Moral Low Ground

US Government

‘Douche du Jour’: Chris Harris, Texas State Senator, Blasts Man for Testifying in Spanish

A Republican state senator from Texas was so infuriated when a man testifying before a Senate committee on sanctuary cities spoke in his native Spanish that he publicly lambasted him. According to Raw Story, Texas senator Chris Harris told the man that speaking Spanish was “insulting” if he also knew how to speak English.

The man was testifying against a controversial bill that would ban sanctuary cities— municipalities that follow certain practices designed to protect undocumented immigrants– in Texas by withholding state grant money from them.

The bill passed and now heads to the state House of Representatives.

Senator Harris interrupted the man and asked him to explain why he was speaking in Spanish with the assistance of a translator. He responded in Spanish and his translator said that “Spanish is his first language and since it’s his first time giving testimony he would rather do it in Spanish.”

This really raised Harris’ hackles. “It’s insulting to us,” Harris fumed as the audience muttered in approval. “It’s very insulting, and it means if he knows English, he needs to be speaking in English.”

Unfazed, the man completed his testimony in Spanish.

The next speaker after him, perhaps in solidarity, said: “I had prepared my remarks in English, but I’ve chosen to do them in Spanish. Or in French, s’il vous plaît.”

I suspect that Senator Harris objected as much to the man’s defense of sanctuary cities, of which there are 15 in Texas, as he did to his choice of language. Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin and Ft. Worth– the five largest cities in the state– are all sanctuary cities. His anger also seems odd considering that his Senate website contains an option for Spanish translation.

In the video below, Sen. Harris’ interruption occurs around the 2:20 mark.

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  1. Mel GoodsonJune 16, 2011 at 3:09 pmReply

    Horray for Senator Harris…either speak English or go to some other country…

    • Brett WilkinsJune 16, 2011 at 3:48 pmReplyAuthor

      Are you aware, Mr. Goodson, that there is no official language in the United States?

      • Carol AbarcaJune 17, 2011 at 5:07 amReply

        Yes Mr. Wilkins you are correct we have no official language, which we need to address, but it has been our unofficial language since this great country was formed.

    • EricJune 17, 2011 at 6:38 amReply

      Mel,if you want to hear English only, YOU should go to some other country. Here in my country, America, there is no official language so people are free to speak in English, Spanish, French, Japanese, Portugese or any other language they choose.

      • Dorene GoodsonJune 18, 2011 at 3:58 pmReply

        Eric, you are correct, there is no official language in the U.S. However there is the common language,,,English

  2. Mark AngeloJune 17, 2011 at 9:12 amReply

    Why did you leave the part of the story out that the man had lived in the USA for 23 years?

    Mr. Wilkins, there may not be an official language for the USA, however, there is the language that every one of the founding documents was written in, and that is English. The immigration requirements REQUIRE legal immigrants to be able to speak, read, write and understand simple English. After 23 years in a country, you are able to speak English (and he was, admittedly) but refused to do so intentionally, as did the following speaker. It is a political statement, pure and simple, and THAT is why people are glad to see someone in politics actually stand up for America.

    • Brett WilkinsJune 17, 2011 at 9:43 amReplyAuthor

      It doesn’t matter how long the guy has lived here. He doesn’t have to speak English if he feels more comfortable speaking in Spanish in order to make his point as effectively as possible in such an official forum as a Senate hearing. In my state, for example, driver’s license exams are available in 32 languages! Look, I’ll admit that immigrants ought to learn English, especially if they want the best chance at succeeding in American society. But the type of rabidly reflexive reaction demonstrated by Senator Harris smacks of the type of bigoted yokelism that makes the entire civilized world consider places like Texas a laughing stock. I know better– I was born there and like visiting the Lone Star State and could even see myself living in a city such as Austin one day if I am priced out of the San Francisco area. But by acting this way, Harris and his ilk are bound to be labeled as backwater bumbletards, and not undeservedly!

      • Marissa MartinezJune 18, 2011 at 3:51 pmReply

        Brett Wilkins,
        I have been paying attention and I am NOT outraged. I do not think that what Senator Chris Harris said should have him labeled as a “backwater bumbletard” or a “racist” (as some people on other forums have been posting). What Mr. Aguirre did was neither illegal nor unconstitutional. There is no official language for the U.S. However, the fact that the U.S. Constitution is written in English demonstrates that English is the de facto language of this country. Although the citizens of this country might speak several different languages, English is the language that unites us all. It is this nation’s lingua franca because it is the language used in the government and required to be taught in the school systems. The Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition chose Mr. Aguirre to represent them before an English-speaking Senate committee. When Mr. Aguirre spoke at the congressional hearing he was not speaking as an individual but making a political statement on behalf of all the immigrants of Austin who would like to be U.S. citizens. When he chose to do it in Spanish he was sending a tacit message: Immigrants should not feel compelled to learn the English language nor assimilate into this country. It is reasonable for a country to expect its immigrants to assimilate into its culture and Mr. Aguirre has been living here since 1988. That is 23 years, and he still does not feel comfortable speaking in English? He himself admitted in Spanish, his translator ignored that part, that he knew English. At 2:50 into the video he said “yo sé el idioma”. If an immigrant does not like the culture of a certain country, he should not move there. Part of the assimilation process involves learning the language. That is why many people, like the Senator, are upset. I am more upset at the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition. I was born in the U.S., but my heritage is Mexican. All of my Mexico-born relatives that live in this country speak English (minus my paternal grandparents). My Father came here from Valle Hermoso, Tamaulipas, Mexico in 1986. He has been here only a little longer than Mr. Aguirre and he speaks English well. I know my father could have represented the Coalition in English with no problem, even though he only has a high school education (which he completed in Mexico). Why didn’t they send a person who felt comfortable speaking in English?

        • Brett WilkinsJune 18, 2011 at 4:07 pmReplyAuthor

          Your argument is compelling, Ms. Martinez. I, too, am Mexican-American (half; and born in Texas to boot!) but I choose to see the long view here. One day people will look back and shake their heads in disgust that we had this debate, or that we even had primitive things like nationalities and imaginary lines on maps to divide people. The earth belongs to us all, and any human ought to be able to go where he or she pleases and speak whatever language they wish. Besides, making an issue out of such a petty thing as native born vs. immigrant, English vs. Español is just what the ruling elite class of this country wants us to do. It takes our attention away from the REAL issues facing our nation, namely the fact that in my lifetime the income of the middle class has remained flat while the top 1% have grown insanely wealthy robbing us blind. That is the REAL problem facing America today, not some people crossing an imaginary line to enter a state that was part of THEIR culture and spoke THEIR language for hundreds of years longer than it was part of the USA, until the USA stole it from them.

  3. jimJune 17, 2011 at 4:13 pmReply

    way to go chris.

    now dont back down.

    we all know you will because you got an R next to your name.

  4. bradJune 18, 2011 at 6:46 amReply

    If I go to Mexico or Japan, is it incumbent on me to learn Spanish or Japanese, or on the citizens of those countries to accommodate me by learning English. English is the most widely spoken language in the world , and, unofficial or not, it’s the one spoken here.

  5. Brad MorrisJune 18, 2011 at 9:28 pmReply

    If I go to Mexico, is it incumbent on me to learn Spanish or on them to learn English?

    • Brett WilkinsJune 18, 2011 at 9:34 pmReplyAuthor

      You should learn Spanish. But I believe if you don’t, and you need a translator if you are called to testify at an official hearing, no one would begrudge you for using one. Besides, they’d expect the Gringo to be ignorant and monolingual.

      • OofAugust 11, 2011 at 10:30 amReply

        Ignorant Gringo? Who is the racist now? Mr. Wilkins, thank you. Clearly you believe your opinion to be true enough to keep talking, yet in doing so, you let your true colors show. Glass houses my dear.

  6. Brad MorrisJune 18, 2011 at 9:46 pmReply

    If I’d lived there for over twenty years they’d expect me to testify in Spanish. Secondly, we’re not talking about immigrants here, but about illegal aliens. If they want to be part of this country they need to go back to where they came from,find a sponsor and get in line like all legal immigrants.

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