Victory for Spanish Speaking LUPE members

For two years Spanish-speaking residents have demanded the opportunity to fully understand and participate in the civic process during Hidalgo County public meetings. Now, with meetings being simultaneously translated, they are finally getting that opportunity.

La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) members have for years faithfully attended Commissioners Court and Drainage District #1 meetings, and since January of 2017 have requested Spanish translation.

Though they attend to make their voices heard, Spanish-dominant residents regularly express feeling lost, unwelcomed, and discriminated against during County Commissioners Court meetings conducted in a language they largely do not understand.

‘’Having translation is important because we want to know how to defend the rights of our families and communities”, Alberta Ramirez said, a LUPE member and resident of colonia Owassa Acres. Alberta and her neighbors have attended county meetings to push for drainage improvements to protect against flooding. We want our voice to have power and a say in decisions the county makes. To be able to participate, we need to know what is happening in the meetings.”

By holding meetings with Spanish translation, the County is now including Spanish-dominant residents and rectifying its obligations under civil rights law.

Counties that hold meetings without Spanish translation are not only excluding Spanish-dominant residents; they may also be breaking the law.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires Hidalgo County to provide Spanish translation during meetings of the County Commissioners Court and Drainage District #1.

Since late November of 2018, commissioners court has been providing translation services but colonia residents were not happy with the quality of the translation. We’re excited to report that Tuesday, April 23 was the first time that Hidalgo County Commissioners court provided adequate translations to Spanish speaking constituents that often felt lost and confused when trying to participate in public meetings.

Interpretation is important because it ensures that residents understand what is being said at government meetings and allow them to comment officially on issues. Hidalgo County’s federally required Language Access Plan (LAP) also requires the County to provide Spanish translators at its County Commissioners and Drainage District meetings. The LAP states the policy of the county:  “to provide timely meaningful access for [Limited English Proficiency] persons to all County programs and activities.” However, for years, the County had refused to provide adequate translation to LUPE members and other members of the community.

LUPE joined forces with ARISE, TRLA and Texas Housers to demand Hidalgo County to comply with their LAP plan and prevent legal action on our behalf of our partners Texas Housers. Jointly advocating for least 38% of the County’s residents do not speak English “very well. That is more than a quarter of a million persons.

While this is a huge victory for Spanish speaking LUPE members, we are not quite done. The County should also update its Language Access Plan to comply with federal law, as suggested by TRLA attorneys for LUPE and Texas Housers. Our organizing efforts will continue to assure Hidalgo County’s LAP is up to date to better serve the over 327,000 Spanish speaking constituents.

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