It just makes sense these days to hold political debates en Espaņol
Arizona Daily Star


Tucson, Arizona | Published:

My opinion by Maria Elena Salinas


Why Spanish? That was the question posed by many skeptics when Univision Network, the leading Spanish-language television network in the country, proposed to hold political debates among both Democrat and Republican presidential hopefuls. The mere idea of addressing political issues in the United States in a language other than English made some critics cringe, and the thought of it being in Spanish made others feel threatened.
The candidates themselves were sort of put between a rock and a hard place, some of them fearful of the unfamiliar territory yet not wanting to snub Latino voters, others concerned about a possible backlash from the "English-only" movement, and all weighing the risk factors. Fortunately, the voice of reason prevailed. Democrats accepted. Republicans are still working out the issues and their schedules.
Again, for disclosure purposes, let me state on the record that I work for Univision Network. My co-anchor Jorge Ramos and I who did the questioning Sunday, so I am not writing this as an independent observer but rather as one of the protagonists.
For me it is a natural progression to have political candidates participate in a debate or forum in Spanish. I've been covering political campaigns for more than a quarter-century and have interviewed my fair share of candidates at the local, state and national level in English whose responses have been broadcast en Espaņol. By agreeing to be interviewed by Spanish-language media, politicians know they have their best shot at reaching Latino voters.
So again we pose the question: Why Spanish? Maybe we can find the answer in the numbers. There are 44.3 million Latinos living in the United States, an increase of 1.4 million from July 2005 to July 2006. That, of course, does not include the almost 4 million Puerto Ricans who live on the island. According to recent data released by the Census Bureau in anticipation of Hispanic Heritage Month, three out of four Latinos speak Spanish at home. That is 32.2 million people. Overall, one of eight residents in this country speaks Spanish.
Of those who speak Spanish, almost half say they speak English very well. So most Latinos have a choice when it comes to getting their news and information in English or Spanish, and many choose Spanish because the language is possibly the strongest symbol of Latino cultural identity.
It is very difficult for some people to accept it, but the reality is that the United States is a bilingual country. Not officially, of course, but there is no denying that in spite of the fact that English is our primary language and there are dozens of other languages spoken across the country, Spanish is the second-most-important language of our land. The United States has the second-largest Hispanic population in the world, after Mexico with 106 million inhabitants and before Colombia with 43 million. Latinos are 15 percent of the population in this country, and Census projections indicate that by the year 2050, Hispanics in the U.S. will grow to 102.6 million, making them 25 percent of the population.
There are 15 states in the country with at least half a million Hispanic residents. One-third of the population of California and Texas is of Latino origin. Forty-four percent of the residents in New Mexico are Hispanic, the highest of any state. In 22 states, Hispanics are the largest minority, including the politically important states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
By participating in a forum that would be broadcast in Spanish, the Democratic presidential candidates acknowledged that the Latino vote will be crucial in the electoral process. They acknowledged that Hispanics are the fastest-growing sector of the electorate. They sent the message that they will not take the Hispanic vote for granted and are willing to take political risks in order to address the issues that most affect Latinos in this country and make sure that they get that message en Espaņol.
My opinion
Maria Elena Salinas
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