There’s an ugly fight going on in Denver that’s turned down-right nasty in recent days. Abortion politics? Iraq? Flag burning? Nope. It’s about whether Latinos should have the right to read Spanish-language materials at their local library.
Covered by the Rocky Mountain News and various other media outlets, the debate basically boils down to this. Anti-immigration activists got wind of a small collection of Spanish-language graphic novels callled fotonovellas that apparently contained rather racy material. The activists then used this as an excuse to protest the library’s use of taxpayer dollars to purchase Spanish-language books and open library branches catering to majority-Latino neighborhoods.
“This is America. Our language is English. It’s important that our public institutions adhere to a single language,” said Fred Elbel, a Lakewood resident and president of Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform.
In case Mr. Elbel is reading this, I’d also like to note some interesting statistics, courtesy of the Rocky Mountain News:
- One-third of Denver households are Latino.
- 21 percent of households speak Spanish at home.
- More than half of the students in Denver public schools come from Latino households.
Meanwhile, various newswires reported today that Texas has become the fourth state in the country in which the majority of residents represent a minority – Latinos. The number of Latinos are growing throughout the country, including Colorado. This is America. And the mission of America’s public libraries has always been to serve the informational needs of the general public. When the public that surrounds a particular library is Latino, the library would be breaking their social contract with the community by not providing materials in Spanish. Libraries aren’t recipe boxes, folks. There’s room for both English and Spanish – or whatever other language happens to be representative of the community.
Granted, some of the fotonovellas that caused this controversy in the first place were of questionable taste, and not restricted to the adult section of the library. I can understand people griping about that. But the notion of denying Latino citizens the right to read materials in Spanish because they were paid for with tax dollars — tax dollars contributed by countless Latinos, no less — is patently absurd. While they’re at it, they might as well go after other “foreign” content destroying the fabric of our society, like:
- French copies of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (Why read it when you can just download the soundtrack off iTunes?)
- Original works by Virgil, Horace, Ovid and Catullus (I mean, there can’t be many Denver residents with passports from the Holy See)
- All known copies of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky (Because no one in their right mind would consider that English, right?)
Meanwhile, this debate has stirred up a series of posts on my DIGITALDIVIDE list, including one from Jorge Gallardo Rius of Honduras:
I am a latino, born in Honduras and living here as well. I’m bilingual (my father was Honduran and my mother from the US). I’ve been lurking on this chat because I read both, english and spanish.
I always say that I have the advantage of having read “The French Lieutant’s Woman” in English and “100 Years of Solitude” in Spanish. I think that both of these authors use very fine language technics in their novels.
I entered the web site for the Colorado Library and looked at what the fuss was all about. Frankly, I wouldn’t want my children to read some of the stuff that was on there, in English or in Spanish.
There is excellent literature in both languages. Actually, if you see the list of the latest Nobel prizes in Literature, you’ll find several Latin American and Spanish authors.
I was saddened by a commentary by one Congresswoman saying that the other should ONLY speak in English. This attitude is wrong. The joining of cultures makes it stronger. But culture is not achieved by reading bad literature. Somehow, a joining of the minds in benefit
of children’s best interests in culture must be achieved in Colorado.
What could be worst is that all Spanish literature be banned from public libraries.
I am always amazed at how an educated people can become so broken apart.
Me too, Jorge. Yo también. -andy