Welcome to Lawrence Spanish Required

By: Kathy Runge – January 2018

In the past month, the city has created two positions requiring fluency in the Spanish language.

In December, a community liaison position in the city council office was posted requiring Spanish fluency. The council was appropriated a sum of $9K for a part-time interpreter in this year’s budget. I guess they haven’t hired one yet, so this position has morphed into an $18K part-time job that’s funded for half of a year. Remember this at budget and election time.

Some of the duties and requirements include “When/if available, attend neighborhood meetings on behalf of the Office of the City Council”, “Proactive in organizing diverse constituencies”, and “Identify local issues and mobilize local residents”.

Isn’t this what we pay our councilors to do? They’re paid a nominal stipend to serve the community, the key word being serve. A councilor should serve a few terms, then be completely exhausted and retire to have a life. Some of our councilors seem to view their position as a part-time career, complete with vacation pay, sick time, and family leave.

On December 19, the council voted unanimously (except for the absent Councilors Reyes and Alvarez-Rodriguez) to put the bilingual requirement in an ordinance creating another community liaison position, this time in the police department.

During the discussion of this position, outgoing Councilor Maldonado stated that the city is 90% Hispanic, a lot with limited English proficiency. Given that this is true, shouldn’t we be requiring all city employees demonstrate a level of fluency in English?

Every city position posted states bilingual preferred. How do they check the English portion of that? To a non-Spanish speaker like myself, it seems that bilingual means a person can speak Spanish. At his trial, ex-city parking garage worker Justo Garcia needed an interpreter and stated he barely knew English. Was he classified as bilingual by the city?

I have seen one candidate ranking scheme for a city position that a relative applied for, and the bilingual category received one or zero points. Shouldn’t an immigrant who is fluent in English be ranked higher than an immigrant who has limited English proficiency? It seems to me that bilingual is more than a simple yes or no.

Many city employees are granted years to obtain the certifications and education required by law for their jobs. Previous City Engineer Theodoro Rosario, current Library Director Jessica Valentin, and recent addition to the Board of Assessors Maria Halloran come to mind.

Why doesn’t the city offer its non-Spanish speaking employees basic Spanish language proficiency classes? Most city positions would require only a basic level of proficiency in Spanish in order to conduct business effectively.

If the city valued these employees they would be given opportunities to acquire the skill necessary for advancement. Lack of knowledge of Spanish has been perceived by many as an excuse given to non-Hispanics as a reason for not advancing at City Hall.

If the city can afford to pay for Jessica Valentin’s education to get the advanced degree required for her job, I’m sure that paying for an introductory +Spanish class for employees would be possible.

If bilingual preferred is a qualification listed on every entry level job posting in this city, then every graduate of Lawrence High should meet that qualification. The Lawrence schools should be graduating bilingual students.

The example of Holyoke, MA: Holyoke seems to be light years ahead of Lawrence on this issue. Municipal employees were given the opportunity to attend a one term conversational Spanish course at Holyoke Community College.1 Their public school system has a Dual Language Program where students in Pre-K through Grade 3 can learn Spanish.2 Can’t Lawrence do better than, or at least as well as Holyoke?

The only way to achieve some level of unity in this city is if the residents can communicate with each other. A great many of our residents can speak English, they just prefer to speak Spanish. There should be opportunities for every resident to assimilate into the culture and be employable in Lawrence.
1) http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2012/05/holyoke_offers_free_spanish_cl.html
2) https://www.hps.holyoke.ma.us/families/programs/dual-language-program