April 1, 2015 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Spanish-Speaking Members Bring Camaraderie, Constituent Comfort

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Rep. Mike Honda, who learned Spanish while in El Salvador with the Peace Corps, is among the Members who often speak the language together.

After Rep. Grace Napolitano casts her vote on the House floor, she always heads straight for the same corner: the barrio in the back, as its called by those who know it.

Just to the right of the door closest to the elevators, near the back of the House chamber, congregate those lawmakers who are fluent in Spanish. There they chat about anything and everything, the California Democrat said, from a piece of legislation to a newly drawn district to a family members health.

Thats our little area, she said. Sometimes well find other Members sitting there and well ask if they got permission. Whats your password, you need the password. And well start laughing. ... Its very cordial, sometimes its comical. Theres always pranksters in our midst. They prank in English and in Spanish.

The same group of lawmakers usually frequents the corner, including Reps. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas), Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), José Serrano (D-N.Y.) and Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.). Most who congregate there are Democrats from California or Texas, though the group welcomes anyone, especially those who speak Spanish.

If youre a Republican coming up, they just chat, they dont say go away, said Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), who learned Spanish while in El Salvador with the Peace Corps. Ive never seen them reject anybody.

Nor do they reject those who dont speak Spanish.

Theyre curious and theyll ask, Whats the big joke or whatever? Napolitano said. I dont think anybodys ever offended simply because were discussing.

Still, the groups inherent exclusivity makes some wary, according to Honda.

People say, Why dont you speak English? People are uncomfortable because they think were talking about them and maybe we are, he said, laughing.

Theirs isnt the only group to gather in an area of the House floor. Napolitano was quick to point out that just like tables in a high school cafeteria, every Congressional clique has a unique space on the floor. The Congressional Black Caucus tends to gather on the left side of the House, while the Blue Dog Coalition prefers a spot near the middle left.

And just like those high school cliques, the group of Spanish speakers has its shining stars.

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