Donald Trump, whose relationship with Latinos already is frosty, has taken down the White House’s Spanish-language website, and in the process may have kicked off another fiery English-only debate.
It was unclear Monday whether the elimination of Spanish was permanent; White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did not directly address the use of Spanish during his briefing for reporters.
Some scholars saw the decision as a sign of the president’s “America first” message of protectionism and worried that the absence of Spanish will be taken as an affront to the many Latin-Americans who identify with the language.
“The removal of Spanish says something about English monolingualism, but it also says something about the speakers of Spanish,” said Phillip Carter, a sociolinguist professor at Florida International University in Miami. “Are you in or are you out? Suddenly they’re out.”
The United States, whose population includes about 52 million Spanish speakers, doesn’t have an official language. The founders debated it, but the idea was abandoned because Americans spoke so many languages that making English the only official one might be considered tyrannical – the reason many American residents had fled their home countries.
Still, battles over languages have persisted, particularly in communities that find themselves hosting large numbers of non-English speakers.
Are you in or are you out? Suddenly they’re out.
Phillip Carter, Florida International University
The White House “español” page, which appears to have been taken down after 5 p.m. on Friday, was not the only page removed. Pages dealing with LGBT issues, climate change, health care and civil liberties also disappeared.
Spicer said the White House computer team was “working hard” to build the website, but he did not say whether Spanish content would return.
“We’ve got the IT folks working overtime right now to continue to get all of that up to speed. And trust me, it’s just going to take a little bit more time but we’re working piece by piece to get that done,” he said.
Trump’s rhetoric on language during the campaign fueled concerns. During the Republican primary last year, Trump criticized Jeb Bush, a former governor of Florida and a fellow Republican candidate, for speaking Spanish. “He should really set an example by speaking English in the United States,” Trump said.
During the campaign, Trump struggled to gain traction with Latinos. Despite winning the election, he received less than 30 percent of the Latino vote after a series of critical comments. He called Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists. He criticized the nation’s only female Hispanic governor and accused a U.S. district judge of being biased against him because the judge was of Mexican descent.
States have taken different approaches toward communicating with residents who speak multiple languages. Some, like Florida, have multilingual ballots for elections. Miami-Dade County, for example, has ballets in three languages. In San Francisco, voting materials are routinely made available in English, Spanish, Chinese and Filipino.
There are more than 61 million people in the United States who speak languages other than English in the home, including 25 million who told the U.S. Census Bureau that they don’t speak English well.
Mauro Mujica, chairman and CEO of U.S. English, a group that supports making English the country’s official language, said it had been only a day and the administration might simply not have completed the work of producing a Spanish-language site. But he questioned why Spanish should be given a priority and not others of the 350 languages spoken in the United States.
“I see nothing wrong with the webpage being in English,” Mujica said. “Almost everything else is in English. I got The Wall Street Journal this morning in English. I don’t ask them to give me a few pages in Spanish.”