Full disclaimer: I’m proud to be a Kentuckian.
No matter which state you’re from, though, you’d have to be living under a rock, far far away from CNN to not have heard about US Senate hopeful Rand Paul’s unfortunate remarks. In an effort to share his beliefs on government’s role (or lack thereof) in business, he unfortunately side-stepped into a nasty civil rights debacle. What the man actually said is beside the point; what’s he’s been accused of saying is that the US government had no right to force businesses’ hand in repealing Jim Crow. Whether those were his exact words or not, the national media rush resulting puts Kentucky forth as the Land of Johnny Redneck, while we scramble as a state to protest the embarrassment Mr Paul has caused.
From recent efforts to un-redneckify this image, something good has come forth: State Senate Resolution 10SS SR31. Proposed by Senator Gerald Neal (D-33), the four page resolution reaffirms Kentucky’s belief in and adherence to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a state. With language that is forthright, moving, and as passionate as you can get and still call it government, Senator Neal invokes the battle long-fought in our country for civil rights. The resolution calls the Civil Rights Act “a statement of a core American value.” Throughout the resolution, the message is clear: civil rights = good, prejudice = bad. But civil rights for whom?
As the owner of a translating and interpreting company, I see a new discrimination when I look across the Bluegrass State. Yes, racial discrimination still exists. I may have personally been born post-Jim Crow, but even I have seen restaurants with separate doors and dining rooms for whites and blacks, still divided by the community in a jus au sanguine kind of way. Laws mean nothing if they are neither followed nor enforced. Racism is still an unfortunate reality in the South. But where racism is slowly starting to disappear, a new form of discrimination is coming forth: prejudice based on national origin.
As a nation, we have Title VI, the portion of the Civil Rights Act that prohibits prejudice on national origin and which requires, thanks to a back-up executive order from President Clinton, that any agency receiving federal funding provide equal language access under the law. (For you lay people out there, that means, in part, translating and interpreting.) But, again, as we learned with laws, they must be either followed or enforced to take meaning. The 1960’s seems like a long time ago to some. The issues we faced with immigration then were different than the issues we face now.
That’s why I was so proud to see Senator Neal’s resolution. Whether he intended it or not, whether the other senators who unanimously voted for it were aware or not, we now have new legislation in Kentucky that says Kentucky is a welcoming state to immigrants. It’s right there, in the final paragraphs (for a full copy, visit http://www.lrc.ky.gov/record/10SS/SR31.htm):
WHEREAS, if the United States is to remain the welcoming country for persons from all locations, regardless of race, color, religion and ethnicity, enshrined by the Statue of Liberty, the welcoming of persons from all nations, and the “melting pot” for persons coming to the United States, the core values must continue to be protected; and
WHEREAS, the Senate of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky finds and declares that any ideology, philosophy, or position which does not recognize these core American values is repugnant to the citizenry of the United States and to the advances made since the United States declared itself independent of Great Britain in 1776, and to the guarantees of equal protection, enshrined in the amendments to the Constitution of the United States and is hereby rejected;
Be it resolved by the Senate of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky:
Section 1. The Senate of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky finds discrimination in any form to be inconsistent with American values and stands firmly behind the principles of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act of 1966.
Section 2. The Senate of the General Assembly rejects any attempt to retreat from the guarantees provided by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act of 1966, and urges all residents of the Commonwealth to do likewise.
Maybe I’m stretching for it. But did you see? We are “a welcoming country [and] the welcoming of persons from all nations, and the ‘melting pot’ for persons coming to the United States…must continue to be protected… [A]ny ideology, philosophy, or position which does not recognize these core American values is repugnant to the citizenry of the United States.”
I don’t know about you, but English-only political positions and other anti-translation efforts definitely seem unwelcoming to me. To me, there is nothing more repugnant than a non-English speaking person being denied quality health care because they do not speak English. There is nothing more repugnant than doctors who don’t care if their patient understands, who aren’t willing to invest the time it takes to open the phone book and call a qualified interpreting provider. There is nothing more repugnant than a state Medicare system that turns down federal funding to reimburse interpreting costs. There is nothing more repugnant than an abortion clinic administering abortions to non-English speaking women without first explaining the procedure in their language. There is nothing more repugnant than a government that bars non-English speaking people from taking a driver’s license test, and in so doing, keeps these same people from getting to work or English lessons. There is nothing more repugnant than school systems that do not understand the importance of having an interpreter explain a child’s progress to his parents. There is nothing more repugnant than these things, yet they and many others continue to be in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
It is my hope—no, it is my challenge—to Senator Neal and others that 10SS SR31 will take teeth and bite, that it will enact change, that it will not stop at the whites-only door, but rather march right into both dining rooms and say that ending discrimination means ending discrimination, no matter who is being discriminated against.
I am challenging you to be better, Kentucky. I am challenging you to keep me proud. I know that it’s in you.