I recently had the honor of working on a bench card for judges in my home state. It was an involved project with extensive research, editing, and vetting. I was further honored with an invitation to share in presenting the project to our state Supreme Court commission on interpreter issues, and it was well received. For me personally, it was a very emotional moment. Because when I looked out of the high-rise window of our meeting place that happened to be in my old neighborhood, I was looking down at a trailer park where my some of my childhood friends grew up.
Our family did not live in the trailer park,. My father was able to build us our own home, although it took him two years to do most of the work with his own hands. We didn’t have medical or dental insurance or a family car, but we had a home. My father was an immigrant with a sixth grade education, and limited English skills. His pickup truck with the name of his cabinet shop was our only ride, and we kids happily rode around in the bed of the truck, never really thinking about how easy it would be to fly out of there and lose our lives on the pavement. The future was nebulous at best. No one talked to us about “what we wanted to be” when we grew up. They wouldn’t have known what to say. I am the first person in my family to finish college.
Yet here I was, addressing judges, within view of the trailer park. From that high window, my heart swung like a pendulum between the two very separate worlds I serve as interpreter. On the one hand, I am serving society’s most privileged and respected professionals, our doctors and lawyers. Our judges and surgeons. These are the people who continue to study and train throughout their 20’s and into their 30’s while their working class peers, people like my parents, have already spent half their lives in the workforce. On the other hand, in these same communications, I am serving the needs of the most disadvantaged immigrants. Arriving on our shores from a war zone or area of unrest, lacking language skills, impoverished, under-educated and usually clueless about how the system they have ended up in works. Few of my clients have even made it through the sixth grade education that served my father so well. My heart goes out to them in their struggles, while I admire the successes of the professionals whom I also serve. I have an ear in each of their worlds. And it is my privilege and my honor to have a voice in both.