White House is English-Only BUT Women’s March on Washington was Multilingual!

Posted on Posted in Current Events

The White House website went live on Friday, January 20, 2017 - and it’s NO LONGER available in Spanish! What about the White House Spanish Twitter account @lacasablanca? It's there...but there's nada on it.

We know, it's only been a few days, but there are numerous tweets on the White House English Twitter account that could have been easily translated. Given that the United States is reported to be the world’s second largest Spanish-speaking country after Mexico, and there are approximately 559 million Spanish speakers worldwide (including Spanish language learners), removing Spanish from the website is a problem.

Yet, only one day later at the Women's March on Washington, there were at least 7 languages represented on the stage, including Spanish and American Sign Language.

Mandela Language QuoteWhy this matters? Removing Spanish from the White House website supports the idea that disseminating information in English only is okay in the United States. Thankfully, the day after inauguration more than 500,000 people made it clear that it is not okay! It's just NOT okay, not if you want to engage communities, find new clients, run a government, or do practically anything that requires connecting with a lot of people and inspiring them to take a specific action. 

For Spanish-speakers, a White House website without Spanish translation means that anyone in this country (and in the world) who only speaks Spanish won’t be able to access a lot of critical information from the White House.  It means that many children, families, and communities will need their schools, state governments, municipalities, nonprofits, and local small businesses to take the lead, and prioritize multilingual communication.  Unfortunately, those aiming to share information about the new administration with any of the more than 41 million native-Spanish speakers in the US, will have to translate a lot of material from scratch.  Moreover, it creates a serious problem for communication on a domestic AND international level!  Now, maybe more than ever, public entities, coalitions, and community serving organizations need to prioritize multilingual communication on websites, brochures, in messaging, marketing, annual reports...everything! 

And, it’s not just about Spanish! In addition to removing the Spanish option from the website, the site is not currently accessible for people with disabilities. Though the accessibility option may change, most other changes are likely here to stay.  Another important consideration, Chinese, French, and French Creole are other highly spoken languages in the US.  If the massive numbers of Spanish speakers are not prioritized, it will undoubtedly cause additional barriers for ALL people who do not use English as their primary language.  

Thankfully, the presence of intersectional movements like Black Lives Matter and the Women's March on Washington may persuade many organizations and institutions to build their multilingual capacity.  We should all support their efforts to do so!

Do you want to support? You can:

  1. Forward this article to any nonprofit, community coalition, or social impact organization that needs to reach Spanish speakers.  We'll give them a FREE Spanish translation (other languages available as well)! 

  2. Shop Jamii to support the Language & Diaspora Initiative.

Jamii is a for-profit social impact organization that provides translation services, multilingual professional development, and multilingual consulting.  Follow us on Instagram and Twitter @jamii_linguists.

One thought on “White House is English-Only BUT Women’s March on Washington was Multilingual!

  1. The removal of Spanish says something about English monolingualism, but it also says something about the speakers of Spanish,” said Phillip Carter, a sociolinguist professor at Florida International University in Miami.

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