My father votes in Spanish but is proud American
Tucson Citizen


In response to the July 27 guest column, "Lost in translation: Teddy Roosevelt had it right."


From New Mexico, Arizona and California, the family came together in February to celebrate my father's 90th birthday.

My wife and I rented a van, packed up the "kids" (now in their 30s) and drove west out of Tucson on Interstate 10.

It had been raining in Los Angeles, and I knew the freeway traffic would be even worse than usual.

My sister Corina, a school administrator in Las Cruces, N.M., had planned the events. The highlight would be a day spent at the horses.

Yep, my dad's a gambler. Fortunately, my mother handles the money, so he has to settle for a limited number of $2 bets.

With an uncanny knack for picking winners, he loves telling about the ones that got away: "I picked a winner - No. 6 in the fifth - but the ticket seller gave me No. 5 in the sixth.

¡Qué chihuahua!"

Then he'll shake his head and laugh at what might have been.

I, too, wonder what might have been if my father hadn't moved the family from Ciudad Juárez to Los Angeles in 1955.

He was 39, a laborer with a wife and four children, a third-grade education and no English.

North of the Rio Grande, the economy was booming and California, in particular, needed workers.

What my father offered America then is the same thing Mexican immigrants offer America today: a strong work ethic.

In that America, the one he gambled on, it was enough to win him legal residency.

The 1950s weren't some Golden Age, particularly if you happened to have dark skin.

The nation was terrorized then, too, by the threat of nuclear destruction. And then, as now, some politicians sought to use that fear to their advantage.

But perhaps because we had just won an honest war in defense of freedom, we did not seem as shameless about our fear.

We had a confidence about the future that today is almost unimaginable, an optimism that my father shared and that allowed him to spend the next 30 years working in a furniture factory.

I have vague memories of my father going to night school to learn English, a few flakes of sawdust still stuck to his clothes.

Although he never mastered pronunciation (which may explain a ticket-seller's confusion), at some point his English had improved to the point that he passed the citizenship test.

Today, though he reads the Los Angeles Times faithfully and can tell you which jockeys are on a hot streak, his first language remains and always will be Spanish.

Since becoming a citizen, my father has voted in every election, using a Spanish ballot.

To some people, that means he is less than a true American, and they would like to force him to vote in English "for his own good."

As proud as my father is of his Mexican heritage, he is more American than those who criticize his use of a Spanish ballot could ever hope to be.

My father cares enough about understanding complex ballot issues and voter initiatives to use his strongest language in making such decisions. (We can only wish more native English speakers cared as much.)

He understands the power of English. He learned as much English as he could and made sure his children - who all went on to college - did, too.

But at the ballot box, he believes he owes his adopted country the best decision he can make. That means he must vote in Spanish.

The rain stopped as we arrived at Santa Anita Racetrack. Though I had grown up in Los Angeles, I'd never been to the track and was astonished by the beautiful setting.

Los Angeles National Forest served as a backdrop, and low clouds hovered among the mountain peaks as proud thoroughbreds strutted amid shafts of bright sunlight, athletic power rippling beneath shiny coats.

Sure enough, my dad won $100. That evening we enjoyed a wonderful dinner together. By the time dessert was served, my father looked a little tired.

We ended with a toast to his health and the good fortune he had brought the family. The good fortune he brought to America was understood.

Salvador Gabaldón is a language acquisition specialist with the Tucson Unified School District.

Sal Gabaldon, Oro Valley, AZ