Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Who Wrote This Letter to Latino Voters?

"Greetings. You are being sent this letter because you were recently registered to vote. If you are a citizen of the United States, we ask that you participate in the democratic process of voting."

Who sent a letter with that opening paragraph to Latino voters? Was it perhaps the Loretta Sanchez campaign, or the Orange County Registrar of Voters, or perhaps even the California Secreatary of State, all trying to counteract the now infamous letter sent to Latino voters by the Tan Nguyen campaign?

No, that is the opening paragraph of the letter from the Tan Nguyen campaign (translated from the original Spanish). To assure authenticity, I copied the text from the web site of one of Nguyen's most vocal and shrill critics, the Phil Angelides gubernatorial campaign. I will bet that none of you have seen that paragraph quoted in any of the coverage pillorying Nguyen (photo above right) for allegedly trying to intimidate Latino voters from turning out for the November 7 election. Nguyen, himself an immigrant from Vietnam, has been accused of acting out of xenophobia. Go figure.

The media always quote the second paragraph of the letter, without the context of the first. It reads (in translation from Spanish): "You are advised that if your residence in this country is illegal or you are an immigrant, voting in a federal election is a crime that could result in jail time, and you will be deported for voting without having a right to do so." Nguyen, while denying that he had any advanced knowledge of the mailer, insists that the Spanish word translated as "immigrant," "emigrado," actually means a legal permanent resident, or green card holder. News articles such as this one from the Long Beach Press-Telegram have called his defense into question, quoting experts in the Spanish language.

However, it seems to me that a fair treatment of the issue cannot limit itself to the dictionary meaning of terms, and not provide the context in which they were used. Here, a letter written in Spanish opens by encouraging citizens to vote, before it warns that it is illegal for illegal residents or an "emigrado" to do so. That certainly is a factor that suggests that the writer of the letter may well have intended the meaning that Nguyen ascribed to "emigrado." Certainly, journalists have the obligation to make their readers aware of the evidence that might tend to mitigate in favor of Nguyen, not just the facts that weigh against him.

There is no question that the mailer was a nasty piece of business, giving its use of the letterhead of a fictional organization and that it was signed by a non-existent person. The Nguyen campaign was clearly trying to avoid any obvious sign that it was the source of the letter. But mailers of dubious origin are a staple of both Democratic and Republican campaigns. What has singled out this incident for scandal is the allegation of GOP xenophobia. The mainstream media, as usual, refuses to give its audience the complete story.

Phil Angelides has a different view. In a speech on October 22, Angelides said, "The Orange County Registrar of Voters must inform all the voters who got that letter that they have the unequivocal right to vote." So Angelides will not even entertain the possibility that a non-citizen may have registered to vote. If one's name is on the voter rolls, even as the result of fraud, one is unequivocally entitled to vote. Although Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's statements about the Nguyen letter have been weak-kneed, spineless, patronizing and "girly man," at least his policies have tried to discourage voter fraud.


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