistad for ESL classes. ESL classes would help non-English Spanish speakers to become more proficient in the English language. Becoming proficient in English is also more sustainable than continuing tospend on translations and would enable Hispanics to understand the key issues that will affect them as taxpayers as well as candidates’ stances on those issues.

I appreciate and understand those who think that a one-time translation is all Hispanics need to be part of such a complex process. All my relatives are Hispanic. I am a Nicaraguan immigrant with Naturalized citizenship. I have many family members who speak English well, some not so well and some don’t speak English at all. I have family and friends that are undocumented, legal residents and citizens. I have heard the different perspectives on the challenges of living in a foreign country and I have heard it in the fullness of our native tongue. Nothing was missed due to mistranslation. So, when I give an opinion about the needs in my community it is not done from afar but from total immersion in my own culture.

Many legal residents want to become American citizens but lack foundations in basic grammar that will be necessary to learn basic English. Understanding this, I came up with a Bilingual ESL Preparatory program that I taught voluntarily. This program paved a way for regular ESL classes.  I incorporated civic, history and geography classes. I taught this program for two hours, twice a week for two years. They were then ready to move on to regular ESL classes and prepare for citizenship classes and its test.

The citizenship test is given in English. There is an exception with strict requirements when one can take a translator. The test is made up of ten questions taken from a pool of 100. To pass the test, six out ten must be answered correctly (one can see sample questions at immigrationdirect.com). I dare say that some American born citizens will find this test difficult.

Thus, if you can pass this test, you can read or figure out a ballot. To believe the opposite is to presume Hispanics do not have the ability or smarts to do so.

I understand the authentic concern that some folks may have toward this issue. However, there are a very few who hijack the issue for political agendas. To back up their arguments, they use that one or two Hispanic relatives or friends, who barely speak the language and may feel intimidated or incapable of reading English ballots, to say that this is how the whole Hispanic community feels. Even some community and governmentleaders think they can speak on behalf of the Hispaniccommunity without participating or listening to it much. Onemust immerse within a culture daily to understand what the community needs not just when voting season is around the corner and you want their vote.

If there exists a legitimate concern for the Hispanic community to understand voting material, why is there no concern to have them understand the issues? City hall sessions, town hall meetings and candidate forums never have translators. I have yet to see Spanish materials at these important events.

So, is it preferable to have a one-time translation of ballots, which Hispanics don’t really need, or to equip Hispanics for a lifetime of success?

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