Peter Yu, a Republican candidate to unseat U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) in 2022, said last month that he supports providing federal government services exclusively in English.
“It’s actually a crime that we are allowing people to get by in other languages,” Yu said in October in response to a question from the audience at an October meeting of the Jefferson County Republican Men’s Club in Lakewood. “When you’re doing that, you’re actually handicapping that person. You know, if you want to just basically run around speaking Spanish or, you know, Russian or whatever else it may be, you’re never going to be able to succeed fully in this country.”
Currently, the U.S. is required to offer multilingual services from any agency that receives federal funding. For services such as federal court systems, federal health care programs, or immigration, either translated documents or an interpreter will be provided for non-English speakers.
Earlier this year, Yu said hate crimes against Asian-Americans in the U.S. were being overblown and exaggerated for political reasons.
“This racism thing? It’s a lie,” Yu said in August.
Below is the full exchange, which took place at the meeting after Yu shared why he was running for U.S. Senate and how his parents immigrating from China to the U.S. altered his perspective.
Audience Question: Currently, our federal government provides services to people in over 100 languages. Would you support encouraging the melting pot by having the federal government provide services only in English?
Peter Yu: Yeah, absolutely. Because you’re talking about — and once again, I’m not trying to be insensitive. I know this is all about emotion. I’m not saying I don’t care about people. But there is a reason why my family, all seven children are successful. When we came to America we came here to be Americans. We didn’t come here to be Chinese. I’m not saying disown your culture or your heritage or any of that. But we came here to be Americans. We all learned English symbols. And it’s actually a crime that we are allowing people to get by in other languages. When you’re doing that, you’re actually handicapping that person. You know, if you want to just basically run around speaking Spanish or, you know, Russian or whatever else it may be, you’re never going to be able to succeed fully in this country. And that’s a shame.
Howard Chou, vice-chair of the Colorado Democratic Party and chair of the Asian American Pacific Islander Initiative, took issue with Yu’s comments.
“Yet again, Peter Yu is demonstrating how out of touch he is, not only within his own community but with all immigrant and non-English primary speaking communities,” Chou said. “It’s because these services were available in other languages that many of my family members have been able to become Americans.”
Chou explained how providing government services in non-English languages can be beneficial to strengthening the U.S. economy and building community.
“Translation in services helps people get the assistance they need, it doesn’t crutch people’s ability to function in Colorado or anywhere in the U.S.,” Chou said. “This is a bridge for our many immigrant communities to become more adept at English, become part of our workforce, and engage in building our society. What is a crime is that Peter Yu doesn’t understand that these translations give people the ability to succeed as Americans.”
Alex Sánchez, executive director of the Latinx non-profit advocacy group Voces Unidas Action Fund, expressed disappointment when reading Yu’s comments.
“That’s a disappointing stance that sounds an awful lot like a dog whistle to limit who can participate in our democracy,” Sánchez said. “We favor making access to government as simple and straightforward as possible and providing government services — including ballots — in native languages is one of many tools that help make that happen.”
Yu’s rhetoric echoes cries from national Republican figures such as Donald Trump that in order to achieve an “assimilated country,” English must become the official language of the United States.
During his 2016 campaign for president, Trump criticized Jeb Bush for speaking Spanish.
“This is a country where we speak English, not Spanish,” Trump said during a Republican primary debate.
While 82% of Americans exclusively speak English, there are more than 350 languages spoken within the U.S., which does not have an official language.
In February, U.S. House Republicans introduced a bill that would make English the official language of the U.S. and end requirements for federal agencies to provide multilingual services. Among the 24 co-sponsors of the bill, which included U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), none were from Colorado.
Yu has not responded to requests for comment. This story will be updated with a comment if one is provided.
To watch a video of Yu’s speech and question-and-answer session, click here.