It seems Dallas cops have been handing tickets out to individuals for being “non-English speaking drivers”. Ernestina Mondragon was pulled over by rookie cop Gary Bromley after making an illegal U-turn, and cited for a law that doesn’t even exist! Although Bromley was in training at the time, whoever was supervising him saw nothing wrong with ticketing a mother for not speaking English. What’s more, Dallas Municipal Courts even lists the fine for the (technically non-existent) infraction to the tune of $204. In a press conference, Police Chief David Kunkle has apologized for the incident, and says that at least 39 people have been ticketed by six officers for not speaking English. Seeing as a fine is already on the courthouse books, I would be surprised if it’s not a lot more. Officer Bromley, meanwhile, is still in training.
Surprised? We shouldn’t be. Cirila Baltazar Cruz gave birth to a baby girl November 16, 2008 at a hospital in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Because Baltazar, an indigenous immigrant from Oaxaca, primarily speaks Chatino, hospital staff called the Department of Human Services, which deemed that Baltazar was a danger to her daughter because she didn’t speak English, and because she was undocumented. Her daughter, Rubí, was taken away from her just two days after Baltazar gave birth. NNIRR is demanding Rubí be returned to her mother, and you can hear an excellent interview with Baltazar on Radio Bilingüe, which details her horrible ordeal. Baltazar faces a hearing in the case next month — one year after her daughter was taken away and given to an adoptive family.
I think back on my arrival to the U.S., and to my own struggle around various language cops. I imagine most immigrants that grow up speaking a language other than English do too, once they arrive here. Yet I can think of few human rights as fundamental as speaking one’s language, regardless of which one it is. I look back and realize that different languages (and even different accents) can sometimes only be heard as verbal threats, and perceived as a danger to hegemony. Speaking English does not make one a better driver, and it certainly isn’t a skill that would qualify one to be a mother. It’s simply challenges an already precarious U.S. American identity.