May 29 2006

Ariz. Tribes Unsure What Hayworth Means

Published by at May 29, 2006 2:48 am under Multilingualism

Rep. J.D. Hayworth is considered a friend to Arizona’s tribes. But sometimes they don’t speak the same language. Sometimes, for example, Hayworth speaks in overblown rhetoric and ends up insulting centuries of language and tradition.

Such was the case when Hayworth signed a letter written by Rep. Steve King, complaining about multilingual ballots. The unspoken target was Spanish speakers, a political can’t-miss these days.

But the words ricocheted toward the reservations in Hayworth’s district.

The letter bemoaned a “linguistic divide” in the country. It also said government actions like printing ballots in different languages “contradict the ‘Melting Pot’ ideal” and are a “serious affront” to previous generations of immigrants who learned English.

Applied to recent immigrants from Mexico, those statements reflect a mind-set on the border debate.

Applied to the Indian reservations in Arizona, those statements sound as if Hayworth is against tribal members speaking Navajo or Hopi or Apache.

Talk of different languages hurting the ideals of the United States just doesn’t translate.

“I’m not sure what that means,” said John Lewis, executive director of the Intertribal Council of Arizona, after I asked him about the term “linguistic divide.”

The fear of languages other than English does not apply on reservations, Lewis said. Tribes fight to keep their languages alive as part of their way of life. That’s why the language Hayworth signed off on is puzzling to many tribal members who saw Hayworth as a friend.

“I’m not sure what his intent was, and there’s different ways to interpret what he said,” Lewis said. “I’m not sure how far he was going.”

Hayworth declined weeks of requests for a phone interview on the subject. In a written statement, released from his congressional office, he talks about making “an exception” for Native Americans. But it’s not clear whether that exception is meant to apply to the “linguistic divide” rhetoric or to the portions of the Voting Rights Act he wants to ditch.

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