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County Judge Lina Hidalgo addressing the media about a fire at a storage facility in the Houston area. (Facebook/KHOU 11)
County Judge Lina Hidalgo addressing the media about a fire at a storage facility in the Houston area. (Facebook/KHOU 11)

‘This is not Mexico’

Texas official jeered for using Spanish to address constituents, nearly half of whom are Hispanic

By WITW Staff on March 28, 2019

A Texas county commissioner has issued an apology after he criticized a county judge for speaking Spanish during a broadcast to a heavily Spanish-speaking viewership.

Lina Hidalgo is the chief executive for the government of Harris County, Texas. (Officials who hold this position are known as “county judges” in the state.) She had been addressing a fire at a storage facility in the Houston area, making her comments in both English and Spanish. The briefing was broadcast live on the Facebook page of CBS-affiliate KHOU 11 News, during which time Chambers County Commissioner Mark Tice expressed his displeasure with the bilingual update.

“She is a joke,” he reportedly wrote on the live feed.

“English,” he added, “this is not Mexico.”

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is giving an update on the coordinated response to the ITC situation khou.com/ITCFire

Posted by KHOU 11 News on Monday, March 25, 2019

 

The county that Hidalgo presides over is home to more than 4 million people, 43 percent of whom are Hispanic or Latino, census figures reveal. Tice’s comments drew immediate backlash, but during an interview with the Houston Chronicle, he initially doubled down on his criticism.

“It’s real simple,” he said. “This is the United States. Speak English.” Tice insisted that his comments had “nothing to do with race.” But, he opined, “If you come to this country, learn the language or get an interpreter.”

Hours after that interview, however, Tice issued an apology on Facebook, saying that he was under the impression that both reporters and Hidalgo had been speaking exclusively in Spanish, with no English translation.

“If that is not the case, then I sincerely apologize,” he wrote. “Like many citizens concerned about the ITC fires, I was very emotional about the effect it was having on everyone. I apologize to Judge Hidalgo, the citizens of my County, and most importantly the entire Hispanic community for hastily acting out with transgression on social media.”

Hidalgo, 28, was born in Colombia and became the first Latina to be elected county judge last year. She is not the only official to give bilingual press conferences — according to the Chronicle, Houston’s police and fire chiefs do the same.

In the wake of the incident, Kiran Khalid, a spokeswoman for Hidalgo’s office, issued a statement saying that Hidalgo “is directly responsible for the safety of 4.5 million residents of Harris County, a third of whom are Spanish speakers. The vast majority of the public relies on local news for information in a time of crisis.”

“Judge Hidalgo represents all of Harris County,” Khalid added, “and given the county’s composition and her bilingual skills, she will continue to communicate as broadly as possible especially when public safety is at stake.”

Read more at the Washington Post.

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