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Latino Daily News

Thursday September 8, 2011

Perhaps Surprisingly, Multi-Lingualism Continues in Congress

Perhaps Surprisingly, Multi-Lingualism Continues in Congress

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Some might be surprised to learn the number of Members in the House that speak Spanish, and do it frequently.

It seems the Spanish-speaking Members have their own little section on the House floor. The group is in no way an exclusive “club” for Hispanic Members, and includes Members of all nationalities.

The “barrio in the back” as some jokingly refer to it, includes Grace Napolitano, Silvestre Reyes, Nydia Velazquez, Mike Honda, and other congressmen.

Honda, who learned Spanish while with Green Peace in El Salvador, jokes, “You never want to see Nydia Velázquez get angry. She’ll just tongue-lash you in English or in Spanish. And José Serrano, that guy’s funnier than hell. He’s so cool. ... There’s a comfort level that they have among each other. It’s just a camaraderie that’s enhanced by the language.”

And since not all Members speak the language, Honda says non-Spanish-speaking Members are often wary of approaching the group, though he points out, “If you’re a Republican coming up, they just chat, they don’t say go away I’ve never seen them reject anybody.”

But while many in the U.S. have become divided over the topics of immigration and border security, House Members are finding a way of coming together on the House floor to discuss “anything and everything”, from policy to a barbeque the next weekend.

This is a far cry from how Spanish-speakers back in the 18th and 19th century were treated like New Mexico Rep. José Gallegos whos joined Congress in 1853. He was elected speaking no English, and when he asked for a translator when on the floor he was denied, even when he offered to pay for it himself.