In The Hook this week, Lisa Provence writes about the socially difficult topic of City Councilor Satyendra Huja’s strong Indian accent, and the difficulty that some people have understanding him. A few weeks ago, a woman addressing the council said that she’d had trouble following his remarks, saying that “it is the right of citizens to hear and comprehend what is going on during official meetings,” and proposing that Huja should pay for a translator so that citizens can understand him. It was that last bit that seemed to rile up some other councilors and members of the audience—Huja has a perfect command of English, and mention of a translator smacked of xenophobia, muddying an otherwise straightforward point. Council then did something extraordinary in response to the implication that their fellow councilor was not fit to hold office: they held a vote of confidence, which passed unanimously.
Culturally, we tend to regard it as our failing if we have a hard time comprehending somebody with a thick accent. The single-term Democrat is seeking reelection, which makes the topic more ticklish still. Assuming that this is actually a problem that merits addressing (I rarely have difficulty understanding him, but I don’t doubt that others do), it remains an open question what an appropriate response is, on either a governmental or social level.