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Interpreting the Evidence

Assemblyman Hector L. Diaz Opposes "English Only" Assembly Bill 2898, February 16, 1989

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Contemporary United States (1965 - present)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:

    Written Document

  • Regions:

    New York City
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Assemblyman Hector L. Diaz Opposes "English Only" Assembly Bill 2898, February 16, 1989 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Letter to the Editor by New York State Assemblyman Hector L. Diaz opposing Assembly Bill 2898 to make English the official language of New York State, February 16, 1989
Historical Context
Assemblyman Hector L. Diaz, born in Puerto Rico, was raised in The Bronx and attended Morris High School, Hostos Community College, and Mercy College––all local institutions.  An Army veteran, Diaz became very active in the civic and political life of the South Bronx.  After serving as Bronx commissioner of the Board of Elections, he became Democratic district leader. In 1983, Diaz was elected to the State Assembly, where he applied his experience as a drug counselor while chairing the Subcommittee on Substance Abuse. He also chaired the Subcommittee on Bilingual Education and the Puerto Rican Hispanic Task Force, among other committees.

During his last election in 1994, before becoming Bronx county clerk, Diaz received nearly 11,500 votes, while his nearest opponent received less than 800 votes.

The South Bronx, the assemblyman’s home turf, is “arguably the most fractious ten square miles in New York City politics” and is dominated by one of the largest “minority-run county political machines in city history.” Hispanic politicians and community organizations there have united against state and federal “English Only” proposals that would limit the use of Spanish for educational and governmental purposes. Because the population of The Bronx has been 50% Hispanic since the 1970s, bilingual education has played a prominent role in local politics. Indeed, a nationwide poll revealed that Spanish speakers “considered language…the main cultural barrier to deeply integrat[ing] into American society.”

In this document, Assemblyman Diaz addresses his constituents’ fear that legislation designating English as the official state language would increase discrimination against those who had not yet mastered it.
Essential Question
 How is language connected to culture and citizenship?
Check for Understanding
Identify the main idea of this letter and explain the connection between a national language and legalized discrimination?
Historical Challenges
Compare the concept of “English as the designated U.S. national language” to Bronx Congressman Jose Serrano’s (D-NY 16th) “English-Plus Resolution,” which recognizes “multi-lingualism as a national resource.”
Debate the success of bilingual education in schools. Does it hurt or hinder the advances of Hispanics in this country?
Interdisciplinary Connections
English Language Arts: Make a list of twenty-five words in English that originally came from another language. Indicate the meaning of each word and its language of origin.
Foreign Language: Write a short letter to Assemblyman Diaz in support of, or against, his stand on Assembly Bill 2898.