State Department sticks with Spanish-language briefings

When Mike Hammer, the assistant secretary of state for public affairs, conducted the State Department’s first ever press briefing in Spanish in March, the last question he fielded was "Cuándo va a ser la próxima?" — when will the next one be? This Friday, it turns out. The State Department announced this afternoon that Hammer, ...

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When Mike Hammer, the assistant secretary of state for public affairs, conducted the State Department's first ever press briefing in Spanish in March, the last question he fielded was "Cuándo va a ser la próxima?" -- when will the next one be?

This Friday, it turns out. The State Department announced this afternoon that Hammer, who grew up in Latin America, will host another Spanish-language briefing on U.S. foreign policy issues on June 1. As he did last time, Hammer will conduct a "Twitter Briefing" in Spanish prior to the press conference (how 21st century!).

Last time around, reporters from Spanish-language news outlets asked Hammer about everything from Iran's ties with Venezuela to Cuba's exclusion from the Summit of the Americas to the possibility that Osama bin Laden's corpse was not dumped at sea (the Twitter Briefing opened jarringly, with the question, "How can you be a beacon of democracy while at the same time you plan, execute, and support coup d'états?"). Check out Hammer's Spanish -- it's pretty good.

When Mike Hammer, the assistant secretary of state for public affairs, conducted the State Department’s first ever press briefing in Spanish in March, the last question he fielded was "Cuándo va a ser la próxima?" — when will the next one be?

This Friday, it turns out. The State Department announced this afternoon that Hammer, who grew up in Latin America, will host another Spanish-language briefing on U.S. foreign policy issues on June 1. As he did last time, Hammer will conduct a "Twitter Briefing" in Spanish prior to the press conference (how 21st century!).

Last time around, reporters from Spanish-language news outlets asked Hammer about everything from Iran’s ties with Venezuela to Cuba’s exclusion from the Summit of the Americas to the possibility that Osama bin Laden’s corpse was not dumped at sea (the Twitter Briefing opened jarringly, with the question, "How can you be a beacon of democracy while at the same time you plan, execute, and support coup d’états?"). Check out Hammer’s Spanish — it’s pretty good.

The initiative is part of a larger effort by the U.S. government to embrace the Spanish language, whether through its Spanish-language portal GobiernoUSA.gov or the State Department’s @USAenEspanol Twitter feed (heck, the U.S. Bureau of Education commissioned a Spanish version of the Star-Spangled Banner as early as 1919).

But I wonder whether these State Department briefings will revive the debate about the role of the Spanish language in the United States — particularly in an election year when Mitt Romney is walking a fine line between arguing that English should be the country’s official language and courting the critical Latino vote, which is largely in President Obama’s camp, with ads in Spanish. It doesn’t take much, after all, to spark controversy on this issue; last week, a pizza chain’s promise to give away pepperoni pies to customers who ordered in Spanish did the trick.

For those interested  in learning more about Hammer’s upcoming briefing, you can find the press release here. Oh, and the announcement is also available en español.

Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland. Twitter: @UriLF

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