Should politicians run campaign ads in a foreign language?

Politico disapproves of Donald Trump’s insistence on running only English-language campaign ads:
Trump’s English-only campaign. Paying little attention to shifting demographics, the Republican nominee offers nothing in Spanish. (emphasis added)

While the majority of Latino voters are English-speaking, Trump’s refusal to campaign in Spanish is a powerful symbol of how little heed Trump has paid to America’s shifting demographics. Latinos now make up about 10 percent of the national vote, with electorally potent concentrations in crucial battlegrounds such as Florida, Colorado, Nevada and even North Carolina.

Let’s look at the language question alone, separate from the campaigns’ issues: Should politicians run campaign ads in a foreign language?

The whole “you must speak to the Hispanics in their language in order to get their vote” is condescending, insulting and patronizing.

Look, I have no problem if anyone running for office speaks the language(s) their parents taught them at home to an audience of similar background. Imagine that you are of Welsh ancestry, for instance, and you are addressing the local Welsh society to talk about your campaign: somebody decides to close the event with a rousing chorus of Suo Gan and you know the words because your mom used to sing it to you when you were little? By all means, knock yourself out and sing your heart out. If you are fluent enough in Welsh (not many people are), indeed, say a paragraph in Welsh.

Just make sure your grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation are really good, whatever language you speak. Your audience can tell.

What is insulting is the assumption that in order to communicate with Hispanics, they must be addressed in their language.

For starters, experience and travel have taught me that there is no such thing as “Hispanic.” I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, where I lived for the first nineteen years of my life. I have as much in common with the average Peruvian as I have with the average Thai. Most of that commonality derives from the fact that we are Americans choosing to live here most of our lives.

Then there are the politicians who supposedly speak Spanish.

I am a former Berlitz instructor, and having listened to Tim Kaine’s rather pained Spanish, I’d give him an “A” for effort, but he could use a good language coach. Marco Rubio, who grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, has perfect Spanish. Ted Cruz, who did not grow up in a Spanish-speaking household, wisely refrains from inflicting his Spanish to the public at large. I really really don’t want to hear Hillary or Trump or Johnson or Stein in Spanish.

And let’s not ignore the one fact that even Politico begrudgingly acknowledged: the majority of Latino voters are English-speaking.

How much of a that majority consume their news in English? Eighty percent.


So if a PAC decides it’s a good idea to spend big bucks on TV ads in whatever language, fine by me. Just don’t do it out of a misguided notion that it’s because “you must speak to the Hispanics in their language in order to get their vote”.

Fausta Rodriguez Wertz writes on U.S. and Latin American politics, news, and culture at Fausta’s Blog.