FB Making It Official, Dropping Most Spanish

Stephanie Sandoval, Dallas Morning News, Dec. 8, 2006

Since elected leaders declared English the city’s official language last month, Spanish no longer plays on the wall of televisions overlooking the stationary bikes, treadmills and elliptical trainers at the Farmers Branch Community Recreation Center.

In public works, new trash bags being ordered for residents will have the holiday schedule for trash pickup printed only in English. But instructions on how to load the 50-gallon paper bags will be printed in both English and Spanish, because it’s a safety issue.

Some temporary signs in Spanish have been removed at the public library. Fliers for park and recreation activities and library events and other nonessential information will be printed only in English.

These are among the ways that Farmers Branch has put into practice the language policy it adopted Nov. 13. City leaders stress that it applies only to city government, not to schools, churches or other organizations. It does not mean that city employees will not be allowed to speak in languages other than English.

And it doesn’t mean that residents can’t communicate in other languages, said City Council member Tim O’Hare, the driving force behind the illegal immigration crackdown and language-related initiatives.

City Manager Linda Groomer said the city will continue communicating with residents in Spanish when it’s a matter of public health or safety.

Operations for police, fire, ambulance, code enforcement, building inspections, restaurant inspections and most other city departments have not been affected by the new policy, Ms. Groomer said.

At the recreation center, nine televisions are pre-set to specific channels—two news channels, ESPN and three major networks. The Spanish-language channel that used to be tuned in is no longer an option.

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Diane Starnes of Farmers Branch watches television while working out at the Farmers Branch Community Recreation Center. Since elected leaders declared English the city’s official language last month, Spanish-language programming no longer plays on the wall of televisions overlooking the stationary bikes, treadmills and elliptical trainers.

But other fitness center users said this week that they welcomed the change.

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Damien Bleu said he doesn’t want his neighbors, who are immigrants, to feel animosity over the city’s decision to make English the official language or the companion ordinance that will ban apartment owners from renting to illegal immigrants and require all renters to show proof that they are U.S. citizens or are in the country legally.

But Mr. Bleu believes the language decision has merit.

“If they speak Spanish, they really should be watching English TV anyway to get more accustomed to the language,” the Farmers Branch resident said.

Residents can still check out Spanish-language books or other reading and audio material at the city’s library. Comparing reading materials in a person’s first language with the same materials in another helps people learn that new language, library director Danita Barber said.

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A third measure adopted by the council authorizes the Police Department to apply to participate in a federal program that will train officers to verify the residency status of people in police custody and in some cases initiate deportation proceedings.

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He said that creating a policy to make English the official language has two purposes: to ensure that people who speak only English will not be prevented from getting a job with the city, and to end the publication of non-health-and safety-related documents in Spanish.

“One of the glues that holds our society together and unifies us is a common language, and we are losing that common language in a lot of areas,” Mr. O’Hare said. “The people that don’t speak English are only hurting themselves, but never would I consider … or attempt to keep people from speaking any language they chose to in their homes or in their churches or out in public.”

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