When a political writer characterized as “a dress rehearsal” the first debate between Florida gubernatorial candidates Rick Scott and Charlie Crist — in Spanish, a historical first for a statewide race — I took his choice of words personally.
I thought he meant, disparagingly, a practice run “for the real thing in English.”
Blame my thought process on the epic language battles in South Florida, those that you think are thankfully over, but when you least expect, come back out of the blue, too often disguised as another issue.
Ay, el español in America, so passionately loved, hated — and feared.
But I call it progress when Spanish is enjoying a good run — and Friday I went to bed after the well-covered gubernatorial debate on Miami’s Telemundo51 and woke up Saturday to more Spanish making a splash in American politics.
The New York Times, arguably the nation’s most important newspaper, ran an unprecedented bilingual editorial on the Cuban embargo. Despite the compelling read, however, my interest was aroused more by the linguistic experiment than the predictable content. The newspaper’s Editorial Board had stated its position in favor of lifting the embargo in a December editorial.
But I was drawn to the dual language exercise and it didn’t disappoint: A deft translation, insightful commentary pro and con in both languages — and the expected obligatory complaint about the introduction of another language into the mainstream.
“So would the NYT kindly translate the comments made in Spanish to English because English is the language of this country?” chimed in a reader, S. Berger. When no one answered his query he pressed on. “English is the language of this country, not Spanish. I hope this is not a trend of the NYT.”
He was, however, a lone voice.
Most readers appreciated the effort. One reminded Mr. Berger that Spanish was the first European language widely used in the United States and in official documents.
Back in Florida — where Hispanics make up 24 percent of the state’s population and 14 percent of the registered voters — the Scott-Crist “debate” was more of a mixed blessing.
It was a little too confusing for bilingual viewers like me who could hear the Spanish translation over the spoken English — and couldn’t tune out either language.
Journalists asked the questions in Spanish and the answers in English from Crist and Scott were dubbed over by a Spanish translator who performed instantaneous miracles of communication.
But he couldn’t fix the pitiful performance, particularly of Scott, who won’t answer the race’s most relevant questions in any language. Scott also chose to say introductory and final words in Spanish, but he mangled them so badly I couldn’t understand a thing.
That would have been okay — in my book, everyone gets credit for trying — if Scott had respected voters enough to give them real answers in whatever language.
And so, the language of Cervantes made its debut in big time politics. It’s a positive step for all Americans, too often seen by the rest of the world as insular, provincial and language-challenged.
I declare the Spanish language — loved, hated, feared and mangled — winner of the week in politics.