The third day of the third month, year two thousand and seventeen. A café named “La Catrina” in Pilsen, a neighborhood in lower West Chicago. People gather to experience the artistic expression of women as Women’s History Month begins. Xánath Caraza and Irma Pineda Santiago, take the stage capturing the audience with poetry.
As it often happens in places where community comes together, ideas come to life in collaboration with others. The confluence of efforts of Contratiempo, Cultura en Pilsen and Café La Catrina, brought Poesía de origen, a reading of bilingual poetry by two poets whose life and writing are deeply connected to the original cultures of this continent, America.
One might imagine a bilingual poetry reading in Chicago might involve English and some other language, but that was not the case here. The audience attending Poesía de origen, was delighted listening to the voices of Caraza and Pineda Santiago deliver poetry in Náhuatl, Zapoteco and Spanish. To start off, Caraza asked the crowd if they knew how many languages were spoken in Mexico. Sixty eight is the answer.
Wisconsin winters are beautiful. The many combinations of precipitation, winds and temperatures make for a changing landscape that is fascinating to observe and dangerous to drive in. Just as low temperatures and water can form many different shapes, language too, combined with other factors will paint a different picture every time. I came to this thought during a conversation with Sgt. Luke Newman from the Fond du Lac State Patrol.
At the beginning of February, I was in a car accident caused by winter driving conditions. I’m thankful to all the people who stopped to offer their help. Fortunately, nobody was injured and a State Patrol was not far away and responded to the accident immediately. An ambulance arrived very quickly at the scene and and soon enough, I was sitting in the back of a patrol car on my way home. Shivering and shaking form the shock of the accident, the conversation with Sgt. Newman was a good diffuser of stress. We talked about our jobs, and he touched on a key subject. How often do people really need an interpreter?
The fact that language interpreting is a specialized skill is still a commonly misunderstood concept. It’s surrounded by a halo of “anyone can do it”. You’ll also often hear the words “translator” and “interpreter” used interchangeably – my personal pet peeve when it comes to referring to language access. I’ll try to sort the matter out a little.
What do singing and dancing have in common? Music or rhythm you might say. Does this mean anyone who is a good dancer is also a good singer? In rare cases, the answer is yes. Do you need different abilities and training for these activities? Yes.
Now, back to interpreting and translation: Transferring ideas from one language to another is their common ground. But just like singing and dancing, they require a different set of abilities. Not everyone who is a good translator is a good interpreter, although some individuals will master both. In case you’re wondering, translation is written and interpretation is spoken.
The morning of August 26th, I start off my day with a good cup of Veracruz coffee and a peek at one of my social media accounts. What I see may seem simple, but it reflects our collective thought.
To start, a congratulatory message comes up on my feed. It’s for the social media itself. It reminds me it’s National Women’s Equality Day. Immediately, my mind wanders to what it must have been like for my grandmothers not having permission to vote; such a fundamental way of shaping the life of a country, a state, a community, families and your very own life. My female ancestors did not have it.
I take a moment to silently thank the brave women who have fought so I can go to the polls and participate in decisions that affect my life. I thank those women who stood up so today, I can go to school, wear pants and many other things we take for granted. So many rights women before me did not enjoy. I also wonder how much more we need to change before women get equal pay in my home state.
The work I do takes me different places and involves listening to what people say. I’m a freelance interpreter and an avid listener. I like to listen to stories, interactions between men, women, children. Here is some of what I’ve heard recently. Draw your own conclusions.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After an afternoon of work at the courthouse, I went to one of my favorite places in the city- The Public Market, to have dinner. A delicious seafood meal, a little walk around the market, a cup of pour-over coffee and I’m ready for the road back home. Last stop, of course, the restroom. I’m in a stall and I hear the voice of a young boy and his mother.