Ariz tribes unsure what Hayworth means
May. 29, 2006
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
"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
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.
The act, which is set to expire next year, mandates that ballots and other
election materials be translated in certain areas of low English literacy.
In his statement, Hayworth called those translations an "unfunded mandate."
But a study released by two Arizona State University professors found that the
need for those translated materials in Arizona is highest among Native American
The report, available at www.renewthevra.org, surveyed Native American voters in
Coconino County during the 2004 election. It found that about half of those
needing help to vote relied on the government.
And since Navajo is a traditionally oral language, the multilingual ballot would
take the form of a translator talking the voter through the ballot.
But, apparently, the vision of an elderly Navajo woman having a ballot explained
to her in a language she can understand goes against the "Melting Pot" ideal and
adds to the "linguistic divide."
Wonder what word will be used in the November elections to translate "Hayworth."
Reach Ruelas at (602) 444-8473 or email@example.com.