Dear Democratic Presidential Campaigns: Communicating Correctly in Spanish to Voters Is Important, So Please Do a Better Job

Feb 25, 2019
10:20 am

A month after I tweeted about the Kamala Harris campaign —and after reports that Democrats are losing Latinos to the GOP and that Trump’s strategy hinges on this very community— it is disappointing to see that the websites of most of the Democrats vying for the presidential nomination have Spanish versions that are just not up to par.

For years, the Democratic Party has been stressing the importance of the Latino vote and talked about all their investments in the community, but that same community has been pushing back against those reports. Common complaints are focused on the outreach starting too late, the party being too happy with letting outside groups lead the way on minority outreach, and not investing resources in developing Latinos within the party.

The DNC will probably say that they just helped elect the most diverse Congress in history, that the party has prominent Latinos in elected office across the country, and that even the DNC chair is Latino. However, a quick examination of the campaign websites of all the declared candidates for President does not help the case for Democrats. By doing this, the campaigns are sending a message that is hard to accept: that Spanish-speaking voters in the United States (part of a sizable population) don’t matter.

We can start with Pete Buttigieg, whose website doesn’t even have a Spanish version. I don’t know if this is him just deciding that courting Latino voters is not important or if he couldn’t find or pay one person to translate the website for him.

I don’t know if Bernie Sanders should be in this category since his campaign doesn’t appear to have an English or Spanish version running, just a donate page.

Then there are the candidates who literally translated their pages. Who knows how they did it, but can Google Translate be part of it? For example, Elizabeth Warren translated “Issues” to “Cuestiones” and used the term “Magisterios” when normally “Jueces del Tribunal Supremo” is used in the United States.

The hilarious error of the bunch comes from the Tulsi Gabbard campaign, which asked its volunteers to “call at the doors” when usually campaigns “go knock on doors.”

The Gabbard campaign has some misspellings, but most of my concerns with the language are that it frankly reads as disorganized with some bizarre choice of words.

Other campaigns have also shown some errors in syntax that muddy the meaning of the sentence and might even confuse the reader.

Julián Castro, the only Latino candidate in the field, has some apparent errors, one of them that (ironically) would’ve been solved had the campaign used Google translate. The website also incorrectly uses accent marks in some words while not placing them in words that do need it. They also decided to semi-translate some pages, while others were fully translated.

The semi-translation of web pages is a strategy that other campaigns used as well. Even when asking for the Latino community’s money, the campaigns can’t seem to write the whole thing in Spanish. One would think that in the current political climate the rules of who and how you can donate to campaigns should be crystal clear in Spanish.

Only the Kirsten Gillibrand campaign wrote the disclosures in Spanish but in a smaller font.

From the Bernie Sanders campaign not bothering to finish writing the word “postal” and Gabbard’s not checking to see that they have an English headline in their Spanish section to Warren’s “Tienda” link directing you to their all-in-English shop, it is clear that campaigns just phoned in this work.

It’s clear to me: the English version of their websites would never have so many errors. The candidate would never let that happen.

Recent news reports have highlighted the new Black and Brown hires from Democratic campaigns. So this begs the question: are they being listened to? Do they have input on this kind of work?

Typically, campaigns hire vendors for this kind of work, but it’s telling that the English versions would never have these mistakes. While it is heartening to see all these hires at the senior level, something has to give.

I’m not writing this out of anger or out of a desire to sink any campaign. I’m just hoping that stakeholders read this and understand that Democrats have to do better. There are hundreds of people from our community who can help candidates avoid these mistakes, but the party has to be willing to look for them.

It’s also incumbent upon us as Latinos to point out how disrespectful it is to have Spanish websites with significant errors, and we need to demand that it be fixed. It is not enough to gripe about the lack of outreach to our community after the campaigns are over. We have to provide constructive criticism because an informed abuelita is an abuelita that goes out to vote.

In 2019, it should not be hard to have a Spanish speaker in your communications team from the very beginning. That relatively small investment would show our community that the Democratic Party is serious about a holistic Latino outreach that is both culturally and linguistically inclusive.

It might also stop me from going on a Twitter rant on a Sunday morning.

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Frederick Vélez is a former Congressional staff member and has worked in the last three election cycles to get out the vote in the Latino community. Born and raised in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico, he now lives in Miami, FL. You can follow him on Twitter at @frederickviii.