May 31, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Authorities ignore Spanish speakers at Uvalde press conferences

A Texas Department of Public Safety office waves his hand at reporters at a news conference in Uvalde. Another officer stands in front of a podium with many microphones on it.

A news conference on May 26 in Uvalde, Texas. Photo: Eric Thayer/Getty Images.

Texas authorities dealing with the Uvalde school shooting’s aftermath have so far provided public updates only in English, prompting criticism that the many Spanish speakers in the largely Latino community are being excluded.

The big picture: Over 81% of residents in Uvalde, where a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at a school last week, are Latino, and many speak Spanish at home.

  • Providing information in their preferred language is critical during such a trying time, experts say.

What they're saying: "I think it's about time and an era where Spanish resources are as important as having those resources in English," said Jennifer Marcial Ocasio, the Spanish at-large board member for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

  • Marcial Ocasio said some bilingual journalists covering the shooting have had to interpret for Uvalde residents.
  • She suggests all governments make providing information in Spanish a top priority in crisis management guidance.

DPS South Texas regional director Victor Escalon ignored shouted requests from reporters to provide a statement in Spanish at the end of a press conference on Thursday.

  • Police at one point promised to provide Spanish-language updates but didn't follow through, journalists on the scene say.
  • The Uvalde Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety, which has conducted many of the press conferences, did not respond to requests for comment.
  • DPS says officials are offering language services at a resource center set up for victims' families.

Between the lines: Authorities have struggled to provide information in Spanish to Latino communities during critical times in the past.

  • Many governments failed to give updates or have information in Spanish on their websites during the early days of the pandemic. Latinos were among the hardest hit by the coronavirus.
  • Authorities in northern California now provide bilingual updates after wildfires left farmworkers and immigrant communities scrambling for information several years ago.

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