Language barrier raised in Joliet council campaign

Councilwoman Quillman’s comment on learning English draws backlash

Councilwoman Jan Quillman is facing criticism for a comment made at a candidates forum when asked about accommodations for Spanish-speaking residents.

Quillman during the forum on Saturday at one point said “everybody should try to lean English,” which was later portrayed by an opponent and others as a just-learn-English attitude.

Quillman later said that was not what she intended and apologized if it was taken that way, but said she also believed much of the criticism was aimed at her because she is the one incumbent in the April 6 election for three council seats.

“I’m the only incumbent,” she said Monday. “I think if it wasn’t this it would have been something else. I didn’t mean any offense.”

Quillman was asked at the forum what steps should be taken to make information about city government and the city council more accessible to Spanish speaking residents.

She suggested that the city could consider using Spanish subtitles in broadcasts of council meetings or provide translations in re-broadcasts.

Quillman added, “We’re trying to learn Spanish, but everybody should try to learn English as well. Our ancestors came here, and they all learned the language.”

Quillman also said she had been trying to learn Spanish but not doing very well at it.

Her comment became the target of a news release from candidate Cesar Guerrero’s campaign, which partially misquoted Quillman as having insisted that Spanish speaking residents should “just learn English” and described her comment about ancestors learning the language as a “racist talking point.”

The forum was hosted by the Will County Democratic Party’s Black and Latinx caucuses.

Guerrero on Monday said Quillman’s comments were at least “insensitive” given the forum in which she made them.

“People are definitely upset about it it and not just Spanish speaking and not just Hispanic communities,” Guerrero said. “There are comments from other ethnicities that clearly this is wrong.”

Guerrero said Quillman’s comments reinforced beliefs “that the Hispanic community is treated as second-class citizens, that we’re an afterthought.”

The Latinx caucus, of which Guerrero is a co-founder, on Sunday issued a statement partially misquoting Quillman as saying “everyone should lean English” and called her comment “not only unacceptable but disrespectful to the entire Latinx community in Joliet.”

The caucus called on the city to make translators available at council meetings and increase the level of city government marketing and information materials in Spanish.