Mar 28, 2023 - World

California bill would allow accent marks on birth certificates

Illustration of a gavel, but the handle is a large tilde symbol.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

A bill in the California Assembly would allow for the use diacritical marks — like those in á and ñ — on birth certificates and other government documents for the first time since 1986, when state voters overwhelmingly approved a proposition that made English the state's official language.

The big picture: Despite being one of the most diverse states in the country, California vital records such as birth certificates can't have accent or other marks.

  • This comes as Latinos are reclaiming the marks in their names, as Axios Latino reported last year.
  • Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, North Carolina, Oregon and Texas allow for diacritical marks in state records, according to a summary of the California bill. Utah legalized them last year.

Driving the news: Assembly Bill 77 is being heard in a House committee on Tuesday.

  • The bill would impact California's large Latino population but also many other people with non-English names, such as Germans, Asians, Jewish people and others.
  • The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center wrote in support of the bill.

Flashback: The path to include accent marks in California records began five years ago, when Pablo Espinoza and his wife, Nancy Chaires Espinoza, tried to get a birth certificate for their then-newborn son, Nicolás Agustín Espinoza Chaires.

  • They were shocked that they couldn't include the accent marks on his first and middle names, Espinoza says.
  • Espinoza did a deep dive and found that county agencies stopped using diacritical marks in 1986, the same year voters made English the official language. He'd assumed it was because of limited technology.
  • Espinoza, who works for Democratic House Speaker Anthony Rendon, and Chaires Espinoza, a lobbyist, pushed for a bill that passed in 2017 but was vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who said the bill was "a difficult and expensive proposition."
  • The bill was reintroduced this session by Rep. Blanca Pacheco, a Democrat from the Los Angeles area who says her Mexican-born parents taught her to always remember her culture and where they came from.

What they're saying: Jaime Jarrín, the longtime Spanish broadcaster for the Los Angeles Dodgers who retired last year, tells Axios Latino he will testify in support of the bill today.

  • "Our name is our greatest treasure that we have. If you say my name (correctly) you are respecting my culture," Jarrín says.

Yes, but: The California Association of Clerks and Election Officials opposes the bill, saying it's concerned about its cost and feasibility.

  • Member Donna M. Johnston tells Axios the bill is vague and should make clear that the state has to adopt the new rules before they're adopted at a county level.
  • She also says the organization isn't sure the computer systems used by counties would support diacritical marks.
  • "We just need to make sure that we can comply," Johnston says.

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