Politics

Analysis: Members of Congress in Hispanic areas show meager use of Spanish online

Most members of Congress who represent areas with large Spanish-speaking populations use only English on their official websites and on social media, according to a Univision News analysis.

Florida's Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio is a fluent Spanish speaker, but his online communications rarely reflect that.

California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, both Democrats, did not use Spanish on social media in the entire month of August.

And Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, who represents a district where nine out of ten residents are Hispanic, has an automatic Google Translate tool on her website that makes for hard reading.

Across the United States, the language of Cervantes is used on voting ballots and public transportation, and in schools and hospitals. But in Washington, lawmakers representing the most Hispanic areas of the U.S. don't feel required to use Spanish to communicate with their constituents. Even though many of these members of Congress give interviews to Hispanic media, Spanish is still used marginally or sometimes not at all in their online communications, according to an analysis by Univision News.

In the House of Representatives, 15 of the 34 members whose districts are more than 50 percent Hispanic offer no information in Spanish on their websites, not even the option for automatic translations, according to the Univision review.


In these 34 districts, more than 50% of the population is Hispanic

% Hispanics

0-24

25-49

+50

30% of Hispanics in the U.S. live in these 34 districts.

Cuánto usan el español los congresistas de los distritos más hispanos

The following graphic shows how Representatives from the 34 most Hispanic districts use Spanish on their websites and on Twitter and Facebook.

HOW TO READ THIS GRAPH

Each icon represents a House Representative.

The higher the icon, the more Hispanics there are in the district.

The farther to the right, the more the Rep. uses Spanish.

Republican

Democrat

% of

Hispanics

in the

district

Comms in Spanish

MORE COMMS

LESS COMMS

0

1

2

3

4

5

100%

1

90%

2

80%

3

70%

Even though their districts are more than 50% Hispanic, most of these members of Congress don’t use Spanish on social media.

60%

50%

1

0

5

Lucille Roybal-Allard

87.4%

District 40 (California)

Her district has the highest percentage of Hispanics in the U.S.: More than 623,000.

2

0

5

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

74.4%

District 27 (Florida)

Spanish is used a lot on her social media (Twitter and Facebook) and website.

3

0

5

Luis Gutiérrez

70.8%

District 4 (Illinois)

Gutiérrez is the representative who uses the most Spanish.

In these 34 districts, more than 50% of the population is Hispanic

% Hispanics

0-24

25-49

+50

30% of Hispanics in the U.S. live in these 34 districts.

How do the House Reps from the most-Hispanic districts use Spanish?

The following graphic shows how Representatives from the 34 most Hispanic districts use Spanish on their websites and on Twitter and Facebook.

HOW TO READ THIS GRAPH

Each icon represents a House Representative.

The higher the icon, the more Hispanics there are in the district.

The farther to the right, the more the Rep. uses Spanish.

Republican

Democrat

% of

Hispanics

in the

district

Comms in Spanish

MORE COMMS

LESS COMMS

0

1

2

3

4

5

100%

1

90%

80%

2

3

70%

Even though their districts are more than 50% Hispanic, most of these members of Congress don’t use Spanish on social media.

60%

50%

0

5

1

Lucille Roybal-Allard

District 40 (California)

87.4%

Her district has the highest percentage of Hispanics in the U.S.: More than 623,000.

0

5

2

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

District 27 (Florida)

74.4%

Spanish is used a lot on her social media (Twitter and Facebook) and website.

0

5

3

Luis Gutiérrez

District 4 (Illinois)

70.8%

Gutiérrez is the representative who uses the most Spanish.

In these 34 districts, more than 50% of the population is Hispanic

% Hispanics

0-24

25-49

+50

30% of Hispanics in the U.S. live in these 34 districts.

How do the House Reps from the most-Hispanic districts use Spanish?

The following graphic shows how Representatives from the 34 most Hispanic districts use Spanish on their websites and on Twitter and Facebook.

HOW TO READ THIS GRAPH

Each icon represents a House Representative.

The farther to the right, the more the Rep. uses Spanish.

The higher the icon, the more Hispanics there are in the district.

Republican

Democrat

Comms in Spanish

% of Hispanics

in the district

MORE COMMS

LESS COMMS

0

1

4

5

Lucille Roybal-Allard

100%

District 40 (California)

Her district has the highest percentage of Hispanics in the U.S.: More than 623,000.

90%

80%

70%

Luis Gutiérrez

District 4 (Illinois)

60%

Gutiérrez is the representative who uses the most Spanish.

50%

0

1

2

3

4

5

Even though their districts are more than 50% Hispanic, most of these members of Congress don’t use Spanish on social media and their websites.

In these 34 districts, more than 50% of the population is Hispanic

% Hispanics

0-24

25-49

+50

30% of Hispanics in the U.S. live in these 34 districts.

How do the House Reps from the most-Hispanic districts use Spanish?

The following graphic shows how Representatives from the 34 most Hispanic districts use Spanish on their websites and on Twitter and Facebook.

HOW TO READ THIS GRAPH

Each icon represents a House Representative.

The farther to the right, the more the Rep. uses Spanish.

The higher the icon, the more Hispanics there are in the district.

Republican

Democrat

Comms in Spanish

LESS COMMS

MORE COMMS

0

1

2

3

4

5

100%

% of

Hispanics

in the

district

Lucille Roybal-Allard

District 40 (California)

Her district has the highest percentage of Hispanics in the U.S.: More than 623,000.

90%

80%

Even though their districts are more than 50% Hispanic, most of these members of Congress don’t use Spanish on social media and their websites.

70%

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Luis Gutiérrez

District 27 (Florida)

District 4 (Illinois)

60%

Spanish is used a lot on her social media (Twitter and Facebook) and website.

Gutiérrez is the representative who uses the most Spanish.

50%

0

1

2

3

4

5

Sixteen of the 34 did not post once in Spanish on their Twitter or Facebook accounts in the month of August.

In the Senate, there's not a trace of Spanish on nine of the 18 websites of senators from the nine most Hispanic states – New Mexico, California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Florida, Colorado, New Jersey and New York. Only seven of those 18 senators published anything at all in Spanish on their social networks in August.

Online, lawmakers usually provide useful information to residents in their districts or states, such as help to deal with federal agencies, student aid or letters of recommendation to military academies. Constituents can also request meetings with the lawmaker and check his/her voting records.


But the few members of Congress who do use Spanish on their official websites generally have very slim information in that language, usually limited to biographies and ways to contact their offices. Sometimes those texts have such horrible mistakes that they would spark outrage if they appeared in official communications in a Spanish-speaking country.

The few tweets and Facebook posts in Spanish generally deal with immigration or issues in Spanish-speaking countries, such as condolences for victims of the terrorist attack in Barcelona or condemnations of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Out of the four representatives from the most Hispanic districts – where eight out of 10 residents are Hispanic – only Lucille Roybal-Allard of East Los Angeles publishes often in Spanish on her social media accounts, with 15 tweets and seven Facebook posts in August.

The other three - Texans Filemón Vela of Brownsville, Vicente González of South Texas and Beto O'Rourke of El Paso - only posted one or two messages in Spanish on their social media accounts last month. All four are Democrats and only one, O'Rourke, is not Hispanic. He plans to run against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018.

Other members of Congress who represent large Hispanic populations but don't use Spanish in their online communications include Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-San Antonio) and Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona).

Cuban-American Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who has criticized fellow Cuban-American Sen. Rubio for talking in Spanish with Univision, posted 12 tweets in Spanish last month, a couple of them retweets of Univision accounts.

SEE THE DATABASE HERE

Analyzing all of Congress, Univision News found information in Spanish on only 85 of the websites of all the 534 active lawmakers – or 15 percent. (There are 535 Members of Congress but Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, left the House in June and a special election will be held November 7 to replace him.)

And those 85 pages included 34 that used poor translations by Google Translate.

Ironically, when some of these politicians are campaigning, they tend to use Spanish more often. For example, O'Rourke's 2018 election page has a button to access Spanish content at the top right of the homepage.

"Anti-Spanish moment"

Univision's review showed that even though the United States has more than 40 million native Spanish-speaking voters, people at the highest levels of politics speak only English.

The Spanish language gained a lot of ground during the Obama administration, in the White House as well a Congress. But Trump's victory has strengthened the hand of those who favor assimilation and oppose the use of languages other than English. The Spanish-language website of the White House came down the day Donald Trump was sworn in as president. It has yet to be reactivated.

Promoters of Spanish say politicians should use it not only to serve the more than 9 million Hispanics who don't speak English or speak it badly but also to send a symbolic message of acceptance to the entire Hispanic community – even those who speak English well.

Others warn that using Spanish carries a cost for politicians, especially Republicans who know that their leader just won a presidential election by appealing to an exclusionary vision of the United States. Trump has turned his back on Spanish communications and declared, "this is a country where we speak English."

The Univision News analysis shows Republican lawmakers are not very friendly toward Spanish, with only 18 of the 292 Republicans in Congress offering any kind of information in the Spanish language on their websites.

Some influential liberals believe that Democrats should also limit their use of Spanish. In the wake of Trump's victory, intellectuals like Peter Beinart, Fareed Zakaria and Mark Lilla have warned that Democrats should abandon “identity politics” and focus more on elements that unite U.S. voters.

Their reading of the presidential election in November is that Clinton's use of Spanish in her campaign – TV ads, social networks and appearances with Hispanic leaders – hurt her because it helped to mobilize voters who resent immigrants and favored Trump.

“We are experiencing a very anti-Spanish moment,” said Philip Carter, a linguist at Florida International University. “With Trump, we have taken several steps back, and we have seen the resurgent activism of groups like Pro English."


There's less Spanish in the Senate than in the House of Representatives, even though Senators have more money to hire Spanish-speaking staffers.

Spanish appears on only 12 of the websites of the 100 Senators but on 73 of the 435 of Representatives. Some of the Democratic senators who represent states with large Hispanic populations told Univision News they plan to launch websites in Spanish soon.

Sen. Cortez-Masto (D-Nevada), who prides herself on being the first Latina in the Senate, plans to launch the Spanish-language section of her website in September, as does Sen. Kamala Harris of California.

According to aides of the two first-term Senators, the Senate provided them with generic web pages after the election in November, but they are now responsible for adding Spanish. “It's a process that takes some time,” said one Harris staffer.

Sen. Feinstein's director of communications, Tom Mentzer, said her website has included information in Spanish in the past, but that section disappeared when the page was updated. “We will correct the oversight as soon as possible,” he said.

Very few Members of Congress publish timely information such as news releases in Spanish. One who does is Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ., whose Spanish page is by far the most complete in the Senate.

The House of Representatives has a few members that use Spanish in public and occasionally on Twitter, but they have little or no Spanish language information on their websites.

Of the three Cuban American Republican Representatives from South Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart offer only some press releases in Spanish, and Carlos Curbelo has nothing at all in Spanish. On social media, Ros-Lehtinen is by far the most active Spanish speaker, with 49 tweets and 50 Facebook posts in that language last month.

Another regular Spanish user is Mike Coffman, a Colorado Republican who started to study the language in 2013 in order to better communicate with the growing Hispanic community in his district, in east Denver. Coffman launched a Twitter account in Spanish in July and participated in two debates in Spanish broadcast by Univision.

“When I am with the Hispanic community I have a lot of opportunities to talk them, and it's also very important to listen to them,” Coffman told Univision. The lack of importance given to Spanish by lawmakers is also reflected in the Congress itself, where neither the Senate nor the House offer information in the language.

Former President Bill Clinton gave Spanish a big boost when he signed an executive order in 2000 requiring federal agencies to offer their services to people who did not speak English.

The government created the portal GobiernoUSA.gov , which links to federal pages in Spanish, although even today the material available is meager. The Department of Education, for example, has a link that offers Spanish-language assistance by telephone.

Other agencies, such as the Department of Energy and Veterans Affairs, don't even offer that.

The use of Spanish in official communications expanded further during the Obama administration, when the White House published a daily report on issues relevant to Hispanics, such as immigration, health and banking reforms and armed forces benefits.

It also established Spanish-language accounts on Facebook and Twitter. Among Congressional promoters of Spanish was retired Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada), who pushed his fellow lawmakers to add Spanish content to their websites.

A former Reid aide, Jose Parra, said the senator insisted on providing the maximum information possible in Spanish and without mistakes, including lengthy documents like a guide that showed parents how to get their children into college and obtain financial aid.

"Reid cared about showing interest to the community," said Parra. "When you use Spanish you are sending a message: you are important to me."

Nicolás Hernández contributed to this report.

Methodology: The Univision analysis included a review of the Spanish-language information on the websites of the 534 active members of Congress as of September 1. The analysis of 34 members of Congress and 18 Senators representing the most Hispanic districts and states also included activity on their official social media accounts. The 34 members of Congress represent districts where Hispanics are 50 percent or more of the population; the 18 Senators represent states where Hispanics are 18 percent or more of the population. An exception was made to include the campaign accounts of Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke, instead of his official accounts, because he entered the 2018 race for a seat in the Senate.

The analysis uses a score of 0 to 5, where 0 represents no use of Spanish - or a minimum use - and 5 means that a lawmaker's website has a large amount of information in Spanish and that they are regular users of Spanish on Twitter and Facebook.

We analyzed the messages published on Twitter and Facebook during the month of August 2017. A "regular use of Spanish" occurred if politicians published more than two posts in Spanish on each of those networks.