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California has the most non-English speakers. Why do lawmakers have to translate at meetings?

Mathew Miranda and Lindsey Holden, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in News & Features

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, D-Los Angeles, was leading a hearing in the California Legislature when a caller began speaking Spanish over the public comment phone line.

“Hago un llamado para pedir a los legislators que aseguran que los trabajadores excluidos del seguro de desempleo ser un mayor prioridad este año,” the caller said.

Carrillo, without missing a beat, translated the comments.

“That was Vanessa Terán, who was calling for advocacy for underemployed or unemployed undocumented workers, which have been categorically underrepresented and not a part of the solutions when it comes to COVID recovery,” Carrillo said. “So we hear you and I understand your concerns. Thank you.”

It doesn’t always go so smoothly when language becomes a barrier in state government.

California has the largest population of residents who speak other languages at home. But even at the highest levels, the state has trouble providing language access to those seeking to participate in civic life.


And the pattern holds for people trying to obtain government services and benefits at agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The problem is so pervasive that even lawmakers like Carrillo, who is bilingual and grew up speaking Spanish at home, end up performing extra work to make sure non-English-speakers are included.

“Coming from a Spanish-speaking household, and as a child translating for my parents, I understand on a personal level just how difficult it is,” Carrillo said. “And also how challenging and difficult it is to feel that you can be heard in a space like this.”

California language diversity


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