A New Poll Tax?

Garen Yegparian


Did you read about the goings-on in the small Arizona town of San Luis, abutting the Mexican border?  A new technology of disenfranchisement seems to have been discovered.  And, it seems the Latinos have pulled a page from the Armenian book of undercutting one another.

Alejandrina Cabrera, is now an erstwhile city council candidate because the Arizona Supreme Court affirmed a Superior Court judge’s ruling that her name be struck from the ballot because her English skills are insufficient.  Imagine that!  An Arizona government entity taking action that disenfranchises Latinos, who could imagine such a thing happening?

Cabrera has been politically active in her town, including involvement in two recall campaigns of council members (the town has had 24 attempted recalls since 2001, seven of them successful).  Clearly, this is a very rough political environment.

In this no-holds barred atmosphere, Mayor Juan Carlos Escamilla who opposes her, filed a lawsuit challenging her eligibility, and the city council later used cirty funds to pursue the case (that alone elicits a “hmmmm”).  Judge John Nelson had a professor test her English.  The egghead, William Eggington of Brigham Young University, found her skills to be at a “survival” level, so the judge disqualified her.

A few background facts are necessary for a full picture.  San Luis is over 98% Latino.  Most interactions are in Spanish.  Previous council members have had similarly weak command of English, one is even quoted in the LATimes (“Arizona English-fluency case upheld, February 8, p.A6; this was the second item the paper carried about this story) saying his English was at a level similar to Cabrera’s when he was first elected.

Looking at this from the outside, it’s easy to snicker at the bitterness of the political clashes in San Luis that have opened the door to those with far more sinister motives to dislodge candidate for electoral offices that matter a lot more than a small town’s city council.

But, realize, this is how the Armenian community is perceived when incompetent or otherwise unelectable Armenians put forth their candidacy in places like Glendale, undermining others’ chances at election to city council, school board, state or federal legislative office, etc.  And, it doesn’t matter whether the damaging behavior is self-actuated or instigated/egged-on by cynical non-Armenian political operatives working to get their preferred candidate(s) elected.  The result is the same— harm to the Armenian or Latino, as the case may be, community’s interests.

This example of judicial interference is also frightful.  If it involved some other matter, particularly some right wing wedge issue, the reactionary end of the American political spectrum would have been up in arms about “judicial activism”.  Yet there seems to be silence about this travesty.  A citizen is being robbed of the right to stand for election, and there is no furor.  How loathsome is that?  And possibly just because she’s a Latina and many want to suppress that growing sector of political clout.

This case provides the anti-immigrant forces in the American body politic with a very effective weapon.  Don’t be surprised if the “language proficiency” weapon is turned against Armenians someday.  All this is very similar to having an unaffordable poll tax to keep the poor and other “undesirable” elements from voting.  Requiring literacy tests to vote are another analogy.

Speak up now and prevent this vile virus from spreading to other parts of the country.  Prevent a petty local squabble from providing a basis to threaten many groups access to the ballot, this time not to vote, but to appear on it.


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  1. ARA said:

    The USA has been home to my family -mothers and fathers sides-over 100 years and over 75 years respectively. English should be required for everythng and those that do not speak it-why are they here? if they came here due to forced expulsion or exile-then ok-LEARN THE LANGUAGE, if ur parents or childrien or anyone else comes here-LEARN ENGLISH-then u can get a job and work and learn to live like my ancestors-without draining our taxes-though some ugly politicians do not care! LEARN ENGLISH should be rule 1- This is the USA- not Europe where even there-almost 95 % of the population can speak English- This would be good for all- especaily us

  2. Harb said:

    I agree with Ara. Our country is successful as a haven for people from different cultures and traditions because we chose to become Americans. It works because we have a common language, English, and broadly agree to our democratic-capitalist political system of governance. We are free to proudly remember our lineage of whatever stripe-Hispanic or Armenian or etc. but we are Americans first.

  3. Mr. Yilmaz said:

    As a USA citizen, my parents originally come from Turkey, but before coming to the USA, they learned English. There are rules and laws of each and every nation. Because if you do not speak the official language of the nation you live in, that will cause division and instability in the respective nation you are living in. Remember, everyone in America are all AMERICANS first, regardless of where their ancestors hail from.