A progressive Connecticut blog reports that Stamford Bishop Emilio Alvarez was shouted down at Rep. Jim Himes’ (D-CT) town hall meeting in Norwalk, CT last week when he provided comments in Spanish. Alvarez told Himes that since he does not have access to employer-provided health care coverage, he and his family were left uninsured after his wife lost her job. Angry crowd members booed and chanted “English!” as Alvarez spoke. Watch it:
The Latino community is all too familiar with Alvarez’s story — Latinos have the highest uninsured rates and face the most barriers to medical care, including financial and cultural barriers that are amplified by systematic discrimination. Hispanics who primarily speak Spanish are less healthy, less likely to have a regular doctor, and are even more likely to lack health insurance. That’s why in 2008, Latino voters ranked health care as one of the issues that is most important to them.
Alvarez explained that though he can speak English, he preferred to speak to the congressman in his native tongue. While many in the crowd may have not understood Alvarez’s remarks, there are hundreds of thousands of Connecticut residents who identify Spanish as their native language. 5.4% of Connecticut’s electorate is Latino and 11% of Himes’ district identifies itself as Spanish-speaking. However, that didn’t stop Connecticut’s legislature from cutting the state’s bilingual education program in 2002. Several English-only proposals are also pending committee action in the state legislature.
Himes is a fluent Spanish-speaker who was born in Lima, Peru and spent his early childhood in Bogota, Colombia. He calmly sympathized with Alvarez in English, acknowledging that losing a job shouldn’t cost someone their health insurance too.