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California bill to include accent marks on vital documents like birth and marriage certificates moves forward

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Posted at 2:01 PM, Mar 30, 2023

A push at the State Capitol to include accents and other marks on vital records, like birth certificates in California has taken a solid step forward. And it goes beyond grammar.

"Being able to properly spell a name is important and this bill isn't just for the Latino community. There are so many other ethnicities that have some type of accent in their name," said Assemblymember Blanca Pacheco, D-Downey, who introduced the bill.

At only 6 years old, Nicolás is setting the foundation for Assembly Bill 77 which seeks to change California law to allow the use of diacritical marks like accents used in non-English names on important documents including birth and death certificates and marriage licenses.

His parents, Nancy Chaires Espinoza and Pablo Espinoza were surprised to find out it was illegal in California to spell Nicolás' name with an accent mark – passing on what they believe is a lack of heritage and cultural identity to their only child.

On Tuesday, Nancy stood before the Assembly Health Committee in support of the bill, requesting fairness for the millions of Californians whose names have not been spelled correctly.

"I just don't think it's fair that we have to set aside our culture in order to participate in society," said Chaires Espinoza, adding that "our friends and neighbors who are named O'Connell and O'Donnell can already get their names accurately written on their vital records. We're just asking the state of California to treat the rest of us with the same respect."

In 1986, California voters approved Proposition 63 which declared the state's official language English, but the bill's author argues that California law shouldn't prevent residents from keeping their cultural identities via their names.

Accents, tildes, graves, umlauts, and cedillas are used in an array of languages including Vietnamese, Afrikaans, Arabic, Hebrew, Filipino, Finnish, French, Greek, Galician, Irish, Italian, Spanish, Turkish, and Welsh.

Currently, California's population is made up of 39% Latino, 35% white, 15% Asian American or Pacific Islander, 5% Black, 4% multiracial, and fewer than 1% Native American or Alaska Native.

Citing one of the MLB's most viral campaigns, #PonleAcento, Jaime Jarrín, was also present at the hearing, arguing that if Major League Baseball was able to do it, why not California – where more than half of young Californians (ages 24 and under) are Latino.

"Having so many Spanish-speaking people here in California, it is the right thing to do and the right way to pronounce names," said Jarrín who is a retired Spanish-LA Dodgers broadcaster.

Diacritical marks are essential to a name's pronunciation, tone, or stress, and go beyond California's largest ethnic group.

"It wouldn't just be something important for the Latino community – it's equally important for other communities," Pacheco added.

Currently, seven states allow the use of diacritical marks but with a limited number allowed. Pacheco's bill would not have limitations on the number of diacritical marks being used.

The California Association of Clerks and Election Officials (CACEO) is opposing the bill unless it is amended, arguing the mechanics, cost, and feasibility of the local mandate.