Fierce

Texas Official Under Fire For Telling Latina County Judge To “Speak English”

After a massive fire burned for several days at a petrochemical facility in suburban Houston, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo delivered updates to constituents in English and Spanish, prompting criticism from a Republican commissioner in a neighboring county.

“English this is not Mexico,” Mark Tice of Chambers County commented on a video posted on CBS affiliate KHOU’s Facebook page of Judge Lina Hidalgo — the first Latina elected as the county’s top executive — addressing the public and reporters of the blaze in both languages.

The Colombian-born judge responded to English-language media in English and Spanish-language journalists in their tongue in order to reach as many viewers who might be impacted by the combustion as possible.

In Harris County, which includes Houston, more than 4.6 million people — or 43 percent — identify as Hispanic or Latinx. Additionally, more than 40 percent of the population there speaks a language other than English at home.

But Tice, who also called Hidalgo a “joke,” continued with his disparaging remarks, saying: “It’s real simple. This is the United States. Speak English.”

His comments garnered backlash quickly, with fellow Facebook users reminding him of Houston’s vast Spanish-speaking population and that the US does not have an official language.

Hours after his initial comments, Tice issued an apology.

“I apologize to Judge Hidalgo, the citizens of my County, and most importantly the entire Hispanic community for hastily acting out with transgression on social media,” he said. “I recognize how my response could have been interpreted in a derogatory manner and for that I am sorry. I immediately regretted my choice of words. I’m not proud of my behavior, that is not the example I wish to lead by. I can only hope, in time, that my actions can be forgiven.”

Hidalgo’s office also issued a response to Tice, explaining that as county judge, Hidalgo is in charge of her region’s safety and would do anything in her power, including utilizing her bilingual skillset, to prioritize their well-being.

“As the Head of Emergency Management, Hidalgo is directly responsible for the safety of all 4.5 million residents of Harris County, a third of whom are Spanish speakers,” Kiran Khalid, Hidalgo’s director of communications, said. “Judge Hidalgo represents all of Harris County and given the county’s composition and her bilingual skills, she will continue to communicate as broadly as possible especially when public safety is at stake.”

Hidalgo, 28, was one of several Democrats who won elected office in Texas in November.

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