Archive: Aug 2016

  1. Intérpretes de las Cortes de Migración inician paro laboral

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    Intérpretes de las Cortes de Migración inician paro laboral

    “Quienes van a sufrir son los inmigrantes…”
    Intérpretes de las Cortes de Migración inician paro laboral

    FOTO: GETTY IMAGES

    Decenas de intérpretes que trabajan en las cortes de migración de Los Ángeles iniciarán este jueves un paro laboral en protesta porque han comenzado a ser desplazados por intérpretes con menos experiencia, lo que dicen será un golpe muy duro para el inmigrante quien sin un buen intérprete podría correr el riesgo de ser deportado.

    “Migración contrata una agencia que a su vez subcontrató intérpretes que les cotizó exageradamente barato, y a nosotros ya no nos quieren emplear”, dijo Elsa, quien no quiso proporcionar su apellido, pero ha sido intérprete de migración por cuatro años.

    Precisó que los nuevos intérpretes son estudiantes jóvenes que no tienen experiencia y que ganarán menos del 50% de lo que ellos devengan.

    “Quienes van a sufrir son los inmigrantes porque cualquier palabra que no se interprete bien puede meterlos en problemas. En migración, hay muchos tecnicismos y hay jueces que hablan muy rápido”, explicó la intérprete.

    SOS Internacional o SOSi es la compañía a la cual el Departamento de Justicia (DOJ) contrató para proveer servicios de interpretación. Pero de acuerdo a Stephanie Magaña, una de las voceras de los intérpretes, SOSi en lugar de seguir con los intérpretes freelancers (contratistas independientes) decidió subcontratar a Southern California School of Interpretation con sede en Santa Fe Springs para que este plantel les proporcione traductores para las cortes de migración a un precio mucho más barato que los que ya prestan sus servicios.

    “Nosotros sí somos profesionales de la lengua con muchos años y algunas veces décadas de experiencia, comprometidos con el debido proceso para cada persona dentro del sistema judicial”, dijo la también intérprete  Magana, quien lamentó la decisión. Agregó que el DOJ tiene una responsabilidad con el país para no permitir que la injusticia de desplazarlos, prevalezca.

    La intérprete Elsa también se quejó de que aunque los tratan como contratistas independientes, en el trato diario, los mantienen bajo vigilancia y a veces no pueden ni ir al baño.

    Mostró su preocupación pues dijo que los intérpretes profesionales se quedarán sin empleo. “Esta es la última semana que nos dan trabajo”, comentó.

    El paro laboral en la Corte de Migración ubicada en las calles 6 y Olive del centro de Los Ángeles está previsto para comenzar a partir de las 7:00 de la mañana de este jueves 25 de agosto.

    Es un paro que se va a prolongar los días siguientes y esperamos que se vuelva nacional”, expuso Fernando Becerril, vocero de los intérpretes que se unirán a la huelga laboral.

    La falta de intérpretes calificados en una audiencia puede resultar en una deportación inmediata y les puede salir carísimo. Estamos lidiando con casos extremadamente delicados”, argumentó.

    Estimó que en todo el país hay alrededor de 1,000 intérpretes, en California más de 90 y en Los Ángeles más de 30.

    “El paro de labores de los intérpretes va a afectar enormemente a los inmigrantes”, remarcó.

    Las cortes de inmigración han tenido un aumento de 117% mientras que el número de jueces ha disminuido.
    Las cortes de inmigración han tenido un aumento de 117% mientras que el número de jueces ha disminuido. (Foto: Archivo/La Opinión)

    Anticipa retrasos

    El abogado experto en migración, Alex Galvez, anticipó que el impacto del paro será tremendo pues muchas audiencias tendrán que ser pospuestas ante la falta de intérpretes. “Y celebrar una audiencia sin uno, es una violación de los derechos constitucionales del inmigrante”, señaló.

    Gálvez dijo que tienen información de que los derechos de los intérpretes no eran respetados del todo. “Su trabajo es muy importante porque un buen intérprete no solo traduce las palabras sino las emociones. Y uno con experiencia escoge las palabras más adecuadas”, estableció.

    Las cortes de migración están ya de por sí sobresaturadas con un rezago de alrededor de 456,000 casos, el número más alto de todos los tiempos. Esto hace que la situación de muchos inmigrantes permanezca en el limbo por años.

    La Opinión esperaba una respuesta de la Oficina Ejecutiva de Evaluación Migratoria (EOIR) del Departamento de Justicia sobre el paro laboral.

     

  2. U.S. immigration interpreters under siege again.

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    U.S. immigration interpreters under siege again.

    August 23, 2016 § 5 Comments

    Dear Colleagues:

    It is not common that I write a blog entry hoping to be wrong, but on this occasion I hope I am mistaken. Let me explain:

    2015 was a very difficult year for our immigration court interpreters in the United States. After decades of working with the same agency, the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) granted their court interpreting services contract to a new contractor that is better known for their multi-million dollar contracts with the United States Department of Defense than for their interpreting services.  This new contractor: SOSi, won the licitation process by bidding lower than anybody else, and to keep the operation profitable for their stakeholders, they attempted to hire inexperienced interpreters and pay them extremely low fees under unimaginable work conditions.

    The interpreters rallied against the newcomer’s offer, united like never before, and took to the social media, traditional media, and professional associations for support. The movement became quite strong and as a result of these actions by our immigration court colleagues and their allies, SOSi was left with no choice but to offer contracts to many of the more experienced interpreters under work conditions similar to the ones they were used to with the former contractor, and in many cases with the interpreters getting better fees than before. SOSi agreed to these terms and addressed some of the main concerns that the EOIR had about the way they were to offer interpreting services nationwide by hiring some of the support staff that had previously worked for the previous contractor: LionBridge.

    At the time, it looked like SOSi got it and decided to do things the right way; unfortunately, their temporary contract with the United States Department of Justice was about to expire and they had to move quickly to turn that provisional contract into a permanent contractual obligation. To achieve their goals, once that interpreters, immigration judges, and public opinion subsided, they decided to go after the interpreters once again.

    During the last few days, many immigration interpreters received an email from SOSi notifying them the following changes to their policy:

    “…In the coming weeks, we plan to release a competitive Request for Quote (RFQ) to anyone who is interested in continuing to work on the program…”

    In other words, in a few weeks, interpreters will have to bid for work at the EOIR, and assignments will go to the lowed bid.  Is SOSi going to pay its interpreters the same rock-bottom fees they had in mind a year ago when their master plan was derailed in part by their ineptitude, but mainly because the quality interpreters refused to work for such insulting fees.

    I hope I am wrong, but as I continue to read SOSi’s communication, I detect a Machiavellian cleverness I did not see last year. Let’s read another segment of the same email:

    “…In the meantime, we are issuing extensions to current Independent Contractor Agreements (ICAs) at the current rates.  You will have seven days to review and execute those extensions in order to be eligible to continue working on the program past August 31, 2016….”

    The way I read the paragraph, and I hope I am wrong, I get the impression that SOSi is taking away from the interpreters the argument of “contracts with rock-bottom fees” by offering its current contractors a new contract under the same professional fees (incorrectly called “rates”).  By doing this, the Defense Contractor turned interpreting service provider, if questioned by EOIR, can defend itself arguing that their individual interpreter contracts contain the same terms as the prior contract, and that the interpreters who work for a lower fee than the one in their contract, do so by voluntarily participating in the “competitive request”process in order to get more work.  Of course, we can assume (from the contractor’s own words) that there will be very few assignments for those interpreters who do not participate in the bidding process. They will probably work only when nobody else is available.

    Finally, SOSi’s communication states that “…The goal of the changes is to provide the best, most cost-effective service to the DOJ…” 

    Of course they have to watch these costs; that is an essential part of their contract with the government. The problem is that they also need to make a profit, and the more the better.  The question is: How can you increase your profit when your client (EOIR) will not pay you more? To me, the answer seems clear:  They will pay less to the service provider (the interpreter).

    I could be wrong, but I do not believe that SOSi will pass on to the EOIR the “savings” from low-bidding interpreters on a case-by-case basis. Record keeping and reporting of these individual cases would be more expensive than simply paying the contractually agreed fees.  From the email, I understand that SOSi will get the same paycheck from the government, but their profit will go up from the money they will save by paying the interpreter a miserable fee.  The United States federal budget for 2017 shows an increase on the appropriations that go to the EOIR from 420 million dollars to 428.2 million.  There were no cuts, and in my opinion, even knowing that most of the EOIR budget goes to many other priorities, it is very hard to understand why SOSi would want interpreters to provide the same services for less money. (https://www.justice.gov/jmd/file/821961/download)

    Dear friends and colleagues, I sincerely hope that my appreciations are all wrong and SOSi will honor the contracts, discard the “lower-bid” system that they seem to spouse, and things continue to improve for our immigration court colleagues; but in the event that I may be totally, or even partly right, I believe our colleagues will be better served by sounding the alarm and being in a state of alert and ready to act once again. There are just too many loose ends that require not just an explanation, but a public general commitment by SOSi not to go back to last year’s unsuccessful attempt to pay less for professional interpreting services. I now ask you to please share your thoughts on this issue, and if you have solid evidence (not wishful thinking) to prove my conclusions wrong, please share them with the rest of us.

     

  3. 7 Words That Mean The Opposite Of What They Used To

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    7 Words That Mean The Opposite Of What They Used To

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    by James Hunt

    If you’re the sort of person who gets bent out of shape over the misuse of words like less and fewer, if you hate that literally no longer means literally, and if you could stand to care less about people saying they could care less, then we’ve got bad news for you: Language rarely does what you think it should. Even the most basic of words can substantially change their meanings over time. To prove it, here are seven words that used to mean something, and now mean exactly the opposite.

    1. AWESOME

    First documented circa 1600 as part of Early Modern English, the original meaning of awesome is hardly obscured: something which inspires or is full of awe. But when it was coined it referred to awe as in terror, rather than the modern form, “amazement.” Of course, given the frequency with which it turns up in modern conversation, maybe it’s not quite the superlative it once was.

    2. SILLY

    In Middle English, the word seely meant happy. But by the time people were pronouncing (and spelling) it as silly, it had come to mean someone innocent or deserving of pity or sympathy. From there it came to mean naive and unsophisticated, before arriving at its modern usage of ignorant or foolish.

    3. EGREGIOUS

    Traced back to its etymological root, egregious comes from the Latin ex grege, meaning “rising above the flock.” In a very specific way, it meant exceptional or distinguished. The word arrived in English in the early 1500s and by the turn of the 1600s, a century of deliberately ironic usage had twisted the word’s meaning to the point where, even now, you only really see someone describe something as egregious if it’s also bad (as in an egregious error).

    4. AWFUL

    As if to prove that there’s absolutely no logic to language change, while awesome was going on its journey from bad to good, awful was going in the opposite direction. Originally, in the 1300s, it meant something awe-inspiring, worthy of respect and admiration. It was only in the 1800s that it came to mean something specifically bad.

    5. TERRIFIC

    If you squint you can probably see how the word terrific—first documented in the 1660s—could mean “frightening.” Something terrific filled you with terror; it was literally terrifying. In the mid-18th century, terrific came to mean something great or severe, and by the late 19th century it had morphed into its modern meaning: excellent.

    6. SMART

    In late Old English, something smeart was painful or stinging. Indeed, that meaning survives in the form “that smarts.” It wasn’t long before smart came to mean someone with quick wit (as in, having a sharp tongue), and from there it became associated with general intelligence.

    7. NICE

    It almost boggles the mind to imagine that a word so tepid and noncommittal in its praise might have once been offensive, but it arrived into English from the Old French nice, where it meant foolish or weak. During the middle ages it came to mean shy, reserved, or fastidious, and it was only in the mid- to late 1700s—when society began to deem those qualities respectable—that the word started to take on positive meanings.

  4. We’ve Stopped Translating Children’s Books Into English. Where Will We Get the Next Tintin?

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    We’ve Stopped Translating Children’s Books Into English. Where Will We Get the Next Tintin?16

    translations_color

    Tina Kugler

    This is a story about Moomins. I just love Moomins. I always have.

    But perhaps you have no clue what I’m talking about? Moomins were important in my childhood, but I know that many people grew up without them. (Though, as is so often the way with childhood reading, I can’t imagine how.) Moomins feature in one of my favorite series of books, created in the ’40s by a genius called Tove Jansson, and they are funny. They’re trippy, and dreamy, sometimes melancholy and often wise. They’re also Finnish.

    I shall return to the Moomins shortly. Because meanwhile, in another part of the forest, a small Gaulish village is still holding out against the invaders. A warrior called Astérix, his friend Obelix, the druid Panoramix, the dog Idéfix … they’re funny, too. (And punny.) Yes, Astérix was another favorite of mine. As were Pippi LongstockingTintinPinocchio, various books of fairy tales … and possibly The Little Prince? But yeah, mostly Asterix. Or rather “Astérix,” with the accent—if we’re going to be properly French about it.

    When I call it “Astérix” rather than “Asterix” it’s not an affectation. It’s an attempt to draw a distinction between Astérix, and Asterix, just as I might distinguish between The Little Prince and Le Petit Prince. They’re the same, and not the same.

    Because what I really read, growing up in London, was Asterix, not Astérix. I read The Little Prince—not Le Petit Prince—and I read English Finnish Moomins and English German fairy tales and Danish fairy tales and French fairy tales. All of them, as far as I knew, great landmarks in English children’s literature, sitting comfortably alongside Winnie-the-Pooh and Maurice Sendak, Roald Dahl and Eric Carle and Alice. I didn’t know, I think, what translation was. I didn’t know that the Asterix jokes that made me laugh were by a brilliant woman called Anthea Bell. You may know that the words to the original Tintin were written by his Belgian illustrator, Hergé—but who wrote the English Tintin? If you once read The Little Prince rather than Le Petit Prince, to whom are you indebted for those words?

    I think their names are important. It was Katherine Woods who picked up a pen in 1943 and wrote “Draw me a sheep…” It was Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner who filled Captain Haddock’s speech bubbles with billions of blue blistering barnacles. We owe them a lot.

    What we read defines our horizons. As a child I had no idea that Asterix was translated but Little Women wasn’t, that Ursula Le Guin wrote in English but Pippi Longstocking needed a second writer to make her exploits readable by the likes of me. I didn’t know, or care. I knew, however, that with every new book I loved I was discovering a new way for a story to be funny, or to be exciting, or to make me wonder. These translated books—just like their English-language cousins—were just more worlds of experience. They were story and characters and voice, and the questions they asked and the pictures they painted and the emotions they stirred in a reader.

    I’ve never really believed that children experience stories differently to adults, not fundamentally; but children are newer to the world than we are, which means the books they read have a certain special potential. For a reader just beginning to put names to things, just beginning to calibrate life’s rules and limits, books can offer answers—or rather, they can frame questions in such a way that the answers seem a little closer. So if stories can help children make sense of the world, surely these stories should be as various as they can be. Reading for me was a kind of exploration, dependent on the possibility of unexpected discovery, of surprise. Freedom to roam that world-size forest of stories, to take intriguing sidetracks or stop and look about you—a world away from the stifling tyranny of the assigned reading, the expectation that every kid in class study the same few books, and find in them the same predictable things.

    Last year I published a reference book, The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature. When I set out, I knew I wanted to talk about a whole world of children’s books. But it turns out that most of the whole world is hard to find nowadays. I included entries on those foreign books that enriched the old canon: The Little Prince,Astrid Lindgren, the Brothers Grimm, and all the rest. They made us readers, these books—they made a lot of us writers, too. But they came to English 40, 60, 100 years ago—where’s all the stuff that’s happened since?

    I recently went to a major London bookshop, a good one, and did some counting. I found 2,047 children’s books, of which 2,018 were by English-language writers and 29 were translations. Of those 29, the number of living writers represented was … 6.

    Is this because nobody else in the world is writing anything for children worth reading? Well, even if you argue that the Anglophone world is atypical for the number and quality and—by some metrics—the variety of its children’s books, still it seems improbable. Six point seven billion people in the world whose first language isn’t English, and none of them are writing good children’s books? Nobody but us—however you choose to define that problematic “us”—has a story worth telling?

    How many languages are now spoken in homes and schools in New York, say, or London? But where do kids in those cities go to find the brilliant new stories by Polish or Colombian or Syrian or Turkish or Chinese children’s writers? These writers exist, I can assure you. And yet for some reason we deprive our children of their stories, and we impoverish them in the process. In the real world, if you build a wall around your culture, it’s never just the other guys who pay for it.

    I should declare a certain partiality. I’m a translator, and we translators are vocationally inclined toward pushing back any literary horizon. We’ve long complained about the mainstream publishing market’s reluctance to deal in translated work—in world literature, if you like. Well, getting children’s books translated makes the adult ones look like, well, child’s play.

    Of course France and Germany have robust, thriving children’s book worlds, which have survived our attempts to bury them with translated Potters and Twilights; fantastic things are happening in children’s writing and illustration there, just as they are in Scandinavia, and Brazil, and Italy, and most places you might choose to look. But something happens between those native French and German and Brazilian books and the British and American markets—or rather, doesn’t happen. The channels through which we were first brought Tintin and Asterix and those Moomins, those German and Danish fairy tales, The Little Prince, are all but closed. Where, then, will we find the Moomins of tomorrow?

    We are lucky to have publishers whose explicit mission is to build their lists by looking outward. Houses like Enchanted Lion, Pushkin Children’s Books in the U.K., and Gecko Press in New Zealand, along with many honorable others, are all doing good work. And I don’t believe they’re all publishing the world’s books because it’s worthy to do so, but because there are all these great stories out there. And most importantly, readers like them. Their translated-ness, it turns out, does not make them bad, or difficult, or even uncommercial.

    Which brings me to a question: Should we even be drawing attention to the foreignness of these foreign books for children? Is that a celebration, or a lazy ghettoization? I’m in two minds. (As a translator, that’s where I spend a lot of my time.) Because there’s still a resistance to perceived “foreignness”—on our children’s behalf. (Though has anyone ever heard an actual child say, No, I don’t want to read that one, it’s a translation?) This thinking suggests children will only enjoy books that mirror their own experience—the way only real pioneer children enjoyed Little House on the Prairie, and only actual wizards want to read Harry Potter.

    We have an all too narrow view of how children might enjoy reading, and the most miserly ambitions for where that reading might come from. Do we really believe that books matter to children—that they challenge and stretch a reader’s sympathy, curiosity, understanding? If so, we’re failing them. Those of us who write and translate, who commission and publish children’s books—and I’m afraid those of us who buy them, too. Those of us raised on a diet of Babar and Hans Christian Andersen, who should know better than to be scared of Belgians and Moomins and Gauls. When I talk to friends in other countries, I’m given a tantalizing picture of what we’re missing: a world of stories being told to children—and we have, somehow, stopped looking.

    Daniel Hahn is a writer, editor, and translator. His recent books include a new edition of The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literatureand the English translation of A General Theory of Oblivion by the Angolan writer José Eduardo Agualusa.

  5. 11 Cuban Sayings That Should Be Used In English

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    11 Cuban Sayings That Should Be Used In English

    “Every country has its own idioms, or phrases that don’t mean exactly what they seem. One classic English example is if someone is ‘pulling your leg’—that means they’re lying. Why? There’s probably an answer somewhere, but who cares? This article is about amazing Cuban phrases and how we should totally use them in English.”

    Read 11 Cuban Sayings: http://bit.ly/CubanSayings

  6. ANNE-SYLVIE HOMASSEL AND HER AUTHORS

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    “This I love: being possessed by a snaky string of words, processing them and spouting them out in another language.”

    Anne-Sylvie Homassel is a literary translator, English to French. In addition, she is currently learning Japanese. She decided to answer our questions in English.

    How did you start translating literature? What are “your” authors and languages?

    In my early twenties, I found myself trapped in an academic curriculum–philosophy, an obvious cul-de-sac for all concerned, except myself. I should have studied English, really. Eventually I saw the light and decided to put an end to my academical misery by translating an essay by George BerkeleyThe Querist. This was my parting shot at university (the French philosophy professors, I felt, despising these two things, English philosophy and translating in lieu of writing a proper dissertation). And then I met with Xavier Legrand-Ferronnière, who at the time was editing a fanzine specialized in ghost stories and weird literature. I was an avid reader of Wilkie Collins and other Victorians. The gap was not too wide between these and the authors Xavier publishes and I started translating short stories for Le Visage vert, the quarterly Xavier created in 1995. Le Visage vert provided me with quite a few wonderful encounters, such as Max Beerbohm, Mary Shelley, Lord Dunsany, Rhoda Broughton, Arthur Machen, Ernest Bramah, M. P. Shiel, Ethel Mannin among others. These are not my authors though–a relation you could hardly expect from writers of the past, who most of the time have been already, if too rarely, translated. But I certainly have a soft spot for them all. And beside Le Visage vert, I have now a full-fledged activity as a free-lance literary translator, which includes personal projects (for instance, Chants du cauchemar et de la nuit, by Thomas LigottiLa Bombe, by Frank Harris and Insectes, by Lafcadio Hearn) and commissions from publishers (among others, these two wonderful novels by Iain (M) BanksEfroyabl Ange1 and Un chant de pierre). In between is Henry Darger, whose colossal work I started to explore with the support of the French publishing house Aux forges de Vulcain.

    In addition, I have been dragged –joyfully– into an other small press venture and am translating poetry and short stories for The Black Herald, a bilingual venture created in 2010 by Blandine Longre and Paul Stubbs.

    What do you like /dislike about your job as a literary translator?

    Obviously there’s the thrill of transferring–or is it transposing?– meanings and rhythms from one language to another. There is always a moment in the translating process when I get, erm, sort of high with the sheer physical excitement of producing a text. Most of the time, I have to speak it loud. I’m at the keyboard, the book on one side and the text on the screen and I do chant. This I love: being possessed by a snaky string of words, processing them and spouting them out in another language.

    What is the most enriching experience you have had?

    Translating Max Beerbohm’s Seven Men (Sept personnages) was a blessing and it came very early in my life as a translator. Then I had an other of those epiphanic moments with Iain M Banks’ Feersum Endjinn (Efroyabl Ange1) and with W. S. Graham’s poetry, which I translated with Blandine Longre (The Dark Dialogues / Les Dialogues obscurs). Each of these writers was providing me with a perfect structure, so close-knit, so achingly harmonious I really had to get into my best trance to get the point. These processes have also nurtured my own processes as a writer. You cannot get so intimately into contact with this kind of writing without being affected by it. It certainly making you far more self-critical of your own production.

    What made you feel closest to an author?

    Her or his own closeness to words, if that means anything.

    What have you found most difficult to translate?

    Erm–badly edited YA literature. But that happened only once. And YA can be great fun.

    What have you enjoyed most translating?

    Besides Beerbohm, Banks and Graham, Mary Shelley, Vanessa Veselka whose first novel, Zazen, I was lucky to translate. And Lord Dunsany (but I’d like to be able to amend my translations, which I think might not be exactly what Dunsany deserves). And Lafcadio Hearn, who is my current infatuation, if I may say so.

    On a slightly different plan, may I add that I greatly enjoy translating essays? That might be the legacy of The QueristPour la santé de la terreAldo Leopold’s collection of essays for José Corti was a pleasure to assemble and translate. A well-written essay, such as Harvey Sachs’s Reflexions on Toscanini (Réflexions sur Toscanini), will provide the translator with an other sort of excitement. One is becoming more clever.

    Which author would you love to translate?

    I have quite a few projects in my drawers. For instance, Siegfried Sassoon’s War Diaries. But when I’m old, I for sure will translate for my own pleasure Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and Hogg’sConfessions of a Justified Sinner.

    If you were not a literary translator, what would you do?

    I would tend a tiny bar in Golden Gai.

    Translated novels, essays and collections by:

    Fritz Leiber, Max Beerbohm, Lord Dunsany, Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur Machen, W. Wilkie Collins, Ernest Bramah, Thorne Smith, Sax Rohmer, Jean Collier, Kris Saknussemm, Robert Freeman Wexler, Jim Shepard, Mark Twain, Kate Morton, Tod Robbins, Anne de Jong, Mark Walden, Frederick Treves, Jenn Ashworth, Willa Cather, Jamie James, Linwood Barclay, L. Frank Baum, Vanessa Veselka, Iain (M) Banks, Lisa Ballantyne, Cate Tiernan, Michael Arlen, Herman Melville, W. S. Graham, Robert Crais, Jack London, Gillian Weiss, Henry Darger, Catherine Jinks, Klara Kiss, Aldo Leopold, Dexter Palmer, Thomas Ligotti, Harvey Sachs, Hector Tobar, Frank Harris, Donald Richie, Lafcadio Hearn, Stephen Kiernan. Currently working on a novel by John Freeman Gill.

    Stories and poetry by:

    Mary Shelley, H. G. Wells, Bram Stoker, M. P. Shiel, Roger Dobson, H. Rider Haggard, Oliver Onions, Edward Heron-Allen, Rhoda Broughton, A.N.L. Munby, William Charlton, Stephen Leacock, Bret Harte, E. F. Benson, R. A. Cram, John Buchan, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Howard Pyle, H. V. Chao, William Page, Valeria Melchioretto, Mark Wilson, Andrew Fentham, Alistair Noon, Sadie Hoagland, Allan Graubard, Steve Ely, Desmond Kon, Alistair Ian Blyth, David Spittle, Olive Moore, Divya Victor. Currently working on a short story by Livia Llewellyn (wip).

    http://authors-translators.blogspot.com/2016/03/anne-sylvie-homassel-and-her-authors.html?view=timeslide

  7. Scales of Justice: Legal Ramifications for Sign Language Interpreters

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    Traditional roles, responsibilities, and accountability for work product were challenged in a 2016 court case which will affect the work of sign language interpreters moving forward, particularly in legal settings.

    Scales of Justice: Legal Ramifications for Sign Language Interpreters

    On January 27, 2016, the Court of Special Appeals for the State of Maryland filed a ruling that affects the work we do as sign language interpreters. The case is Clarence Cepheus Taylor, III v. State of Maryland.1 This ruling centers on whether a Deaf criminal defendant has the constitutional right to confront the interpreter who interpreted his ASL statements into English during a police interrogation when the State offers those interpretations as evidence against the defendant in a criminal prosecution.2

    The defendant, Mr. Taylor, was arrested on the allegation that he had sexually abused minors. A hearing interpreter and a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) interpreted while detectives interrogated Taylor for almost five hours. Later in court, a jury found Taylor guilty of abusing two of the seven complaining witnesses.

    [Click to view post in ASL]

    Although the appellate court looked at several issues regarding interpreters, the main issue in this case was whether or not the prosecution could include the statements interpreted to the police in English without calling to the stand to testify the interpreter who spoke the English.

    Even though Taylor’s attorney objected at trial that an audio of an interpreter’s English-language interpretations of Taylor’s sign-language statements should not be admitted as evidence, the court allowed the jury to hear the interpreter’s voice for the almost five-hour police interview. Taylor took the stand in his own defense and contended that there were many “misinterpretations” and “miscommunications” between him and the interpreters.

    How does this decision impact the lives of interpreters and Deaf people?

    Interpreters are responsible for word choices and content of interpretations. According to the State’s brief, the interpreter was “merely a relay for Taylor’s own statements,” “simply conveying, in a different language” rather than providing the interpreter’s “own independent statements.” (Taylorp. 30). The appellate court disagreed. The appellate court recognized that interpretation is not a word-for-word process, but one in which the interpreter has control over the target language, in this case, English.

    Police interviews need to be videotaped. The interpreters in this case were correct in having the interview recorded. Without the video, Mr. Taylor’s direct answers would be lost and only the English would remain. The videotaped recording was one of the main sources of evidence against Mr. Taylor. As stated above, the trial court allowed the State to play the entire English language recording to the jury. However, the appellate court made a distinction between the “video of the sign-language communications between Taylor and the interpreters” and “the audio of the statements by the ASL interpreter…” (p. 7). The appellate court realized that English is a distinct language from ASL and a truer understanding of what the defendant meant could be obtained through analysis of the actual signed statements. “The English words that the jurors ultimately heard in this case were not the words of Taylor, but of [the interpreter],3 expressing his opinion as to a faithful reproduction of the meaning of Taylor’s sign-language expressions.” (p. 34)

    Even the best interpreters make errors, particularly when fatigue sets in.“Over the nearly five-hour course of Taylor’s interrogation, the two interpreters received only two breaks: a ten-minute break after about two and a half hours of testimony, and a two-minute break another hour later. Most of the more incriminating statements attributed to Taylor occurred during the later portions of the interrogation.” (p. 36). Interpreting services are expensive, but police interviews may need to be suspended until a second team of interpreters is available to relieve tired interpreters and monitor for errors. Interpreters are responsible to set limits on conditions that are not conducive to accuracy.

    Tara Potterveld

    Tara Potterveld

    Both Deaf and hearing interpreters need to prove their skill level by obtaining education and certification. “Recognizing the high level of education, knowledge, skills, and judgment needed to produce faithful interpretations between English and sign language, Maryland typically requires that court interpreters of sign language undergo a rigorous certification process.” (p. 33). In Carla Mathers’ StreetLeverage posting, How Practicing Sign Language Interpreters Protect Against Legal Liability, she states, “An interpreter can be sued for malpractice if they undertake an assignment and do not follow the standard of care in performing that assignment. If this breach of the standard of care causes damages to any of the parties, the interpreter can be liable.”

    Interpreters need to understand the adversarial legal system before accepting legal work. The Miranda warning and subsequent police interview are the first, and some would say, most important part of a legal case. Interpreters need to understand their roles and responsibilities. In this case, the detective told the interpreter to inform Taylor that anything he said could be used against him. The appellate court responded to this by stating, “A reasonable person in the interpreter’s position would expect that his English interpretations of Taylor’s statements would also be used prosecutorially.” (p. 23). This means that interpreters should expect to be subpoenaed and challenged on the stand for their interpretations. Interpreters should be ready to defend their English word choices or admit to errors. “The interpreter does not escape confrontation simply because he…did not personally observe any criminal act.” (p. 29)

    Legal interpreters need to continually update their knowledge of legal decisions. For example, the legal concept of “admissibility of interpreted statements over hearsay objections” has changed over the past few years due to court decisions. (p. 42).  Unlike the past, when the interpreter was seen as a tool to decode languages other than English, now, an interpreter is “the declarant of his or her own statements about what the defendant has said.” 4 (p. 43). These changes recognize that sometimes the English that an interpreter speaks may not have the same meaning as what a Deaf person has signed. Taylor testified that the interpreter did not render the appropriate English of a conditional statement; “He testified that he told the interpreters that, if he had touched anyone, it would have been an accident, and he would have apologized.” (p.9). The statement was interpreted as a declarative stating that Mr. Taylor did touch the girls.

    This decision is good for Deaf people. When stakes are high, Deaf people should challenge the accuracy of interpreters. Substantive interpretation errors should be “brought to light.” In other words, Deaf people should not be punished or disadvantaged by interpreter errors.

    Conclusion

    The 2016 court decision, Clarence Cepheus Taylor, III v. State of Maryland is a pivotal case in the interpreting field. It raises the issue of when an interpreter’s English statements can be used as evidence in trials without challenging the interpreter’s rendition. Going forward, we need the input of Deaf community members and Deaf and Hearing interpreters to help craft best practices and standards. Through dialogue and education, justice will be better served.

     

    Nichola Schmitz

    Nichola Schmitz

    Nichola Schmitz, MA, CDI, SC:L, is a Trilingual Deaf Interpreter, specializing in Mexican Sign Language and Mexican gestures. She has a BA in Psychology and MA in Clinical Psychology.   Nichola has several generations of Deaf people in her family. She interprets mainly in legal and immigration hearings. She has trained Deaf and hearing interpreters in several countries including Ghana, Trinidad, and Mexico.

     

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    Simply enter your name and email in the field above the green “Sign Me Up!” button (upper left-hand side of this page) and click “Sign Me Up!”

    Questions for Consideration:

    1. Can the interpreting field develop standards for handling police interactions with Deaf people? What rules would you include in our “best practices”?
    2. How does a case like the one above change your approach to interpreting for the police?
    3. What other recent court decisions affect our work in the legal interpreting field?

     

    1 The author thanks Carla Mathers for calling this case to her attention.

    2 The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him[.]”

    3 Author decided against using the interpreter’s name in this article since the issues discussed reach far beyond this one instance.

    4 See United States v. Charles 722 F.3d 1319 (11th Cir. July 25, 2013) (No. 12-14080)

  8. Lost in Translation: Interpreter Shortage Deprives Justice in Santa Clara County Courts

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    An excerpt of this story can also be read in Spanish. —Editor

    Jaime Gonzalez’ daughter leans on her grandmother, who holds the young girl’s sleeping infant brother. Gonzalez sits and waits in the “Spanish-speaking” row of a stuffy courtroom. His ability to remain in the country is in jeopardy after his drug-addicted ex-girlfriend accused him of domestic violence, a charge he denies. For nearly a year, he has been to court “many, many times,” only to be delayed or sent home due to a lack of interpreters.

    The judge calls a name, but it’s not Gonzalez. His eyebrows tighten with concern. He swivels his head to look at interpreter Mariela Phelan-Caceres. At any moment, she might be whisked away to a higher-stakes trial, and he’ll have wasted another day in court.

    “Excuse me, your honor,” Phelan-Caceres interjects. “We still have a Spanish-speaker.”

    “Ah shit,” grumbles a tattooed white man, apparently further down the docket.

    Phelan-Caceres’ eyes focus as she interprets in real time. Gonzalez answers questions and presents papers documenting his compliance with all of the court’s directives. The judge nods, commends his behavior and dismisses him. Gonzalez’s shoulders loosen and he turns to his family, tilting his head toward the door and pursing his lips at his daughter, Lalezka.

    Through Phelan-Caceres’ interpretation, Gonzalez explains to me that his ex-girlfriend filed the charge right after returning from a year-long recovery program. When she came back to their house, she kicked out the care-giving grandmother without a word of thanks, then relapsed and became verbally abusive.

    Gonzalez cut ties with his ex and maintains his innocence, but the accusation temporarily removed his children from his full-time care. In that time, Lalezka’s grades, attendance and confidence suffered, according to a letter from the after-school program where Gonzalez once volunteered to improve his English and help his daughter with homework.

    Through his community service, he has earned back custody, but his legally mandated responsibilities have taken the place of volunteering. He had hoped to get his name quickly cleared. Instead, he’s been struggling for months to untangle himself from a confusing, and at times humiliating, legal thicket.

    ***

    DSC_8843

    Mariela Phelan-Caceres says a judge once laughed in her face when she asked him to instruct a witness to speak slower. (Photo by Jessica Perez)

    Because of a persistent shortage of interpreters, Santa Clara County’s justice system has effectively segregated people by language for years. And this separation has led to inequality.

    “It’s a huge problem,” says county Public Defender Molly O’Neal.

    According to court filings, defendants, county interpreters and defense attorneys, English speakers receive the full protection of due process far more often than non-native speakers who regularly get delayed and sped through cases with overworked interpreters or uncertified bilingual court members. These defendants are expected to make life-altering decisions in a matter of seconds, sometimes before they grasp the full consequences of their case.

    “One day, I want to become a citizen. How am I going to do that?” Gonzalez says about his charge. “Especially since I don’t have any schooling. I was born in the streets. I grew up with foster parents. But I didn’t get into the gangs, into the drugs. Only working. They need to apply the law the way it should be. They need to investigate the cases the way they should be. You feel like they’re stepping on you.”

    The ripple effects of this shortage has earned the South Bay court system one of the worst reputations in the region. The Hall of Justice averages two or three fewer interpreters per day than the minimum to run the courts properly, according to California Federation of Interpreters spokeswoman Mary Lou Aranguren.

    “Compared to other courts in the Bay Area, only Santa Clara County is suffering this kind of extreme, chronic and ongoing shortage of Spanish interpreters,” she says.

    Court officials say they don’t keep track of the number of Spanish-speaking defendants that have been affected by the shortage. They maintain that every person who enters the courthouse receives equal treatment, regardless of the language they speak.

    Aranguren, public defenders like Meghan Piano and interpreters including Phelan-Caceres paint a different picture. They highlighted problems in more than 70 interpreter-needed cases between Jan. 20 and Feb. 26—a number they say is only “the tip of the iceberg.”

    Many times, Spanish-speaking defendants must endure outlandish delays. Take Pedro Hernandez, who waited for an interpreter from 8:45am to 4:15pm on a Jan. 20 court date.

    “One day, I waited until 2:30pm only to be told there was no interpreter,” Gonzalez says. “I have children in school. Since I’m a single father, I have to cook for them, wash, clean, everything. I don’t have anybody to take care of them. We don’t have another alternative. I don’t want my children to be seeing this. You get stressed out waiting for an interpreter. Perhaps there’s going to be one. Or perhaps not. That’s the biggest problem.”

    When no interpreters are available, would-be defendants must reschedule. This primarily affects Spanish speakers, but for defendants who speak a less common language, wait times can stretch for months. Jaswinder Singh has been rescheduled five times because he speaks Punjabi, yet still no suitable interpreter has been hired to help his case. Because of delays and rescheduling, countless hours funded by taxpayer dollars have been wasted waiting for interpreters.

    “It’s a problem,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen says. “We have a lot of cases, and I want those cases moving. Anything that slows down the administration of justice is not good for the community.”

    In other cases, defendants waive their constitutional right to an interpreter hoping to get a speedier verdict. But doing so puts them at risk of not understanding the ramifications of their trials. On two days alone, Feb. 10 and 16, this happened to Karina Vera, Mauricio Sanchez Hernandez, Glenn Alejandrooca Ocampoflores, Richard Quiroz Mendoza, Wilson Antonio Henriquez, Long Hoang Do, Rodolfo Angel Ojeda, Jose Leonardo Carabajal, Oscar Ortega Diaz, Victor Mendez, Antonio DeJesus Cortesarista and David Perez Ramirez.

    Defendants who waive their right to an interpreter must settle for whoever (if anyone) can speak Spanish in the courtroom. On Jan. 20, Luis Oscar Chavez Mendoza waited five-and-a-half hours, only to waive his right to a certified interpreter and rely instead on a Spanish-speaking attorney from the Public Defender’s office.

    In other cases, judges have taken to acting as interpreters for defendants, which both the public defender and district attorney consider inappropriate behavior from the bench. On Jan. 20, Judge Teresa Guerrero-Daley interpreted for Roberto Avalos Santiago, Francisco Alirio Catedral, Juan Carlos Lombar Gomez and Jose Antonio Rodriguez, then dictated their comments for the record in English. These actions constitute improper procedure, according to several sources interviewed for this story.

    “I don’t agree with a judge doing that,” Rosen says. “It puts the defense attorney and prosecutor in a difficult situation. To the extent that we argue with the judge, it’s about the law and how to apply the law. It shouldn’t be about the translation.”

    Requests to interview the county’s presiding judge, Risë Jones Pichon, who oversees all court business, were denied.

    On Feb. 3, Favian Ochoa Macias waived his interpreter rights—despite facing sexual assault charges. On Feb. 18, Jose Domingo Alvarez Vega waived for a readiness conference concerning his charge of child endangerment. On Feb. 22, Jehova Arciga waived before facing felony drug charges. And on March 7, Primitivo Hernandez gave up his right to an interpreter during a plea hearing concerning his felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon.

    “It’s an absolute failure,” says Darby Williams, an attorney who previously worked in the Public Defender’s office. “If somebody walks out of that courthouse and they only have a vague idea of what they’ve done, or what has happened to them, or their loved ones, then that’s an absolute failure. They’re creating legal scars.”

    ***

    Carmen Ramos has spent 20 years as a county court interpreter and she says the situation has never been more dire. (Photo by jessica Perez)

    Carmen Ramos has spent 20 years as a county court interpreter and she says the situation has never been more dire. (Photo by jessica Perez)

    In late 2013, the court employed 19 full-time interpreters. At the time, that was enough. But staffing bottomed out after six retired and several prospective hires refused full-time positions. In a letter sent to the court in April, nine independent contractors expressed concern with the court’s level of service and chose to limit their availability because of “inadequate compensation” and “unacceptable working conditions.” As of now, there are 14 full-time Spanish interpreters—three of whom will retire or resign within the next few months, according to Aranguren.

    The county also regularly employs seven contract interpreters (Phelan-Caceres is one of them) and 12 interpreters for other languages, including Tagalog, Vietnamese and Russian. David Yamasaki, executive officer of county courts, downplayed the contract interpreters’ concerns, citing a statewide dearth of translators.

    “There’s a shortage of court interpreters,” Yamasaki says. “There just is. We can’t hire them. We want to hire them. We’d love for more people to apply. We have open recruitment. We acknowledge unquestionably that we need more interpreters. We call interpreters every single day to come in. But we cannot force people to accept employment.”

    To be fair, court interpreters must possess considerable skills. They have to capture not just the exact semantic meaning, but also the emotional subtext of people with varying dialects and education levels. To become certified, they must pass a rigorous exam—nearly 90 percent of test-takers fail—to ensure they have been trained thoroughly and know their job’s strict code of ethics.

    Yamasaki cites the low passing rate as further proof of the shortfall. But that tiny percentage may owe partially to the fact that test-takers aren’t screened for their qualifications. As a stopgap, former interpreter coordinator Karen Jones subcontracted to independent agencies. These workers make $140 per hour—almost four times more than staff interpreters who make $36 per hour.

    Over a period of six months, Jones—who was not made available for comment, and was subsequently reassigned during the reporting of this story—asked for 182 hours of subcontracted work at the inflated rate. For the same cost, the county could have employed a staff interpreter for nearly 18 weeks. And in a concerning twist, Phelan-Caceres says some of the subcontractors lack certification, which puts the court at further risk of inaccurate interpreting.

    Court spokesman Joe Macaluso says the high demand has led to some interpreters demanding the right to cancel a court obligation at any time for a more lucrative payday in the private sector. But Aranguren argues that the court is hiding behind this alleged shortage to not pay interpreters an acceptable wage.

    “It’s all a matter of being competitive enough,” Aranguren says. “Yes, certainly, there are contractors out there who will work for the $1,000-a-day job, and will make the courts a lower priority. That’s the marketplace, but the problem is that they used that as an excuse to simply not address the needs. There’s a great contradiction between their rhetoric about the importance of the services and the reality of what they’ve actually done.”

    According to Aranguren, interpreter compensation has failed to match the rising cost of living in the area. Daily contractor rates just went up for the first time up in nine years to match federal levels, but full-time salaries didn’t raise with them, which undermines the incentive for an interpreter to shift to salaried employment. Meanwhile, there is no pay scale that rewards interpreters who stay with the courts—a full-time employee makes as much on her first day as in her 10th year.

    Statistics on interpreters don’t quite cohere with the story from court officials.

    In Spring 2014, there were 1,282 court interpreters in California. Today, there are 1,336. That could be a shortage, but as of October 2015 the state held $14 million dedicated to reimbursing counties for court interpreter costs. Next year, Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget will allot $7 million more.

    But rather than tap into those funds, the county resisted paying travel and lodging costs and turned down applicants because they asked to mediate only specific (but in-demand) trials. According to Aranguren, when Jones, the county’s longtime interpreter coordinator, was asked to present a list of potential hires, she submitted names of some applicants who were ineligible—because they had died.

    “Often times, ‘there’s a shortage of interpreters,’ becomes part of the story—and that’s a lie,” Aranguren says. “That is a lie that people have been telling for years. And to us, that’s part of the institutionalized racism on this issue. Even though they have the money, courts take the position: ‘We don’t want to spend the money on that.’ And that is the underlying problem here.”

    ***

    Maria Cruz says court officials have ‘intimidated and retaliated’ against interpreters who ask for better working conditions. (Photo by Jessica Perez)

    Maria Cruz says court officials have ‘intimidated and retaliated’ against interpreters who ask for better working conditions. (Photo by Jessica Perez)

    In response to the recent staff departures, Jones reportedly increased her remaining employees’ workload without a proper understanding of their job. Interpreters note that she is only fluent in English and never interpreted, much less at court-approved standards.

    “An interpreter may go from interpreting arraignments to pleas to evidentiary hearings to witnesses to victims, rushing from one to another without adequate breaks and with no preparation in cases that require it,” says Maria Cruz, a court translator for 26 years. “This means we will not know what the defendants or witnesses will be testifying to. Not having this context can lead to serious errors.”

    David Ortiz, a certified interpreter, recently got promoted to supervisor to help administration understand the unique demands of the position. But according to interpreters, he’s still under hiring probation and Jones blocked his previous attempts to implement change.

    “I’ve never worked in a place where the person has no knowledge of the work,” says Phelan-Caceres. “We have only a matter of seconds to do several processes: listening, analyzing, comprehending and interpreting the message. On top of that, we work in very charged emotional situations—homicide, child custody, etc.—and the range we need to interpret goes from sophisticated testimony of a forensics expert to that of a victim who could be illiterate.”

    Researchers have found interpreter accuracy fades after 30 minutes of continuous work. To protect against this, the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators and the American Bar Association recommend pairing interpreters together “for all lengthy legal proceedings” or giving breaks every 30 minutes.

    In Santa Clara County, such practices have not been applied. The April letter from independent contractors stated that “interpreters are shared between defendants and witnesses for the prosecution,” contrary to industry standards.

    “We’re not shying away from the fact that these organizations think these are the best practices,” says Yamasaki. “Yes, absolutely, it may be a best practice. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a practical practice. Certainly the reports have validity. This is optimally what you want to do. But we don’t have our optimum number of interpreters.”

    Compounding the problem, Cruz says, is that county officials have “intimidated and retaliated” against interpreters who asked for the proper conditions—arbitrarily docking pay or foisting a heavier workload on them. Without administrative support, these interpreters’ complaints either went ignored or were scoffed at by judges who lacked sympathy for the overwhelming nature of the work.

    “Once I worked a hearing and the witness was an expert in gang and prison culture,” Phelan-Caceres says. “Very interesting testimony, but he was going very fast. I was new back then, so I asked the judge, ‘May the court please instruct the witness to slow down for the interpreter?’ He laughed in my face and didn’t do anything. These are the sort of things you encounter here.”

    According to Aranguren, this environment has spawned negative health effects—several interpreters have lost their voice and one was “put on disability related to workload stress and impacts on her pregnancy.” When fatigued employees call in sick, the already excessive workload gets even worse. Outsiders have been appalled.

    Last year, Nick Zacherl, a former interpreter for the European Parliament, came to work for the county. When Jones denied him an interpreting partner twice, he gave her “the benefit of the doubt” and translated for “longer than [he] should have.” The third time, he translated for half an hour, then told the judge that he would be unable to continue without a partner or breaks—a warning the judge didn’t take kindly.

    “The judge called the office to get a ‘real interpreter’ that would work the way that she wanted the interpreter to work, not the way the rules said we should work,” Zacherl says. “When that interpreter came, I thought that I had a teammate to work with. The judge derisively snickered and said that I was being replaced and I could just leave. Santa Clara County throws interpreters into situations where they’ll be expected to work for five-plus hours in a row.”

    On June 9, San Jose Inside learned from Phelan-Caceres that Jones had been transferred to another division after 20 years at her post. In an email, Macaluso claimed this was done in accordance with the court’s “practice of periodically reassigning staff for continued development,” but this is the first time the interpreter division has seen this type of management restructuring. And though Nancy Pruitt, Jones’ replacement, once managed courts in Palo Alto, Terraine and South County, she doesn’t have any interpreting experience either.

    Aranguren and Phelan-Caceres contend that the transfer came in response to the consistent complaints by interpreters, and the reporting of this story. They also stress that an administrative shift means little unless the court commits to altering the way they attract, retain and treat interpreters.

    “This changes nothing,” says Aranguren.

    ***

    Interpreters aren’t the only ones who have voiced concerns. Three public defenders have filed written complaints with Aranguren echoing her sentiments. Molly O’Neal, the head of the Public Defender’s office, says she has seen a pattern of disrespect since the 1990s, when interpreters exclusively worked as daily contractors without benefits or a consistent salary—the era in which Karen Jones got hired.

    “I think as a system we should learn how to really change the way we look at interpreters,” O’Neal says. “If we’re having a problem getting qualified interpreters into our county, we need to pay them more. It’s an equal access to justice issue that needs to be addressed. We have to fund our justice system.”

    Darby Williams, a former deputy public defender, laments that she must speed through interactions with her non-English speaking clients because interpreters are so pressed. As a result, clients chafe at the lack of attention and come to think the justice system isn’t looking out for them.

    “Law is all about language,” Williams says. “You don’t get the benefit of being able to sit down like you would with an English-speaking client and put them at ease. Instead, you’re hurrying. Then, you have to continue their case. They have to take another day off work … they could lose [their job] in an instant.”

    In November of 2012, Judge Vanessa Zecher remanded Alfredo Garcia for a probation violation after a DUI arrest. Garcia hadn’t sought to disobey the terms of his sentence, according to sources familiar with his case, but he failed to sign up for his court-ordered classes because his responsibilities were written in English—a language he couldn’t read.

    The decision was rightfully reversed, but nobody knows how many defendants like Garcia have been unfairly punished for not speaking English. And the linguistic demands of the county’s court system aren’t expected to wane.

    Non-white citizens now comprise a majority of the population. By 2050, Latinos are projected to outnumber whites 36 percent to 28 percent.

    The consensus from attorneys and interpreters is that the court simply needs to make its interpreters—and by extension its defendants—a priority. Aranguren says she’s encouraged by Jones’ transfer, but she stresses that there must be further reforms to ensure that the county protects the due process rights of the public.

    “There’s nothing rational about this,” Aranguren said. “This really is a constitutional crisis. It makes [non-English speakers] feel like there is no justice. Like they don’t matter and their life doesn’t matter.”

  9. Interpreters Forum—Have You Made It?

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    In the absence of a true benchmark against which to gauge your progress, how can you tell if you’ve made it?

    “Welcome to the largest multilingual summit this office has ever organized. Congratulations on making it here. You are the best of the best.”

    With these words, the chief interpreter of a top international organization greeted the 70 or so interpreters who gathered around the u-shaped table for the pre-event briefing in Washington, DC. Half of the group had heard similar praise before and took it for what it was. The rookies among them received the compliment sheepishly, trying hard to act matter-of-factly while secretly wishing their mothers had been there.

    Ours is a funny business. As interpreters, we tend to get rated in relation to someone other than us—and whose prestige we hope will rub off on us for a brief moment in time. It’s not uncommon to refer to a colleague as “the interpreter of President Such and Such,” or to elevate someone instantly by saying “she interpreted for _____ (fill in the blank: Madonna, the Pope, Obama). No word seems to be needed regarding how well she performed at the job. The distinction of having been picked for such a salient assignment seems to suffice as a tag of success.

    Now, while we all occasionally play the celebrity card and name-dropping to our advantage—as we well should—anybody who has been in this business long enough understands that true success in our line of work lies somewhere else, usually a few notches down the superstar scale.

    Chief interpreters are aware of the power of applause and criticism and will dispense them accordingly, on an as-needed-basis. And while preemptive praise can go a long way in terms of team building or as a confidence booster, it more often than not aims at imparting a sense of responsibility rather than importance. Stripped of the heightened sense of self it is designed to trigger, at its core the message means, simply: “Please, don’t screw this up.”

    Yet, in the absence of a true benchmark against which to gauge your progress, how can you tell if you’ve made it? Are you truly the best interpreter out there? Before you start racking your brain for answers, here is another question you may want to ponder along with the rest: does it really matter?

    As freelancers at the mercy of market conditions, we compete against one another for a dwindling number of contracts. Hitting a few homeruns, while a great achievement, is not a reliable long-term measure of success, especially if flashy assignments are few and far between. There is nothing wrong in enjoying the exposure high-level assignments provide, and you should by all means capitalize on them as openly as you ethically can. But at the end of the day, success is not determined by how royal the ball or how tall the celebrity in whose shadow we stand. In fact, who hires us matters less than the fact that they do or how often they do.

    Also, past success is said to breed failure if you indulge in it too soon, while tomorrow still needs to be filled with work. In a career as long as ours, stamina beats speed. We’re all in it for the long haul. Consistency rules. If you want to know how successful you truly are, look at your calendar.

    But the question still begs an answer. Have you made it? On a good day, we all like to think we have. We’re still around, after all, with a growing track record behind us and the promise of greener pastures ahead. As for bad days, of which there will be a few, you can always dust off that picture of you and _______ (fill in the blank).


    Ewandro Magalhães is an experienced conference interpreter and interpreter trainer. He has a master’s degree in conference interpreting from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. He is the head of conference management service, and former chief interpreter, at the International Telecommunication Union in Geneva, Switzerland. He is the author of Sua Majestade, o Intérprete—o fascinante mundo da tradução simultânea. You can read his blog at ewandro.com.