After four years of living at the Houston-based William Booth Garden Apartments – which is run by The Salvation Army and offers affordable living spaces to low-income seniors – Katherine Hernández felt surprised when she received a letter telling her she couldn’t speak Spanish in the lobby or other common areas of the building. And while the employee who wrote the letter has since been fired, it’s not something Hernández hoped to be dealing with at this stage in her life.
On Friday, Katherine received a letter from Director Mary McElhannon, which read, “The United States of America is an English speaking country and those who come to the United States or [are] born here should learn to speak the language. It is rude to sit in the lobby and speak Spanish when there is a resident sitting in the lobby as well who does not speak Spanish. The exclusion of the non-Spanish speaking person is unacceptable… Most of our residents speak English, however the conversation in the lobby and Activity Room is primarily Spanish. This is grossly unfair to the 25% who do not speak Spanish and needs to change.”
Hernández, who said she does tend to speak Spanish in the lobby, said she felt her rights were being “violated.” She asked her friends if they also received personal letters asking them to stop chatting in Spanish in common areas.
Since news outlets picked up her story, The Salvation Army has released statements stating it doesn’t ban any languages and that some of its locations are 100 percent Spanish. It also announced it has fired McElhannon.
“The Salvation Army is dedicated to creating safe and uplifting environments for our residents and does not tolerate discriminatory remarks or actions,” the organization said in a statement. “Upon learning of inappropriate language used in communication from one of our employees to a William Booth Garden resident, we immediately investigated. The employee in question is no longer a Salvation Army employee. We are reaching out to the resident and will work to ensure that she and all residents feel comfortable sharing current or future concerns.