Presidential candidates Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker drew a mix of appreciation and skepticism when they slipped into speaking Spanish during the first Democratic candidates’ debate. Some called it a welcome gesture of inclusion to the millions of Spanish speakers living in the United States, while others saw it as pandering to a growing voting bloc.
But if O’Rourke and Booker flexed their language skills in an effort to make sure Spanish speakers understood them, they didn’t need to worry: The Spanish language network Telemundo is already providing Spanish translations throughout the two debates. (Thursday night’s debate was almost entirely in English: Only South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg spoke briefly in Spanish, after one of the debate moderators greeted him in Spanish.)
The translations happen almost in real time. How fast are they? Watch this video of O’Rourke, here or below:
El excongresista @BetoORourke responde su primera pregunta en español: "Necesitamos incluir a cada persona en el éxito de nuestra economía". #Decision2020 #DemDebate https://t.co/q8PIowwgER pic.twitter.com/R5jnKOk0nA
— Noticias Telemundo (@TelemundoNews) June 27, 2019
Note that when O’Rourke switches from Spanish to English at the 20-second mark, Telemundo’s translator begins interpreting his English remarks into Spanish within two seconds.
“Our translation for both debate nights is simultaneous,” said Luis Fernández, executive vice president of network news for Telemundo. “Since we serve a Spanish speaking audience, simultaneous translations are a must. They are an essential part of our mission to empower viewers with accurate and trustworthy information.”
The almost real-time translation is nothing new. Telemundo has translated entire debates into Spanish before.
Telemundo used eight translators Wednesday night to work together to simultaneously interpret the 10 candidates and five moderators. Fernández said the translators “followed a carefully planned production plan including casting, candidates research, rehearsals, lexicon and vocabulary nuances the individual candidates may be known for.”
O’Rourke and Booker’s teams knew that the debates would air on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo, and also knew, hopefully, that Telemundo broadcasts in Spanish.
So what were their motivations Wednesday to break into Spanish? Opinions were varied Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
“I loved it, because I represent the Bronx and there was a lot of Spanglish in the building,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” Wednesday night.
“I mean I thought it was humorous sometimes, at times, especially because sometimes the content of the question, I just thought people were going to start saying ‘Hola, estoy postulando por presidente y no te voy a dar una respuesta a su pregunta,’ which means I will not give you an answer to your question.”
“But it was good,” Ocasio-Cortez added. “I thought it was a good gesture to the fact that we are a diverse country.”
Others took it as pandering — as if every answer in Spanish translated to, “By the way, I can speak Spanish.” Neither O’Rourke nor Booker are native Spanish speakers.
Colbert joked: “Oh, snap! It is on. It is an Español-off! Or, as they say in Spanish, grupo de idiotas.”
When O’Rourke first spoke Spanish, he drew a long stare from Booker, prompting speculation on Twitter that he was shocked by O’Rourke’s ostentatiousness. But soon after, Booker also broke out in Spanish, prompting more speculation that he was, in fact, jealous.
“CORY WAS STARING DAGGERS AT BETO SPEAKING SPANISH BECAUSE HE WAS PLANNING HIS OWN SPANISH REVEAL,” tweeted New York Times writer Caity Weaver.
If nothing else, the use of Spanish during the debate signified the growing clout of Latino voters, and the desire of Democratic candidates to appeal to them.
The Hill cited an analysis by the Pew Research Center that found that Latinos are expected to make up about 13 percent of eligible voters in the 2020 election. That would make them the largest ethnic or racial minority group in the United States. The Hill also cited Census data reports that more than 40 million native Spanish speakers living in the U.S.
Tony Maglio contributed to this story.