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Spanish Errors Irk Latinos…'Are You Hispanic?' Query May Have Caused Census Miscount

Spanish Errors Irk Latinos

By MIKE SWIFT, Courant Staff Writer

June 15, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Hartford Courant. All rights reserved. 

Like a pidgin-English instruction manual for a foreign product, the state's Spanish-language versions of some official voting materials contain significant errors that could confuse - or annoy - Hispanic voters, some Latino leaders say.

Errors of spelling, diction and syntax in the Spanish translations are insulting, said Edna Negron Rosario, regional director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration. "I consider it a very sloppy translation, at best."

Negron, a former state legislator and head of bilingual education for the Hartford schools, and Fernando Betancourt, director of the state Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, say they notified Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz of the errors months ago.

Bysiewicz responded in a staff-drafted letter only that the current versions are correctly worded in "neutral Spanish" with a "non-specific dialect."

A Bysiewicz spokesman said the secretary of the state plans to work with Negron and other leaders to improve the translations.

But the dispute has left Bysiewicz, a potential Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2006, facing damage-control problems with some prominent Latino leaders.

"She does not have my vote," Negron said.

"What the hell is `neutral Spanish?'" said John Soto, a business executive and Bysiewicz contributor who said Latinos were laughing at the mistakes in the Spanish translations.

Because the translations haven't been fixed, "this is just a simple matter being built into an elephant problem," said Soto, the president of Space-Craft Manufacturing Inc., a New Haven aircraft-component manufacturer. "What is going to happen is she's going to lose her friends."

The secretary of the state's office has received no complaints in recent years from voters who had trouble using Spanish translations at a polling place or for other electoral activities, said Thomas Ferguson, director of elections.

Larry Perosino, the press secretary for Bysiewicz, said that the secretary of the state isn't worried about political fallout because she plans to fix any problems.

"We want to improve our communication as best as possible," he said. The office will work with Negron and the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission to resolve any problems, Perosino said.

"As time goes on, I think more parties will be pleased with the . . . outcome," he said.

The rapid expansion of Connecticut's Latino population means that seven cities - large cities including Hartford and Bridgeport as well as smaller communities such as Meriden and Windham - are now required by law to provide Spanish translations of all election materials. Cities generally depend at least partially on the secretary of the state's office for Spanish translations of registration forms, ballots or voting instructions.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires several hundred municipal and county governments across the country to translate voting materials in communities where there are large numbers of voting-age people who do not speak English and who have low levels of education. In Queens, for example, all voting materials must be available in Korean, Chinese and Spanish, while in South Dakota's Meade County, voting materials, or oral explanations of them, must be available in Cheyenne and Sioux.

However, there is no requirement in the law to translate voting materials into a "neutral" version of a minority language, said Jorge Martinez, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, which enforces the minority language requirements under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act.

"There can be significant differences in dialect within a given language group, and it is the responsibility of local officials to provide a translation that local voters actually can use," says a Justice Department brochure on Section 203. "Local officials should reach out to the local minority community to help produce or check translations."

There is no such thing as "neutral Spanish," said Rosa Helena Chinchilla, head of the Spanish section of the modern and classical languages department at the University of Connecticut.

"I would hope the state of Connecticut would try to be aware that the larger communities [of Latinos in Connecticut] are Peruvian, Puerto Rican and Central American," she said. "There are differences of usage among those places as well."

Benjamin Liu, a Spanish professor at UConn who reviewed the Spanish voter registration card on the secretary of the state's website at The Courant's request, said the form contains "both minor and major problems."

"For example, the very title of the form, which in English reads `Mail-in Voter Registration,' in Spanish reads literally `Registration to Vote by Mail,' implying that the actual vote and not simply the voter registration can be done through the mail using this form," Liu said.

According to the Census Bureau, only about 20 percent of Connecticut's voting-age Hispanics voted in the November 1998 election, a gubernatorial race, and local leaders want to improve that rate. Betancourt wrote to Bysiewicz May 8, complaining about the "poorly translated" documents "that anyone familiar with the language will immediately identify in error," and offering to have the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission translate election documents at no charge.

"The important issue here is even if they are minor errors in some documents, that should not be an acceptable practice," Betancourt said. "It should be the same standard that you use when you print the English version."

'Are You Hispanic?' Query May Have Caused Census Miscount

By Genaro C. Armas | The Associated Press

May 6, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

WASHINGTON -- The population of Hispanic subgroups in the 2000 census may have been miscounted, and it could be partly because of confusion about the wording of a question on the form, the Census Bureau said Monday.

A bureau study on the question doesn't change the overall number of Hispanics counted in 2000, which stood at just more than 35 million, and does not change the official count of the Hispanic subgroups released two years ago.

Still, some demographers, advocacy groups and city planners said the confusion may have led millions of people to identify themselves with a generic term such as "Hispanic" or "Latino" rather than a more specific description such as "Dominican" or "Spaniard."

The latest study, done at the request of Congress, incorporated census data on ancestry and place of birth that were not available when the first Hispanic population statistics were released.

The study estimated as many as 22.3 million Hispanics considered themselves "Mexican," 7 percent higher than a 2000 census estimate of about 20.9 million Mexicans. The latest estimate of 3.5 million Puerto Ricans was 4 percent higher than the 2000 census.

Differences were larger for the smaller Hispanic subgroups. For instance, the estimate of nearly 1 million Dominicans was 25 percent larger than the 2000 estimate. The study also estimated at least one-third more Colombians and two-thirds more Spaniards.

By comparison, the bureau estimated that more than half the 5.5 million people who called themselves a generic Hispanic term actually should have been classified by a more specific description. Almost three-fourths of the 93,000 who said they were "Other Central American" could have been classified to a specific country.

The 2000 census asked, "Are you Hispanic?" A respondent who answered yes checked off a box next to "Mexican," "Puerto Rican" or "Cuban" -- the three largest Hispanic groups -- or a fourth box that asked the person to write in a more appropriate Hispanic group. No sample responses were provided for that question.

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