La Constitucion De Los Estados Unidos En Espanol: Un Servicio Para El Pueblo Americano

By Chen, Jim | Constitutional Commentary, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

La Constitucion De Los Estados Unidos En Espanol: Un Servicio Para El Pueblo Americano


Chen, Jim, Constitutional Commentary


Citizenship through immigration and naturalization represents one of the firmest foundations of American political culture. "The history of the United States" arises in no insignificant part from the "stories, talents, and lasting contributions of those who crossed oceans and deserts to come here." (1) Among the many streams that feed immigrant culture in the United States, the Spanish-speaking population comprises an absolute majority. As of July 1, 2009, the estimated Hispanic population of the United States was 48.4 million. At 16 percent of the United States' total population, this bloc represents the nation's largest ethnic or racial minority. More than one of every two people added to the United States' population between July 1, 2008, and July 1, 2009, was Hispanic. (2)

Confronted by the influx of Hispanics and the corresponding emergence of Spanish as America's leading foreign language, American voters and politicians now face a legal choice "between a 'No Trespassing sign and a welcome mat." (3) Among the many cultural shibboleths that distinguish conservatives from their fellow Americans in contemporary politics, a certain disdain for the Spanish language looms large. George W. Bush, perhaps the most capable speaker of Spanish ever to serve as President of the United States, has publicly opposed the rendering of the national anthem in any language besides English, but most of all in Spanish. In response to a local public school principal who led his students in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in English and in Spanish, the Minnesota Legislature entertained a bill requiring the Pledge to be recited solely in English. Only in today's America could a politically powerful faction treat the following promise of fealty as a subversive act: Yo prometo lealtad a la bandera de Estados Unidos de America, y a la Republica que representa; una nacion baio Dios, indivisible, con libertad y justicia para todos. (4)

This was not always so. A generation ago, the United States government actively promoted the translation of iconic American texts into Spanish. The Constitutional Bicentennial Commission, under the leadership of Warren E. Burger, known less for his commitment to a flamboyant form of multiculturalism than for his stewardship of the Supreme Court, authorized, published, and distributed a Spanish version of the Constitution. To this day, in an apparent effort to communicate some sense of American society and its dearest values to the larger world, the National Archives publishes a Spanish translation of the Constitution on their website. (5)

Already, the language of Cervantes and Borges is spoken by millions of Americans, in many cases as their first or only language. Elected officials, or at least those who care about being reelected, ignore Spanish at their peril. Winning the eight states with Spanish names--Arizona (11), California (55), Colorado (9), Florida (29), Montana (3), Nevada (6), New Mexico (5), and Texas (38)--secures 156 electoral votes, more than half of the 270 needed to win the presidency. In 2012, Barack Obama won five of these eight states and exactly two-thirds (104 of 156) of the electoral votes at stake. To regain the Presidency, Republicans must count the Hispanic and Spanish-speaking vote. Hall a century after Katzenbach v. Morgan, (6) there is no serious doubt that "as a means of furthering the intelligent exercise of the franchise, an ability to read or understand Spanish is as effective as ability to read English for those to whom Spanish-language newspapers and Spanish-language radio and television programs are available to inform them of election issues and governmental affairs." (7)

Given the sharp increase in the Spanish-speaking population of the United States, a future United States government might embrace the notion, pioneered by the United Nations and later embraced by the European Union, that a political system's fundamental law might be expressed in more languages than one. …

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