January 30, 2012
Alejandrina Cabrera was born and raised in America and graduated in the 1980s from the same Arizona public high school as former UFC heavyweight champion Cain “Brown Pride” Velasquez. On Wednesday a judge in Yuma County—a flat, sun-murdered vacuity in the Grand Canyon State’s dusty southwestern corner—ruled that Cabrera does not possess the rudimentary English skills necessary to serve on San Luis City Council.
A video of Cabrera’s court appearance reveals a woman with a weaker grasp of Inglés than even José Jiménez, Speedy Gonzales, or the Frito Bandito:
Prosecutor: Where did you go to high school?
Cabrera: In 1986.
In, um…in 1983.
Excuse me—I asked you when—where did you go to high school?
After, uh, high school, um, I went to college.
And where did you go—
[Judge Nelson interrupts]
Nelson: Just a moment. Mrs. Cabrera, you can step down. You can go back there.
The judge had heard enough. In his ruling that disqualified Cabrera from eligibility to run for a seat on the San Luis City Council, Nelson pointed to a “large gap” between Cabrera’s “basic survival English” and the level of aptitude required to perform her duties. “It was clear to the court that she was stymied by many questions, did not understand many questions, failed to comprehend what was being asked, and guessed at answers,” Nelson wrote. Cabrera’s lawyers appealed Nelson’s ruling on Friday and are expected to file an appellate brief today.
Arizona has become a bellwether for what will likely be America’s grandest cultural divide of the 21st century: the demographic struggle between Anglos and Hispanics, two groups that are split along a seemingly intractable linguistic rift. Arizona is home to an ongoing immigration dispute that has pitted the governor against the president. The state recently outlawed a “Mexican-American Studies” program that was deemed to encourage Hispanic resentment against Anglos.
In 2006, Arizona voters overwhelmingly passed a measure that made English the official state language. Although the United States has no official lingua americana, a recent poll shows that two-thirds of Americans prefer that English be legally enshrined. In last week’s GOP debate, sour-tempered silver gnome Newt Gingrich said he favored making English the official national language.
This has all fallen on deaf ears in the heat-wilted border town of San Luis, AZ, probably because nine out of ten residents speak Spanish at home. The 2010 US Census pegged the city’s population as slightly over 25,000, with a decisively dominant 99% of its residents being Hispanic. (The quotient was less than 90% in 2000.) So as someone who’s fluent in Spanish but only possesses “survival English” skills, Cabrera would adequately represent her local constituency.