The first month of Donald Trump’s presidency has been great for insiders and impressionists, but horrendous for just about everyone else on the planet. This includes civil rights pioneers, war heroes, women, environmentalists, journalists, justices, lawmakers, thinkers, educators and all those who respect language. As an educator–a language teacher at that–I find it more and more difficult to keep up with, let alone understand, Trump’s troubles in this area. His tweets have received the most attention–more on that later–but there also many more instances where the incoherence exceeded 140 characters. His positions lack substance and his team of advisors are left filling in gaps with outright lies, unsubstantiated claims and “alternative facts.”

What did we wake up to this morning? The news that the Trump camp was hawking an inauguration poster with a “to/too” error that a third grader could identify. We can add this to the growing list of grammatical errors, gaffes, hyperbole and hysteria that characterize Trump’s outspoken style. Is this the new Strunk and White? Call it Stink and Whine. Maybe Shrug and Wait. There seems to be a coincidental rise in these kinds of errors beyond @realDonaldTrump since January 20th. The Department of Education, now headed up by billionaire buddy Betsy DeVos, tweeted about W.E.B DeBois instead of W.E.B Du Bois. This is not about staffers with poor spelling or a “hot-take” mentality where timing is everything. No, this goes deeper. It represents a fundamental disrespect for clarity, truth or meaningful messaging.

This is not about staffers with poor spelling or a “hot-take” mentality where timing is everything. No, this goes deeper. It represents a fundamental disrespect for clarity, truth or meaningful messaging.

This has made it difficult for citizens of the United Stated to decipher what The Donald and his staffers are saying. As hard as it is for English-speakers, it’s even more difficult for citizens of the world–translating his hyperbolic, unfilter speech is a headache for those charged with this task. This is doubly troubling: first, the messages from the White House are neither coherent nor carefully crafted and second, translators are left to fit message into a linguistic and historical context in which they they don’t fit. The Los Angeles Times asked in a headline “How go you say ‘lowlife’ in another language? Trump’s tweets lose much in translation.”

Now, the lack of clarity might be mitigated if they White House were to provide any official non-English channels. Alas, they really don’t. In the most aggressive and inauspicious move, the incoming administration took down the Spanish language portal on the White House site. Readers are now greeted with a page that says, “Thank you for your interest in this subject.” It does not say “Gracias por su interés…” or even a Larra-esque line like “Vuelva usted mañana.” No, señor. Readers are met with a vague statement with an even more vague reference: “this subject.” Is “this subject” the White House? The Trump team? Its policies? The Spanish language? Issues related to the tens of millions of citizens who speak and read Spanish? Me pregunto. 

Essayist, professor, cultural commentator and author Ilan Stavans recently wrote a outstanding opinion piece for The New York Times entitled, “Trump, la muralla y el español.” In the piece he argues that the Spanish language site should be reinstated immediately and that the site should also be expanded to include “other languages of immigrants.” Stavans also argues that the Spanish language is already a dominant economic force in the United States: in purchasing power, in media influence and in political reach. Therefore, pulling the site is not only a step backwards in terms of White House precedent but also a backhand to millions of Americans. These are all valid points. Add to these the fact that Spanish has been spoken within our borders for as long as our nation has existed and you see a socio political reality in stark contrast: yesterday, today, tomorrow.

Therefore, pulling the site is not only a step backwards in terms of White House precedent but also a backhand to millions of Americans. These are all valid points. Add to these the fact that Spanish has been spoken within our borders for as long as our nation has existed and you see a socio political reality in stark contrast: yesterday, today, tomorrow.

We considered this opinion piece in one of my classes last week, and it inspired as passionate and personally invested conversations I have seen among students in 2o years teaching Spanish. They were conversation about inclusion, access to power, access to information and languages themselves. My students were able to see that there were two messages inherent in the “Thank you for your interest in this subject.” First was the message that Spanish-speakers–citizens, legal residents, students, and many others–were being denied access to information in the language they understand best. Second was that the very landing page says, in English, “This is not your land.” I was proud of my students and I was left wishing that the national discourse around inclusion and power were as civil.

Stavans is not the only Hispanophile who has made an educated, impassioned plea to reinstate the page. Gerardo Piña-Rosales, director of the North American Academy of the Spanish Language, issued a statement expressing his concern for the shutdown, no matter how long, of the White House’s web page in Spanish. He highlighted that other current resources and the Obama administration’s web pages serve as means of accessing information in the nation’s second language.

So, as of the time I write this, the page is dark. ¿Vuelva usted mañana?

The White House has taken a different tact with Twitter. After nearly two weeks of silence, on January 31st @LaCasaBlanca tweeted “¡Hola! ¡Bienvenidos a @LaCasaBlanca! Sígannos para mantenerse al tanto de las últimas noticias sobre @POTUS Trump y de su administración!” Friendly and formal enough, but late and missing punctuation. It should read “¡Sígannos para mantenerse al tanto…!” On February 1st, the account tweeted “Promesa hecha, promesa cumplida. @POTUS ¡Trump ha nominado a un juez que defenderála Constitución!” Problem #1 here the spacing between the future verb and the definite article. It ought to read “…a un juez que defenderá la Constitución!” Problem number #2 comes again with the punctuation. It should read  “¡@POTUS Trump…” instead of “@POTUS ¡Trump” This goes back to a point made in the Washington Post article about the difficulties translators have with Trump–mirroring punctuation according to his insufferable style.

So if you are keeping score at home, that is four tweets, fully half of which have errors. So to be clear, the White House has two officially managed, (supposedly) professionally staffed outlets in Spanish: one that is dark and another that has a failing grade. !Que Dios nos bendiga!

So if you are keeping score at home, that is four tweets, fully half of which have errors. So to be clear, the White House has two officially managed, (supposedly) professionally staffed outlets in Spanish: one that is dark and another that has a failing grade. !Que Dios nos bendiga!

It should be noted that the perceived linguistic and demographic challenges the White House seems to be having are not unique to D.C. Cities like Miami, New York, Los Angeles and Boston face this as well. How do these metro areas make it work? Both Miami and New York have active “real news” outlets in Spanish. The New York Times also offers a platform in Spanish. Boston, LA and many other cities also offer smaller-scale dailies or weeklies in Spanish. Additionally, Los Angeles and Boston offer links to city services in Spanish. In class we dug down a little deeper and discovered that these two cities use different services to make content available in different languages. Los Angeles uses Google Translate to support approximately 100 languages. The pro, 100 languages! The con, as strong as Google Translate is, messages could get mixed since the city does not control content. In Boston’s case, the page is offered in just five languages, but each of the five–English, Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese and Haitian Creole–are edited by the city. Pro, control over messaging; Con, just five languages. To bring it back to the conversation we had in class, we debated the merits of Google vs. flesh-and-blood translations and touched on which language should be offered and who gets to decide?

So what does this mean? What I am suggesting? I believe the White House has the obligation to make information and forums for communication available in Spanish. I believe it should staff these services with professionals who have the necessary qualifications in both policy and language. Like Ilan Stavans, I believe that the White House should also make content available in “other languages of immigrants.” I believe that the White House, Mrs. DeVos and other political figures in Washington should make language learning a priority for our nation’s students and provide schools the resources to do so at a high level. Lastly, I believe that thoughtful, respectful, fact-based discourse should characterize the debate our nation’s politicians have at the federal, state and municipal level.

Is this possible? Sí se puede.

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