One of the hardest parts of facing our job, like others who work around a lot of trauma, is that we cannot go back to a time of not knowing. Whether it is seeing people sit in jail because they cannot afford a low bail, or developing cancer or birth defects in higher numbers, we see what is happening in our society on a visceral level, and face to face. Domestic violence, the ravages of drug addiction, COVID and other diseases that strike so unevenly across our populations. We are now aware, and we cannot forget or discount what we have witnessed. Where interpreters are so intimately involved, this can make us feel isolated from those who have developed their respective views by reading the opinions of others, rather than forming them from being “in the trenches” and seeing actual people in their real struggles.
It is one thing to read that agricultural workers appear to have higher incidences of certain illnesses. It is another to see several babies born with their stomachs outside of their skin, and have the pediatricians immediately and correctly guess the specific county where the mother lives, because it is so prevalent in that area. To have a mother in her 20’s with bone cancer, who had been going to the farmworker’s clinic complaining of intense pain for a year before they sent her for an x-ray and found a now incurable tumor. It is one thing to read about an immigration policy, such as Secure Communities. It is another to have a judge drop the charges against a young man who got drunk and raised his voice outside his shared apartment, at which his sister-in-law panicked and called the police in fear they could get evicted. To see the joy and relief on the young couple’s face at the hearing, only to go out with the defense attorney and tell them that immigration put a hold on the brother, and he will be deported.
We cannot go back to not knowing. We cannot unconnect the dots. But we can take opportunities, when they arise, to share our first-hand experiences while maintaining our duty of confidentiality. We can talk and listen to friends and acquaintances who due to their work and their own life experience have other pieces of the puzzle that will inform, enlighten, and ultimately unite us. I try to keep this in mind at the times where I feel most disconnected and hopeless. We have common ground, and there is much progress to be made when we work together. We need to keep having these conversations, and weave our threads together to make the cloth whole.