Texas' Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo—the first Latina and first woman elected as the county's top executive referred to as "judge" in that county—addressed a bilingual news conference on Monday to brief the state's most populous county on a chemical fire. 43 percent of Hidalgo's county is Hispanic with 40 percent of the 4.6 million people identifying a language other than English as their first language according to census figures.
The press conference, where Hidalgo fielded questions from English and Spanish media outlets was livestreamed on Facebook by several media outlets. But at least one person took exception to Hidalgo's efforts.
Texas county commissioner Mark Tice of Chambers county posted a comment on the Facebook livestream for channel KHOU 11 News.
Tice publicly stated:
"She is a joke. [Speak] English this is not Mexico."
Tice's comment immediately drew attention of others following the news conference.
"She is the joke? You're to stupid to even properly understand what was going on. She speaks at-least 2 languages. You only got elected because your a hill billy. The ONLY reason you're not working on a used car lot is because the Republican party spent way too much money to make sure more uneducated Caucasians were there next to them." ~ William Shouse IV
"Mark Tice, how ignorant are you? You’re right, this isn’t Mexico. In this country, we have the right to speak whatever language we want. As a county commissioner, you should already be aware of the fact that the US, does not have an official language. If listening to a Spanish translation offends you, then maybe you should change the channel or simply mute your tv. Simple as that sir." ~ Juan YourfavoriteMexican Murillo
People pointed out the demographics of the people Hidalgo represents.
And gave a bit of a geography and a history lesson as well.
Tice told The Houston Chronicle when they asked for a comment on his Facebook criticism of Hidalgo:
"It’s real simple. This is the United States. Speak English."
But after facing backlash, Tice tried to walk back his comments.
Tice claimed his calling Judge Hidalgo a "joke" was showing his concern.
He thought Hidalgo answered questions posed in Spanish from Spanish media in Spanish without providing an English translation. However Tice expressed no such concern over questions posed in English that might not have been accompanied by a Spanish translation.
In his revised remarks posted on Facebook, Tice stated:
"From my understanding, there were reporters asking questions in Spanish and Judge Hidalgo responded to those questions in Spanish, with no translation given. If that is not the case, then I sincerely apologize."
"Judge Hidalgo, the citizens of my County, and most importantly the entire Hispanic community for hastily acting out with transgression (sic) on social media."
People went to Tice's official Facebook page to make their displeasure known.
"As a Deer Park resident and non-Spanish speaking Texan I am incredibly ashamed that you serve our area with such prejudiced and racist opinions. There are people in this area who speak Spanish that are and were just as concerned about the ITC fire and its consequences to our health and the environment as the English speaking residents. Should people be kept in the dark just because they don’t understand the English explinations being given? No backtracking apology is enough to cover up such ugly racism. Kudos to Judge Hidalgo. Shame on you." ~ Danelle Cass
Tice also provided his full statement to local news outlets. In it, he blamed his comments on being "very emotional." The commissioner's apology reads:
"In regards to the comments I issued on Judge Hidalgo’s press conference: From my understanding, there were reporters asking questions in Spanish and Judge Hildalgo responded to those questions in Spanish, with no translation given. If that is not the case, then I sincerely apologize."
"Like many citizens concerned about the ITC fires, I was very emotional about the effect it was having on everyone. I apologize to Judge Hidalgo, the citizens of my County, and most importantly the entire Hispanic community for hastily acting out with transgression on social media."
"I recognize how my response could have been interpreted in a derogatory manner and for that I am sorry. I immediately regretted my choice of words. I’m not proud of my behavior, that is not the example I wish to lead by. I can only hope, in time, that my actions can be forgiven."
"Having grown up in Galena Park, Texas— a place that is and has always been a very diverse community—I was raised with the ideology that you do not judge anyone by their ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. Those values mean everything to me."
"It breaks my heart that I may have said anything that would lead anyone to believe otherwise."
"Those who know me well, know how deeply rooted I am within the Hispanic community. My sentiments on this issue were grounded in the passion and love that I have for the City of Houston and the surrounding areas. Again, I am truly sorry for for creating this unnecessary situation."
When asked about his comments to The Houston Chronicle, Tice wrote:
"My comments towards Judge Hidalgo today in the Chronicle were inappropriate. I apologize for that. I was very emotional, and said things that I regret. Again, I am truly sorry."