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Why speaking Spanish can be tricky for politicians


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With America's growing Latino voting bloc, more and more politicians are trying to speak Spanish with varying degrees of success.

On the one hand, you had Kevin Faulconer announce his run for San Diego mayor earlier this week, first in English, and then in Spanish. People on Twitter called it a, "nice touch" and an "unexpected treat."

So what's a politician to do?

Syndicated columnist Rubin Navarette has some insight on this topic, and some advice for politicians hoping to appeal to the Latino population.

On why it doesn't make sense for some politicians to speak Spanish:
"I would argue that it really doesn't make a lot of sense for Kevin Falcouner to speak Spanish in his announcement. Statistics and demographics show that 80 percent now Latinos speak English exclusively or English and Spanish in combination. The figure of Spanish dominance is down to about 18 percent. But the other reason is, if you have a thin record up until now of doing anything or saying anything to help or serve Latinos, its kind of phoney for him to come forward and try to sprinkle in some Spanish as if that's going to be a substitute for any policy that will impact the Latino community in San Diego." 

On why its different for Latino candidates:
"There is a double standard here. If you are a white politician, Republican or Democrat, you will get credit for trying to speak Spanish. If you are Latino and you don't speak Spanish, people will come down harder on you. So there is this expectation that those of us who are third or fourth or even fifth generation Mexican Americans should have preserved our Spanish somehow."

On the possibility of alienating English-only constituents:
"I think Democrats deal with this more often than Republicans do. In the Democratic Party you have African Americans and labor members, most of them are white, a lot of them have done a lot for the Democratic Party and really can make a strong argument that the democratic party should be taking better care of them. Every time they see an overture to Latinos, there's a natural pushback to say 'Hey what about us?' It's a very solid point that those groups are making and the Democratic Party is sometimes at its wits' end over how to do both. How do you go after Latinos without alienating your base?"

On how Democrats can get away with Spanish flubs easier than Republicans:
"When Barack Obama greeted the Fifth of May by calling it Cinco de Cuatro, instead of Cinco De Mayo. He got a pass and mostly he would get a pass not just from Latinos, but from the press, because he's a Democrat. If a Republican does that, George Bush would continuously flub words in Spanish as well as in English, and they pounced on him for it. So if you're a Democrat I think you can get away with it, but if you're a republican you dare not."

On how using Spanish way get you further depending on your location:
"It depends on the region. In Texas, Colorado, Arizona and California, we have higher standards here for Spanish. If you're going to run for Mayor of Los Angeles and you say that you speak Spanish, we want to hear your Spanish and see how good it is."

Advice to politicians hoping to reach out to Latino voters:
"You've got to be more sophisticated in your approach. So don't get hung up on the Spanish and thing that somehow that if you sprinkle in a little bit of Spanish that's going to carry you through. You really have to devise some policy. What about having in your inner circle of advisors some number of Hispanics? That's probably a good idea and a good start."