Texas: LULAC seeks different English proposal

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Tue Dec 26 13:41:48 UTC 2006

Dec. 25, 2006, 11:20AM
LULAC seeks different English proposal
Group wants to promote, not make official, the language in Friendswood

Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

FRIENDSWOOD For a city founded by the Religious Society of Friends, a move
to make English the city's official language strikes some as less than
friendly. City Councilman Chris Peden says ratifying English as the
language of choice in this north Galveston County community is purely
ceremonial and will not alter the way the city does business. But the
League of United Latin American Citizens sees a city charter amendment
concerning the English language as bad policy and is instead working with
the city on a resolution encouraging residents to learn English. The
Friendswood City Council has not taken action on the measure making
English the official language, although a council majority is likely to
favor placing the issue on the ballot in May. Voters, they say, can decide
on the measure.

At a council meeting earlier this month in which tempers flared, Rick
Dovalina, LULAC's Houston-area director, encouraged the city to pass a
resolution, not an ordinance making English the official language in
Friendswood. Since that meeting, city officials have been working with
LULAC on creating a resolution encouraging residents to learn English,
instead of placing the measure on the ballot. "We would be in agreement to
a resolution promoting English. That actually goes back to the foundation
of our organization," said Jose Luis Jimenez, deputy district director for
LULAC's Houston district. "One of our aims and purposes is to foster and
promote the learning of the English language and at the same time maintain
your native language to expand culture," he said. "Promoting English has
always been one of our efforts."

Conducting business

Making English the official language, Peden said, would "make a statement
that the business of the city is going to be transacted in English.
Clearly, we are not going to go against any mandates." He was referring to
ballots printed in English, Spanish and any other language designated by
the federal government. The English addition to the city's charter would
require that City Council meetings be conducted in English, as they are
now. All newsletters would continue to be printed in English. A big
change, should voters approve the measure, would be that all new city
hires must be able to conduct a job interview in English. Six of the
city's 180 employees do not speak English, he said.

"If they can interview with a person who speaks English, then they can be
hired. I'm not saying we need to have some proficiency test. I'm not
asking someone to converse with an engineer," said Peden, who has served
on the council for more than a year. "But if some guy is out digging
ditches and he hits a gas line, he's got to be able to tell the citizens
that live around that gas line to evacuate. 'Rapido, rapido' ('fast,
fast') may not really come across to some folks. All we're trying to say
is that if you can interview in English, they ought to be able to
communicate. Really, it's not that big a deal." Jimenez agrees that
learning English is important, especially when it involves safety. LULAC,
he said, has supported the petrochemical industry's efforts to have
workers know English because of safety concerns.

City founded by Quakers

The city of Friendswood lies between Houston and Galveston, with portions
of the city in southern Harris County. The community was founded in 1895
by the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers. Francis
Jacob Brown, a buffalo hunter and American Indian fighter of Quaker
heritage, negotiated with J.C. League (of the now-adjacent League City)
and purchased 1,500 acres, according to the Handbook of Texas Online. The
Quakers settled near Alvin but relocated because they disapproved of the
local customs, which included dancing, and created Friendswood in honor of
the Friends. Friendswood remained predominantly Quaker until 1958, when a
local Baptist church was organized. Today, Friendswood is mostly a bedroom
community with many commuting to Houston or working in the aerospace
industry associated with Johnson Space Center.

Community mostly white

Peden said Friendswood "is an extremely diverse community." But the 2000
Census shows that 90.1 percent of the city's population of 29,037 is
white. Hispanics who reported their race as white, either alone or in
combination with one or more other races, are included in the numbers for
whites. Other ethnic groups represented include blacks at 2.7 percent and
Asian at 2.4 percent. Hispanic or Latino numbered 2,553, or 8.8 percent.
The census also shows that 10.4 percent of the city's population speaks a
language other than English at home. Thad Roher, director of
accountability and elementary education for the Friendswood school
district, said the 5,391-student district has 75 students for whom English
is their second language. The district serves eight primary languages, he

'Misinformation' blamed

Although Peden brought up the issue at a recent council meeting, he said,
he will not champion the cause. "For those in the world who think this is
race-baiting or we're trying to tell Hispanics we don't want them to live
here, it's got nothing to do with ethnicity at all," he said. "We are
ratifying the current practice with words." Even though he has received
overwhelming support on the issue, Peden said, he will not ask that it be
placed on the ballot. The council, though, could still move in that
direction. "There is so much misinformation out there that I don't know of
a way that I could personally put it on the ballot and it would be seen as
anything other than racist," he said.


 Population: 29,037
 White: 26,158/90.1 percent*

 Hispanic or Latino: 2,553/8.8 percent

 Black: 783/2.7 percent

 Asian: 695/2.4 percent

*Hispanics who reported their race as white, either alone or in
combination with one or more other races, are included in the numbers for

Source: 2000 Census Bureau



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