Thursday, January 22, 2009

Vote today: it is important

If you live in Davidson County, please consider voting today (Thursday) in the English Only special election. I would ask that you vote against ratification of both proposed amendments to the Nashville charter. Every vote will count in this election, so please take a second now to imagine yourself voting sometime between now and 7pm, and then make it a reality before then. Check your voting location here.

My personal story of opposition to these amendments is of course heavily influenced by my sweet wife Damariz. We were married right before I started my second year in law school. That following summer, when Damariz had been in the U.S. for less than a year, she was taking English classes at the International English Institute on Music Row. Damariz is a determined student, and she often stayed up late at night in our studio apartment near Vanderbilt doing homework. At the time, she was not yet fluent in English or able to do any complicated reading comprehension. Also at this same time, I was teaching her how to drive, since public transportation is so good in Chile, and she had never needed to learn. She learned how to drive in much less time than it was taking her to learn English (fancy that), so you can imagine how much it meant to me to find out that the State of Tennessee offered study materials and the written drivers license exam in Spanish. Tennessee didn't have to provide any language assistance to her at all, and all of the rest of the test was still administered in English, but how wonderful that the written materials were made as accessible as they were! To this day, I remember the genuine pride I felt as a Tennessean knowing that the Volunteer State had volunteered to be this hospitable to her, and that she would no longer be relegated to sitting at home by herself while I was at school or the law firm.

The city of Nashville has a litany of communications and services like the written drivers license exam that are offered in other languages. Sometimes the additional languages are added for the city's own benefit and not necessarily the sole benefit of the person on the receiving end of the communication. Language-related expenses, if not already tied to federal funds, are justified every year in the Metro budget by every program and department that uses additional languages beyond English. In my opinion, it is in our nature as Nashvillians to reach out when reaching out makes practical and hospitable sense. The unnecessary change of English Only, however, would be to remove the common sense from these decisions and burn into our city constitution a default rule against this kind of reaching out, with variances only at the gavel of the Metro Council or as required by federal or state law (also known as the Metro Legal Full Employment Act).

I encourage you to read the two proposed amendments at and take a look here at the flurry of city-wide support of the status quo (all I want is the status quo - let city government use additional languages when appropriate.) If you look at the wording of the English Only amendment, you may agree with me that its change to the status quo is not only contrary to the hometown spirit I was proud of when Damariz and I were still getting her adjusted to life in Nashville, but it is so poorly worded that even the Nashville City Paper opposes it based on sloppiness alone (see here). As for the second amendment, it makes it easier to get sloppy charter amendments on the ballot.

If you don't live in Davidson County, please consider forwarding this to your friends who do. If you are unsure about this vote, or if you disagree with me, please send me an e-mail, as I believe there are a lot of people in town who at first glance supported the concept of English Only but have come to oppose it after further reflection (see here and here).

But if you live in Davidson County and haven't voted yet, please participate in this important event today in the life of our city. After we celebrated a dream on Monday and inaugurated a president on Tuesday, today is Nashville's moment on the main stage, and I have hope that we will be true to ourselves and get it right - one vote at a time.

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