Texas State Senator Angered at Hearing Testimony in Spanish

As Mr. Antolin Aguirre gave testimony before the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee this week he chose to give his testimony in Spanish. One of his fellow panelists acted as a translator. The testimony became cumbersome as the translator was unable to keep up. Texas Senator Chris Harris (R-Arlington) became angry and interrupted Aguirre and asked "Why aren't you speaking English?"

Aguirre had earlier stated that he had been in the United States since 1988. Senator Harris said "It is insulting to us. It is very insulting and if he knows English, he needs to be speaking English."

Houston's KHOU CBS 11's Gabe Gutierrez asked me to weigh in on this issue as part of his coverage of the story. Here is what he, and I, had to say.

The statement has sparked yet another firestorm as the left tries to use this issue to paint Republicans as anti Hispanic. But that is certainly not the case.

SB 9 has been a very long, very emotional and very drawn out debate. If you have ever sat in any of these hearings you know that many times (especially in contentious debates) you sit for 5-10 hours to testify for 5 minutes or less. Anything that delays that or causes delays is frustrating to the panelists of the committee and to the members of the audience.

While a witness would not be required to speak English, Aguirre's decision to speak Spanish frustrated attendees and Senators who do not speak and have no idea what is being said. Follow that with the delays caused by his selected interpreter not being able to keep up and asking him to repeat would add fuel to the fire. As he was capable of speaking English, perhaps his cause, and other's patience, would have been better served had he at least attempted in English.

If your purpose in testifying is to inform or persuade, why would you testify speaking a language many on the panel do not comprehend? Could it have perhaps been a political stunt?  Or could it have at least been perceived by the Senator as a political stunt? Was that what angered him?

To add insult to injury, the next speaker came along and said he would be giving his testimony in Spanish, "or in French, s'il vous plaît?"

The Senator's staff told KHOU, "Senator Harris’ comments were in no way intended to be derogatory," his spokesperson, Kristen Webb, said in a written statement. "He continues to support the passage of SB 9 which will prevent Texas cities from directly or indirectly harboring illegal immigrants. This legislation creates a uniform standard across the state that will make Texas safer." 

Sadly, most of us have no idea what Aguirre had to say.

The hot days of summer are certainly upon us. Perhaps it would be good for everyone to step back, take a deep breath and start working together to make Texas a better and safer place.


Make sure to check out the comments on Facebook.

I was thinking about writing something about this but your article is much better than what I would have written anyways! This was not about wanting to put down another language. This is all about communication. For a government, or anything for that matter, to function, there needs to be good communication. That is what learning English when someone comes to America is all about... it is about being able to communicate. you still have your history from wherever you came from, but to be able to communicate in the country you go to you have to learn their language whether you go to france or germany or America. If someone everyone at the hearing got up and tried to testify in a different language then nothing would get accomplished and it would certainly be costly and unreasonable to have to pay for a translator for every different language group that comes to America.

The same argument that Harris used about Mr. Aguirre not speaking English can be used for Harris not learning Spanish.  He has been in Texas all his life...so what is the problem.  With Hispanics being the largest growing population in Texas, it is time that politicians better serve their constituents by learning Spanish.  I have no time to waste for bigots.

I couldn't agree more with Senator Harris. A man who has been in this country since 1988 certainly knows, or should know, how to speak English. Speaking in Spanish is just another affront to the people of the US and is undoubtedly being done to create division between the countries. Moreover, by eliciting a response from a Republican elected official, it seems evident that it was done to make the GOP appear to be anti-Hispanic. Had Senator Harris not objected it would have been viewed as a victory for those who seek to intimidate the host country. Kudos to the senator!!!

This is an English-speaking country. The senator is not required to speak every other language uttered by those who visit or are granted permission to live here. The bigots are those who clamor for a chance to live in the great USA and then try to divide us with their reluctance to assimilate into the culture. Their supercilious attempts at national pride for their erstwhile country are contradictions of their reasons for wanting to live here. If they only want to speak Spanish they're welcome to do so in their native country. Of course, that would require that they live there; a thought that evidently disgusts them.


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