In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Language wars should be left in past

 

fsantiago@MiamiHerald.com

The rich and beautiful Spanish language, so widely spoken in all of Miami-Dade County and well into Broward, hardly needs political protection in Doral.

The nation’s largest and most powerful Spanish-language television network is headquartered there. In May, The Miami Herald and its sister Spanish-language daily, El Nuevo Herald, will call Doral — where 62.7 percent of business owners are Hispanic — home, too.

Every official elected to the Doral City Council is Hispanic — and Spanish-speaking. Yes, there is a difference; plenty of Hispanics in other parts of the United States speak only English, but according to the 2010 Census, about 78 percent of Doral’s population of 45,700 speaks Spanish at home.

Call City Hall en español and you’re dispatched right through to the person or department you need. No one stumbles over names.

No hay problema.

No trouble in English either.

Bilingualism is thriving in all aspects of civic, business, and cultural life in Doral, a city nicknamed by its residents “Doralzuela” for the high percentage of Venezuelans who call it home.

So it was quite strange when, given other governmental priorities for this growing city, the new mayor, Luigi Boria, proposed declaring Spanish the official second language, arguing that it was necessary to attract foreign business owners and igniting a bit of a language tiff.

Wisely so, when the issue came up Wednesday, every council member expressed some kind of disapproval.

“It alienates too many other nationalities and that’s the problem,” councilwoman Ana María Rodríguez, Miami-born of Cuban-exiled parents, told me Friday. “People don’t realize we have a tremendously multicultural community here, not just Hispanic. We have Hellman, a huge German company. We have the Taiwanese and other Asians living in Doral too — and lots of Brazilians who speak Portuguese. The truth of the matter is that when you’re doing business in City Hall or in government, the appropriate language is English. It unifies.”

I agree with Rodríguez.

If Spanish (or any other language, for that matter) were under attack and its use in danger of being prohibited as it was in the 1980s, I would be unequivocally in favor of a resolution declaring Spanish an official second language.

I’ve covered divisive language issues for decades, and I can tell you that the bilingualism battles in Hialeah and Miami-Dade in 1980 were well worth fighting — despite the polarization they caused — because what lurked underneath the anti-Spanish sentiment was pure prejudice against Cubans.

But that’s not the case now in Doral.

Behind the language designation is a strange mix of politics, personal convenience and pandering somewhat reminiscent of the truly bad days of governance (yes, there have been darker days) in the city of Miami.

Mayor Boria, a successful businessman who came from Venezuela 23 years ago, doesn’t speak English as eloquently as others.

“By making Spanish the second language, he can get away with speaking Spanish at city events and at City Hall,” a City Hall insider told me.

The fact that Boria doesn’t speak English well — an issue during the campaign, yet he was elected — is further proof that the Spanish language needs no official designation.

But what does need protection in all of Florida, including Doral, is the state’s Government in Sunshine Law. Public meetings should be conducted in a manner that is open to all, and that includes being understood by all. Allowing a mayor to pick and choose the language in which he wants to conduct the people’s business hardly advances the cause of open government.

The council showed support for a second part of Boria’s resolution that declared the city “multicultural.” Not that Doral needs official pronouncements on the obvious, but at least, the title is inclusive.

As for the language wars, let’s leave them where they belong — a part of history, and so yesterday.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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