Sunday, March 11, 2012

U.S. State Dept. makes history with first Spanish press conference - Y ¿por qué no?

Sometimes the smallest events attract notice. Especially if they occur in unlikely forums.

The U.S. State Dept. in Washington is home to and the official headquarters of thousands of American diplomatic officials who serve in far-flung posts around the world. Many of them are bi-lingual, and not a few have command of multiple languages. But because the Department is an agency of the United States, the sole official language of which is English, correspondents from abroad who regularly attend State press conferences are are expected to be fluent enough to participate without translation assistance. Those journalists -- or at least the ones from Latin America -- must have been pleasantly surprised last week when State offered its first full press conference exclusively in Spanish.

The conference was conducted Mar. 8 by Michael Hammer, the Department's Acting Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs. Hammer is an experienced Latin American diplomat who has lived in Central and South America, obviously speaks fluent Spanish and holds a degree from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. Recently I wrote another post about Hammer (whom I don't know), in part since I graduated from the same school (

It occurs to me that if word of this reaches some of the rabidly English-only state officials in Arizona (and other places, too), it might not go over very well. The White House might get bombarded with nasty letters and e-mails for allowing a federal agency to conduct official business in some language other than English. It's almost un-American . . .

I wonder when State will conduct it's first press conference in Mayan . . . or Icelandic . . . or Swahili or . . . In the meantime, it doesn't hurt to know Spanish. Doing so will enable the speaker to befriend about 500 million new people worldwide.

This Mexican presidential candidate doesn't speak English, and could care less:

Jan Brewer (R.), the 22nd and current governor of Arizona.

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