Voters will have a chance to remove English as ‘official’ language by updating the Allentown City Charter on Election Day

Written by on October 21, 2021

Voters will have a chance to remove English as ‘official’ language by updating the Allentown City Charter on Election Day

By Hayden Mitman

October 21, 2021

Voters will have the opportunity to remove English as the “official language” of Allentown on Election Day, Nov. 2 / AP Photo

ALLENTOWN, Pa. – Voters in Allentown will have the chance to remove English as the city’s “official” language in this upcoming election. 

City Council President Julio Guridy said the proposed change to the charter is intended to make Allentown a more welcoming city.

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According to the most recent census, more than half of Allentown’s population identifies as Hispanic. 

And yet, the city’s “official” language is English. 

Guridy, who was running for mayor but lost to Matt Tuerk in the primary, said the declaration empowers racist behavior.

“Having English as the official language gave some of these racists the opportunity to say ‘Hey, you gotta speak English or you’re outta here,’” said Guridy.

The original designation was unnecessary but in 1994, city council approved it through legislation introduced by former councilwoman Emma Tropiano.  

Guridy said the designation has had negative impacts on the Hispanic community.

“They were fired from their jobs sometimes because their bosses caught them speaking Spanish. There was another thing that happened, which is basically they wouldn’t rent to people who couldn’t speak English,” he said.

Guridy said the designation has become largely ceremonial, in fact, federal law requires governments to provide services to their population regardless of the languages they speak. 

The ballot question this November states: “Shall paragraph B of Section 101 of the City of Allentown Home Rule Charter be removed?”

Berwood Yost, director of the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College, says this might leave voters scratching their heads.

“This ballot question just does not include any information that tells voters what they are doing when they vote for this particular measure,” he said.

But Lehigh County Executive Phil Armstrong says the question is worded as it was written and approved by city council.

“That was given to the county by the city. The county checked it, double-checked it with the city and that’s what the city wanted on that ballot.” Armstrong said.  

Guridy says voters just need to know that changing the charter wouldn’t remove English from government usage. 

“We aren’t saying that. That’s not the intent of this legislation. It is to allow other languages to also be spoken and to translate things the city puts out into other languages,” he said. 

Voters will have a chance to update the Allentown City Charter on Election Day, Nov. 2. 

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