Woman told to speak English only in common areas of senior living facility

HOUSTON (FOX 26) — First on FOX 26 News, an elderly woman said she was treated unfairly for speaking Spanish where she lives. She said management issued her a notice with Salvation Army letterhead instructing her to speak only English in the common areas. That manager has since been terminated, according to a statement released by the organization.

Katherine Hernandez, 72, said she received the letter in her mailbox on Friday. The letter was signed by the director of the William Booth Garden Apartments, a low-income senior living facility owned by the Salvation Army. The letter told her it was rude and unacceptable to speak Spanish in front of those who don't.

Dear Katherine, 
I received your letter regarding the speaking of Spanish in the lobby or at other activities. 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. As has happened several residents have asked what is being said as they feel offended and left out of the conversation. It is perfectly acceptable for a non-Spanish speaking resident to ask what is being said and have the conversation translated. 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.

Mary McElhannon, NAHPE

"The Salvation Army doesn’t exclude nobody and she’s excluding us," said Hernandez. She also said she believes the letter is a response to a complaint she filed to management almost a year earlier.

Hernandez said she was the only person that received that letter, although she said multiple residents in the facility consistenly and frequently chat in Spanish in the common areas.
"That’s what I do feel, victimized," said Hernandez. "That’s why I have to fight my own battles."

Hernandez said she was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer in 2018, underwent treatment for ten months and is still in remission. She said her constant battle with management only adds to the stress.
"I help everybody and it hurts my feelings for her to say that I leave people that don’t speak Spanish out because I try," said Hernandez. "If they want to hear what we’re talking about, I’ll tell them."

A spokesperson for the Salvation Army told FOX 26 on the phone that the letter sent to Hernandez does not correspond with their values and that they take matters like this very seriously. The organization also sent the following statement: 

The recent complaint regarding Spanish being spoken at one of our communities is currently under investigation. The Salvation Army of Greater Houston is committed to making sure those we serve feel welcome and meeting the needs of the community without discrimination through a wide range of programs and services.

The Salvation Army sent the following statement on Wednesday:

The Salvation Army is dedicated to creating safe and uplifting environments for our residents and does not tolerate discriminatory remarks or actions. 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.