Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/0910ruelas10Z7.html

Spanish speakers getting lost in the translation
The Arizona Republic
September 10, 2003

Richard Ruelas

Councilman Michael Johnson's district extends from the Barberia barbershop at 48th Street and Broadway Road west to Raliberto's Mexican Food at 19th Avenue and Buckeye Road. It includes a large chunk of southeast Phoenix, where El Panamericano Food Store and Discoteca Rais Musical are situated.

A lot of Latinos live in these neighborhoods. Judging by the signs at the strip malls, a good number communicate in Spanish.

But they can't do so with their councilman's office. No one on Johnson's staff speaks Spanish.

Well, outside of this phrase: "Un momento please."

That's what someone in Johnson's office said when I called and asked to speak to someone in Spanish. I was then placed on hold.

About two minutes later, I was connected to the voice mail of Minnie Mendoza in Councilman Doug Lingner's office. "We don't mind assisting the other districts," Mendoza said when she called back. It happens "once in a while."

She says, "Once we translate the information, we get it to District 8."

Johnson sees no problem with this extra step for Spanish speakers. "We've never had anyone call into our office that we weren't able to make sure we got some help for them," he says.

Johnson says his office gets very few Spanish-speaking calls. He counts four during his 18-month term. Although he says that doesn't count Spanish speakers who call the main switchboard. They are not transferred to Johnson's office, but instead directly to someone who speaks the language.

Despite the pockets of Spanish-speaking neighborhoods in District 8, Johnson says it's not worth having someone on staff that can communicate in Spanish.

"What I need on staff is professionals that are able to deal with all the constituents within the district and all the issues we have within the district," Johnson says.

"It is not geared towards any one nationality. It's making sure we provide the best possible service we can."

State Rep. Ben Miranda sent Johnson a letter last week, raising "the question of providing bi-lingual staff for District 8 residents."

Miranda criticized the practice of shuttling Spanish speakers to other city staff members. "Other elected officials through their staff should not have to bear the burden to service the needs of District 8 residents," the letter reads.

Johnson bristles at that suggestion, saying he's not overburdening the city staff. He says Spanish speakers get the same attention as English speakers, albeit with an extra hurdle.

Several businesses in Johnson's district have removed that hurdle.

Spanish speakers can buy bread, boots, CDs and tacos.

What they can't do is talk to someone in their councilman's office.

Reach Ruelas at (602) 444-8473 or richard.ruelas@arizonarepublic.com.