State court interpreter certifications could turn meaningless.

October 16, 2014 § 17 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

A couple of weeks ago I received an email that concerns me enormously. I am sure that many of you who are based in the United States have received similar emails from state-level judicial agencies. In my case, I got an electronic communication from the Administrative Office of the Courts of one of the fifty states in the U.S. (not the federal government) this was one of those global emails that are sent out to everybody on a master list. Basically, the message was that the National Center for State Courts in the United States (NCSC), apparently in coordination with (at least) some states, is planning to offer remote telephonic interpreting across state lines, and for that purpose, the states (and I assume the NCSC as well) are compiling lists of state-level certified court interpreters who may want to be part of the interpreter pool that will be used to interpret court hearings from a different state. Although I hope the message’s meaning was different, this is what I understood. The email is written in such a way that, to the reader, this idea looks good and beneficial for everyone: the interpreters, because they will have more work (although I would guess that the fees offered by the state governments will not be anything to brag about) the states with underserved populations due to the lack of interpreters, because they will get somebody who has been certified somewhere by a state-level judiciary, and the foreign language speaker, as they will have the services of a professional interpreter instead of a family member or a paraprofessional.

Does it sound good to you? Well, if I understood the email as a communication asking permission to include interpreters’ names on a master list to indiscriminately interpret by phone, regardless of the state, it did not sound even half decent to me. Let me explain:

It is true that state-level certified interpreters are better equipped than paraprofessionals, and therefore the service provided should be of better quality. It is true that all state-level certified interpreters have attended a basic orientation and they have passed a court certification test (now administered by the NCSC or CLAC) and in many cases they have also taken an ethics and professional responsibility test. This obviously puts them ahead of those unscrupulous people that are roaming through the hallways of many courthouses in the United States. Unfortunately, and this is the real and very big problem: these interpreters, who have been certified by one of the fifty states, would now interpret cases from other states where both substantive and adjective law are different. That is the problem. The interpreter will interpret legal proceedings based on legislation that he does not know. Unlike U.S. federally certified court interpreters who work nationwide because they interpret the same federal legislation all across the country, these state-level individuals will have to deal with fifty, sometimes very different, legal systems.

Just like the age to get married and gun control laws vary from state to state, the catalog of crimes and civil law contracts are different. Think of one single situation: battery and assault; or is it assault and menacing? Well, the answer is: it depends on the state, and the differences are radical. Penalties and procedures also change depending on the state. This is why attorneys can only practice in those jurisdictions where they have passed the Bar Exam. It is a very delicate matter.

If this is indeed what the NCSC and the states want to do (and I hope I am wrong) then I am extremely concerned as an interpreter, because this will be another attempt to de-professionalize our jobs and make them look more like the legal secretary who can work anywhere, and less like the attorneys who can only practice in the state (or states) where they are members of the state bar. Sure, I understand that state-level agencies will praise the “benefits” of this solution, which in reality will solve their own problem (not the interpreters’ or the foreign language speakers’): Compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. This is a state-level priority because states that do not comply will lose federal money.

I am also worried as an attorney for several reasons: First, states will allow interpreting services across state lines using telecommunications. This could be an interstate commerce issue where the federal government has to participate (at least); but the second reason is the one that motivated me to write this post: interpreters who do not know the legal system of a particular state will practice in that jurisdiction. They may physically be in the state where they are certified, but their services will affect a court system, and litigants in another state where they have never demonstrated their capacity to practice. I believe attorneys who represent foreign speakers need to be aware of this potential “solution” so that from the beginning they know that perhaps the case could later be appealed for ineffective assistance of the interpreter. Attorneys need to know that when they are advising their client on an assault charge in their home state, they may be using the services of an interpreter from a state where assault really means battery. Lawyers will need to assess the potential procedural complications in case they sue the interpreter. Jurisdiction will have to be determined, and these lawsuits could end up in federal court.

If this “program” has also been planned for civil cases, then the problem is worse. Remember, there are at least three different civil legal systems in the United States, the one followed by those states who have a system based on the Anglo-Saxon tradition, those whose system comes in part from the days where these territories were part of the Spanish Crown (just think divorce and community property division) and then Louisiana and the Napoleonic written system. As an attorney, or a foreign language speaker, I would not want to have an interpreter from another state, much less one from a state where the system is different.

I sure hope that this “solution” (if conceived as I understood it) is discarded and the states look for better options such as a higher fee for those interpreting in state courts. There are very good and capable interpreters everywhere in the United States, it is just that they will not work for the fees currently offered. A more attractive fee would also encourage others who would like to join the profession but are reluctant because of the lack of money to even make a decent living.

By the way, these problems apply to those languages where there is no certification and the interpreters are registered or qualified to work in court by a particular state.

I really wish I am mistaken and this is not happening in the United States, but if it is, I will continue to watch the developments of this program, and if needed, I will speak up in legal forums to bring awareness of the potential risks generated by using state-level certified interpreters in places where they have never been certified. I now ask you to share your thoughts, and concerns, about this potential change that would end up rendering a state-level court interpreter certification useless.

Going to the ATA Conference in Chicago? You may want to read this.

October 9, 2014 § 12 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

The ATA Annual Conference is just around the corner, and this year it will be in beautiful Chicago. As many of you know, I live in Chicago and consider it a wonderful place to live and work. Obviously, I was very happy to learn that so many of my interpreter and translator friends and colleagues would be visiting Chicago this year. Finally, I thought, many of you would get to see the city that I brag so much about. It just does not get any better than this: The mother of all conferences and the beautiful town!

Unfortunately, as the dates of the conference were announced, I realized that once again ATA had scheduled the event for November. I never missed an ATA conference as long as they were held in October, but November is not a good month for me; it is a time of many important professional commitments. I tried two years ago in San Diego (the last time I presented in ATA) where I attended the conference for one day and then flew back to the east coast for work-related reasons. Last year I could not make it to San Antonio because of the November dates either. So here we are now, with the biggest conference in our field taking place in my hometown, and with me away from the city for the duration of the event. After this reality sank in, I decided to find a way to make sure that those of you who will be attending the conference could get the best out of our town; in other words: I needed to figure out a way to welcome you to Chicago without being physically there. This is what I came up with. For the next paragraphs I am going to take you through Chicago, I am going to provide you valuable and useful information, and I am going to recommend several places and activities the same way I wanted to do it in person when I first realized that ATA was coming to town. Here it is: from me, to you.

GETTING TO THE SHERATON TOWERS FROM THE AIRPORT.

From O’Hare:

O’Hare is located about 45 minutes away from the hotel.

Arriving on a domestic flight

By Taxi: Go outside the terminal on the same level where you will claim your luggage. There are booths where you can get a taxi (lines may be pretty long depending on the time of the day) A ride to the hotel should be around $55.00 – $60.00 All taxis take credit cards in Chicago.

By Shuttle: Go to the GO Airport Express desk on the same level where you claim your luggage and buy a ticket (round-trip suggested as fare is lower than a one-way ticket) Round trip fare: $54.00 per person. You can pay cash or by credit card, and you can even buy the tickets online from home. The ride to the hotel could take about 90 minutes as these shuttles stop at many hotels. There is no Super Shuttle in Chicago.

By Subway: After you get your luggage, follow the signs to the Blue Line subway terminal inside the airport. Take the blue line to Forest Park and get off at Washington Station (17 stops, about 50 minutes) walk to State Street and either take a taxi (5 minutes to hotel for about $8.00 to $10.00) or take City Bust #29 to Navy Pier and get off at Columbus (about 7-10 minutes) Then walk one block south to the hotel. Subway: $3.50 per person one-way. City bus: $3.25 per person one-way. Subway, L Train, and city buses do not take cash. You will need to purchase a ticket from the machines at the station, or a CTA card for your entire stay at any Walgreens Drug Store. The Blue Line station at O’Hare has machines that take credit cards.

Arriving on an international flight

You will arrive at Terminal 5.

By Taxi: After immigration and customs, Walk outside the terminal and get a taxi from the booth. A ride to the hotel should be around $60.00 – $65.00 All taxis take credit cards in Chicago.

By Shuttle: After immigration and customs, Walk outside the terminal and go to the GO Airport Express booth. You may have to wait for a shuttle for several minutes. If there is no clerk at the booth, dial the phone number on the sign and they will send a shuttle to pick you up. When the booth is unmanned, you can buy the ticked directly from the driver (round-trip suggested as fare is lower than a one-way ticket) Round trip fare: $54.00 per person. You can pay cash or by credit card, and you can even buy the tickets online from home. If you do not want to wait for the shuttle to arrive to Terminal 5, after clearing immigration and customs, you can take the airport train to Terminal 3 (it is free) go to the lower level, and get your tickets at the GO Airport Shuttle desk. (The ride to the hotel could take about 90 minutes as these shuttles stop at many hotels. There is no Super Shuttle in Chicago.

By Subway: After immigration and customs, take the airport train to Terminal 3 (it is free) go to the lower level, and follow the signs to the Blue Line subway terminal inside the airport. Take the blue line to Forest Park and get off at Washington Station (17 stops, about 50 minutes) walk to State Street and either take a taxi (5 minutes to hotel for about $8.00 to $10.00) or take City Bust #29 to Navy Pier and get off at Columbus (about 7-10 minutes) Then walk one block south to the hotel. Subway: $3.50 per person one-way. City bus: $3.25 per person one-way. Subway, L Train, and city buses do not take cash. You will need to purchase a ticket from the machines at the station, or a CTA card for your entire stay at any Walgreens Drug Store. The Blue Line station at O’Hare has machines that take credit cards.

From Midway:

Midway airport is located about 30 minutes away from the hotel.

Ground transportation process is the same for international and domestic flights

By Taxi: Go outside the terminal on the same level where you will claim your luggage. There are booths where you can get a taxi (lines may be pretty long depending on the time of the day) A ride to the hotel should be around $35.00 – $40.00 All taxis take credit cards in Chicago.

By Shuttle: Go to the GO Airport Express desk on the same level where you claim your luggage and buy a ticket (round-trip suggested as fare is lower than a one-way ticket) Round trip fare: $46.00 per person. You can pay cash or by credit card, and you can even buy the tickets online from home. The ride to the hotel could take about 45 minutes as these shuttles stop at many hotels. There is no Super Shuttle in Chicago.

By Subway: After you get your luggage, follow the signs to the Orange Line L train terminal connected to the airport. Take the orange line on the only possible direction and get off at State/Lake Station (13 stops, about 40 minutes) This is an elevated train. You must go down to the street level to State Street and either take a taxi (5 minutes to hotel for about $8.00 to $10.00) or go to the bus stop in front of the Chicago Theatre (about 20 yards) and take City Bust #29 to Navy Pier and get off at Columbus (about 7-10 minutes) Then walk one block south to the hotel. Subway: $3.50 per person one-way. City bus: $3.25 per person one-way. Subway, L Train, and city buses do not take cash. You will need to purchase a ticket from the machines at the station, or a CTA card for your entire stay at any Walgreens Drug Store. The Orange Line station connected to Midway Airport has machines that take credit cards.

Alternate Hotels.

Those who do not wish to stay at the Sheraton Towers can stay at the Embassy Suites one block away (511 N. Columbus Drive) Some single room go for as low as $189.00 and breakfast/happy hour are included. There are many other rooms across the river from the Sheraton (Hyatt, Swissotel, Raddisson, etc., but their prices are equal or higher than those at the Sheraton).

WHERE TO EAT.

It is very difficult to come up with a “best restaurants” list in Chicago because there are so many great options. For this reason, I will share with you some of my favorites, and some of the best options near the Sheraton. Because the idea is for you to experience the local taste, I will leave out all chain restaurants. You can try those back home.

Tony’s best:

I believe there is no better restaurant in the Chicago area (and perhaps anywhere in the world) than 3-Michelin Star Alinea (1725 N. Halsted St. Open Wed-Sun) 18 course tasting menu for 2: $450.00 Reservations a must.

Frontera Grill. PBS’ Rick Bayless’ world famous restaurant (445 N. Clark St.) This place offers the best authentic Mexican food elevated to a higher artistic level. Rick is that famous chef you have watched for years on PBS’ “Mexico, One Plate at a Time”. Dinner for 2: $80.00 Reservations a must.

The Purple Pig. Great “tapas” style restaurant (not Spanish food) with a great wine selection (500 N. Michigan Avenue) Dinner for 2 depends on your appetite. Small dishes are the way to go. Reservations suggested.

Girl & the Goat. Great for sharing small plates. Many options for vegetarians (809 W. Randolph St.) Very popular with the locals. Dinner for 2: $60.00 Reservations suggested.

Tango Sur. A real parrillada argentina (3763 N. Southport Avenue). All meats with all the cuts from Argentina! Great chimichurri, empanadas, and yes, dulce de leche! Restaurant lets you bring your own wine. Dinner for 2: $60.00 Reservations encouraged.

Giordano’s. You have to try the real Chicago-style pizza. There are over 40 locations throughout Chicago, but the closest one to your hotel is within walking distance (730 N. Rush St.) Another option for real Chicago-style pizza is Pizzeria Uno (29 E. Ohio St) I know this is now a chain restaurant, but this is the place where it all started. Dinner for 2: $50.00

Portillo’s. If you are going to try the pizza, then you must try a Chicago-style hot dog. Portillo’s (100 W. Ontario St.) is the place to have the real thing. In case you do not know it, a Chicago dog is served on a poppy seed bun and it is topped with chopped white onions, sweet pickle relish, tomato slices, a dill pickle, sport peppers, celery salt, and mustard. If you value your life don’t ask for ketchup. Dinner for 2: $45.00

Parthenon. One of Chicago’s largest immigrant groups is our Greek community. There is very good Greek food in town, and there are plenty of places to eat. You can go to Greek town and enjoy a delicious meal just about anywhere; with this in mind, I decided to include in this post one of my favorites: Parthenon (314 S. Halsted St.) because of the food, the service and the looks. Dinner for 2: $80.00

GREAT RESTAURANTS WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE FROM THE SHERATON.

Yolk. The hotel has a decent restaurant for breakfast, but if you want to venture into the streets of Streeterville (that is the name of the neighborhood where I live and of your hotel) and positively have the best breakfast in town, walk two blocks to Yolk (355 E. Ohio St.) and enjoy. Because of its popularity, there is some waiting for an available table and they do not take reservations. The wait is outdoors, so I suggest that if you are used to warmer places, bring a jacket or a coat. Breakfast for 2: $40.00

Emilio’s. If you are looking for very good Spanish tapas, there is an excellent place less than 2 blocks from the hotel: Emilio’s (215 E. Ohio St) offers a wide variety of tapas and Spanish wines. This would be a great place for after the session gatherings as well. Dinner for 2: $80.00

Niu. Your hotel is less than one block from my favorite Japanese-fusion restaurant in town. Go to Niu (332 E. Illinois St.) and have some sushi or explore the fusion menu. They also have a good selection of sake. Dinner for 2: $100.00

Volare. If Italian is your thing, then go to Volare (201 E. Grand Ave.) It is about 4 blocks from your hotel and it is the Italian restaurant in this part of town where all locals go; and we go there for the food and service. Dinner for 2: $100.00 Reservations recommended.

Bandera. If your thing is good food, a nice jazz ensemble, and a great view of the Magnificent Mile, then you must dine at Bandera (535 N. Michigan Ave. First Floor) Sometimes I like to go to their very nice bar instead of their dining room. Dinner for 2: $100.00 Reservations recommended.

Sayat Nova. I know Armenian food may not be one of the most popular selections during the conference, but I had to include it because Sayat Nova (157 E. Ohio St.) is less than 4 blocks from your hotel and the food is very good. Dare yourself and try this place that is part of our Streeterville neighborhood character. Dinner for 2: $80.00 Reservations optional.

Ditka’s & Michael Jordan’s. I include this two places because of their owners: Two of Chicago’s icons. At Coach Ditka’s place (100 E. Chestnut St.) you can enjoy some of the best bread in town and perhaps meet the guy. Warning: This is a good 20 minute very enjoyable walk, so you may want to consider a taxi ($10.00) Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse (505 N. Michigan Avenue at the Intercontinental Hotel) is a lot closer than Ditka’s, and it offers some of the best hamburgers in Chicagoland. Both places are very crowded and you will probably wait for a table. Dinner for 2: $80.00

The Food Trucks. Another interesting thing to try for lunch are the food trucks that we have in Chicago. About a block from the hotel, in front of the University of Chicago’s Chicago Booth you can find these trucks Monday-Friday during lunch hours. Lunch: $20.00 (or less) per person.

BARS BY THE HOTEL.

There are many great bars around the Sheraton, even the hotel lobby bar (Chi Bar) offers a good variety of mixed drinks, but I suggest you get out of the hotel, walk right next door by the river side, and have a drink at Lizzie McNeil’s Irish Pub (400 N. McClurg Ct.), walk one block to Lucky Strikes where you can have a drink and do some bowling at the same time (322 E. Illinois St.) or walk 3 blocks to my favorite: Timothy O’Toole’s (622 N. Fairbanks Ct.) where you can catch a game on TV, have a microbrewery beer, and enjoy some good old bar food.

NIGHTLIFE.

Chicago never sleeps and it offers some of the best after hours activities. If you are a night owl I suggest you save some time to go to a blues or jazz establishment. I recommend Blue Chicago (536 N. Clark St.) for great blues every night. For some other cities you may consider that they start late and gets very crowded. There is an admission charge that depends on the band that is playing that night. If you prefer jazz, my favorite spot is the Jazz Showcase (806 S. Plymouth Ct.) it is a traditional place where you will be greeted by the owner. The music is wonderful and the drinks are good at this historic venue. There is an admission charge and a minimum. You will enjoy them both! If you want something more relaxed and early, I suggest the lobby bar of the Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel (163 E. Walton Pl.) where you can enjoy a cocktail while listening to the piano bar music. No cover, no minimum, and very friendly bartenders (drinks are a little expensive). However, if you want to go where tourists go to see Chicago’s skyline from way up there, you need to go to the Signature Room (95th. Floor of the John Hancock Building). You can have a drink while admiring Chicago’s magnificent architecture, or if you prefer, you can have dinner way up there. For dinner: Reservations a must. Dinner for 2: $120.00

There are many places to go dancing in the area. You can look them all up on Yelp.

SIGHTSEEING.

There is so much to see and so little time. This will be the trip that will make you decide to come back as a tourist in the near future. A good way to see some of the main attractions is to get a ticket to the hop on-hop off bus. Tickets can be purchased at the Navy Pier (close to the hotel) and probably at the Sheraton. If you decide to do this, I suggest you sit on the top floor so you can see the tall buildings, and you will definitely need a coat, a hat, and gloves because it will get cold on the top. Chicago is built for walking, so I definitely encourage you to walk the city. Walk the Magnificent Mile and see all the designer shops and boutiques, stop and see the hundreds of fragments from all important buildings in the world that decorate the walls of the Chicago Tribune Building, and take your picture with the Wrigley Building behind you; walk by the beach (yes, we have beaches in Chicago!) and see the waves breaking against the wall barrier, walk by the Navy Pier and see the sailboats (if there are any left by November) walk in the business center (the loop) and admire the architecture while exploring structures like the Sears Tower, (go to the top and walk on the acrylic surface) Union Station (where the first scene of the Untouchables movie was filmed) Picasso’s gigantic sculpture outside City Hall, Chagall’s Four Season’s mural, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. I know that the conference will keep you very busy, but a “must” for all visitors is Millennium Park (just across the river from your hotel) Spend some time in the park and take your picture with the iconic “Chicago Bean”. By the way, I know the tower is now Willis, but to us in the city it will always be Sears.

Finally, I just wanted to give you the cultural options we have in case you may want to check them out (and if you have time, you should):

Chicago Art Institute. Recently voted the Best Museum in the World (111 S. Michigan Ave.)

Adler Planetarium (1300 Lake Shore Dr.) Admission: $12.00 per person

Shedd Aquarium (1200 Lake Shore Dr.) Admission: $6.00 per person

Field Museum (1400 S. Lake Shore Dr.) Admission: $18.00

Museum of Science and Industry (5700 S. Laker Shore Dr.) Admission: $18.00

Wrigley Field. Yes, they have tours (1060 W. Addison St.) Addison station on the subway Red Line. Tour tickets: $25.00 per person.

Theater. Only New York City has more theaters than Chicago. Enjoy a musical or a play one of the evenings. For more information, visit: www.broadwayinchicago.com

Sports. Chicago has professional sports teams in all major sports: The Cubs and White Sox in Major League Baseball (MLB), the Fire in Major League Soccer (MLS), the Bulls in the National Basketball Association (NBA), the Blackhawks in the National Hockey League (NHL), the Bears in the National Football League (NFL) and the Sky in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) There is no baseball season in November and the Bears will be away, but if you want to go to a very exciting professional sport and root for a Chicago team, these are the possibilities:

NBA: Chicago Bulls vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (October 31, 7:00 PM at the United Center)

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Winnipeg Jets (November 2, 8:00 PM at the United Center)

NBA: Chicago Bulls vs. Orlando Magic (November 4, 7:00 PM at the United Center)

College: Chicago Flames vs. Beloit Buccaneers (November 6, 7:00 PM at UIC Pavilion. College Hockey)

There is an exhibition rugby game between the United States Eagles and the New Zealand All Blacks on November 1, at 3:00 PM at Soldier Field Stadium

For tickets to any of these events, visit: www.findticketsfast.com

I hope you find this information useful and get to know my city a little better. I know the conference is very time-consuming, it is very interesting, and that is really why you are coming to Chicago; however, if you find that you have some free time, if you are coming to town early, or if you are staying for a few days after the conference, try to visit, see, taste, and enjoy some of the great places I have included in this piece. My experience as a conference-goer tells me that there are always situations when you need to talk to some colleagues, and you want to do it away from the rest; it is for those occasions that I have detailed the places to go in this article.

Once again, I am so sorry I will miss all of you in beautiful Chicago, but at least I now feel that I have welcomed you to my kind of town. Please feel free to share with the rest of us any other suggestions about Chicago that you may have.

Indigenous languages: An interpreting need yet to be properly addressed.

October 2, 2014 § 11 Comments

Dear colleagues:

There is no doubt that globalization has brought us together in ways we could have never imagined just a few decades ago. A smaller world means innumerable benefits for earth’s population and interpreters and translators play a key role in this new world order that needs communication and understanding among all cultures and languages.

Although we see progress and modernization on a daily basis, we can also perceive that there are certain groups that are staying behind; not because they decided to do so, not because they are not valuable to the world community, but because of the language they speak. It is a fact that most people on earth speak the same few languages. We all know that Mandarin is the most spoken language in the world, and everyone is aware of the fact that, geographically speaking, English and Spanish are by far the most widely spoken languages. The problem is that there are many languages in the world that are spoken by smaller groups of people, even though some of them are very old, and despite the fact that some of them were widely spoken and even lingua franca in the past.

I am referring to the so-called indigenous languages of the world. A reality faced by humankind in every continent: The Americas, Asia, Australia, the Pacific islands, and Africa have a serious problem. Once acknowledged that this is a universal issue, today I will talk about the Americas because that is my field.

It is no mystery that these languages have always existed and even co-existed with the more widely-spoken languages of the Americas. Native American tribes and nations have spoken their language in Canada and the United States while using English and French as a business tool and an academic gate to universal knowledge.

Presently, there are between 900 and 1,500 indigenous languages spoken in the Americas (depending on whose study you believe) and regardless of the real number, and without considering that many of them may be spoken by a handful of people, the reality is that there are many widely spoken Indigenous languages that are in need of interpreters and translators in order to guarantee access to modernity and legal security to many people in all countries in the Americas. There are some efforts that are bringing accessibility to these native populations, and there is legislation in the process of being enacted and implemented in many places. The United States government is making sure that State-level government agencies comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and provide interpreting services to all those who need to use public transportation, or go to court, to a public hospital, or to a public school. There is a federal court interpreter certification in Navajo as well. The Mexican Constitution was amended to guarantee the right of a Native-Mexican to have an interpreter when he is charged with committing a crime; through the protection and promotion of Mexican indigenous languages, the National Indigenous Languages Institute (INALI) empowers these communities in Mexico. INALI was created to make sure that the Mexican native population is able to participate in society like every other member, without any restrictions due to the language they speak. The current project to produce legislation and regulations for court interpreting in the new oral trial process recently adopted by Mexico, includes the Indigenous languages interpreters, who are collaborating with foreign language and Sign Language interpreters to achieve this very important goal.

Let’s be honest, the need is enormous and the resources, human and monetary, are limited. Acknowledging this reality, and agreeing on the importance of this issue, we need to look for a solution; we need many ideas, many proposals, the problem is difficult, but there is no way to avoid it. We must forge ahead towards a solution to this problem. On this post I do my share by presenting you the ideas I propose to get a solution off the ground, and at the minimum, to start a serious dialogue.

Part of the problem is the lack of enough fluent speakers of English or Spanish, and the Indigenous language. In part, this is because the language is not widely spoken, and because there are very few interpreters who speak the Indigenous language due to profitability issues. This is understandable, the interpreter needs to make a living. Another part of the problem is the lack of access for non-native speakers to learn the indigenous language and to have it as one of their language combinations. Unfortunately, from all the obstacles to overcome if we want to have enough Indigenous language interpreters, the stigma of speaking an Indigenous language is probably the biggest. Education is needed in order to bring Indigenous languages into the mainstream of interpreting, and I already addressed this issue on a separate post.

Many interpreters could say that although they would like to learn an Indigenous language, and even work as an interpreter to and from that language, how will they get work as interpreters? How will it be possible for them to make a living? It would be difficult to convince a top conference or diplomatic interpreter to drop his clients and go to work as a healthcare or court interpreter making very little money. That is not what I propose. First we need to promote what these Indigenous languages really are. We need to make them attractive for the new interpreter.

If the new interpreters and translators understand what these languages really are, and they see that the main reason why those who presently speak these languages are not using them in the mainstream business world is because of lack of opportunities for those who speak them, they will understand that these Indigenous language speakers should be at the same level of opportunity as those who speak a widely spoken language.

The idea would be that those who study languages to become interpreters or translators, be required to learn, on top of the traditional language combination of their choice, an Indigenous language that they would select from a variety of options. This way, they would enter the professional world with the same skills and language combinations they had always envisioned, and an additional language that no doubt will widen their professional horizon and fatten their wallet a bit more. My idea would be to pair them with a native speaker of the Indigenous language to work together in the booth, or as a team in court, and elsewhere. This way the empiric interpreter will benefit from the academic skills and knowledge of the formally educated interpreter, and the latter will benefit and learn traditions and cultural nuances, that just cannot be learned in the classroom, from the empiric interpreter. Of course, because the market will notice a good thing, many already established interpreters will rush to learn an Indigenous language to stay competitive; Náhuatl, Quechua, K’iché, Mixtec, Otomí, and many other versions of Rosetta Stone will sell like there is no tomorrow.

Dear friends and colleagues, I know that this proposal may seem fantastic and unrealistic to many of you, but I ask you to please, before you rush to sell me a bridge you have in Brooklyn, to kindly consider what I propose, and then perhaps offer other possible ways to address this problem; I only ask you to offer global ideas, that is, possible solutions to this problem that may work not just in the United States but all over the Americas, and maybe all over the world.

When the event organizer refuses to hire a full time technician.

September 19, 2014 § 6 Comments

Dear colleagues:

One of my worst nightmares is to be in a situation where I am ready, able, and willing to do my job, and I cannot do it because something beyond my control went wrong… very wrong. In a world where we depend more on technology every day, the importance of all the devices we use in our work is paramount. An entire event can turn into a disaster if technology does not cooperate. To stay competitive, it is extremely important that the professional interpreter be knowledgeable and up-to-date on the latest technological developments that impact our industry, such as computer hardware, software, hand-held devices, and social media; that is undisputable. We should have on that same priority level the operation of headphones and microphones, interpreting consoles, portable equipment, and the basic principles of how the interpreting equipment in particular, and the audio-visual system in general, function. The idea is not to replace the computer engineer or the sound technician; the only goal is to be able to understand a problem so it can be better described to the specialist who will, in turn, take care of the issue. An interpreter who can solve small technical problems with a simple suggestion, and therefore keeps the event on track, is definitely a very valuable asset.

Those who know me are aware of the fact that I am mechanically impaired. I cannot do anything with my hands, and I have never wanted to. I am also a big advocate of hiring professionals to do all jobs, from the auto mechanic to the housecleaning person, and from the accountant to the physician. No “do it yourself” for me. Fortunately, I really like computers, electronic media, and all the gadgets I can put my hands on. This has allowed me to keep up with those issues that are relevant to our profession, but always knowing my limitations and recognizing and appreciating the essential role that the sound technician plays in the interpreting world. To be clear: As far as the interpreters are concerned, the sound technician is the most important individual in the venue. They are that crucial; especially the good ones, those who already know you, the ones that know the type of headphones we prefer, the levels we like, and even the little things that make that particular interpreter comfortable and therefore more productive. They travel with us from town to town or country to country, they know us personally, and we call them friends.

For these reasons, when negotiating an assignment I always insist on top notch equipment and the best technicians. I convey to the event organizer, or the agency, the importance of having a capable technician next to the booth throughout the event. The most experienced and prestigious agencies, convention centers, and event organizers already know it, but some newcomers may need the explanation. During my career I have seen that those agencies and promoters who want to be in the business for a long time, the ones who want to have a good reputation, and the ones who care about the quality of the event, always agree to this very basic, logical, and simple request. Unfortunately, sometimes you run into the ones who keep alive the expression: “the exception to the rule.”

Not too long ago, I was working a very prestigious event where we got to see what happens when you try to “save” money at the expense of the technician. On the day the event started I arrived, as usual, plenty early to check the booth, sound, computers, stage, and everything else that you need to be aware of to have a successful event. As I entered the room, I saw one of my friend technicians from way back. Since I had not been involved on the planning of the event, and I was just a “hired gun”, I was very happy to see such a professional experienced technician in charge of the system. I went on to get ready and did not think much about the technician anymore. It was not until that afternoon when we started having some problems with the sound that I saw my friend again; he went into action and took care of the problem in no time at all. It was seamless.

The next day I arrived at the venue and went straight to the booth to get ready. The colleague who was interpreting with me arrived, we talked for a few minutes and then the event started. Everything was fine for about two hours when all of a sudden we had a problem with the sound. There was a lot of static and the quality was very poor. I looked for my friend the technician. I did not see him outside any of the booths or anywhere else. It was then that one of the event organizers came to the booth and told us that a “technician was on his way to fix the problem.” One of the hosts of this event got on stage and announced that an engineer was going to take care of the sound problem, and that we were going to adjourn until the sound was restored. Everybody got up and headed to the cafeteria.

At that time I saw a couple of individuals coming to the interpreting area, they approached us, and asked questions about the sound. I began to describe what the problem was. As I was describing the problem I noticed the nervousness on the face of this young man who was going to fix the problem. At that point I asked him for my friend, the experienced technician. I had seen him in the room the day before, but I had not seen him that day at all. The young technician told me that my friend was not there, that he had only been hired to do the set up and to be there on the first day in case something went wrong. He then told me that he and the other technician with him were full-time employees of the company that had organized the event, and they were “IT support”, not sound system technicians. He told me that they had never worked with interpreting equipment before, and that everything they knew about these equipment was what they had learned from my friend in the last two days when he and his crew did the equipment set up, and what they saw him doing the day before. It turns out that this very important, and profitable event decided to save money on the tech support.

What happened next was a comedy of errors. These hard-working IT staff had the best intentions and tried their best, but they did not have the knowledge to solve the problem. After almost an hour of unsuccessfully trying to fix the equipment, I suggested they replace all equipment with the back-up units my friend had left in case they were needed. They did it and the event continued. There was another glitch that afternoon when a speaker played a video from his laptop and they expected us (in the booth) to capture the sound from the conference room through our headphones and interpret the video that way. Needless to say, this was impossible. We could barely hear the sound; there was no way to interpret the video that way. I asked them to hook the laptop into the sound system so we could get the sound in our headphones just as if it was coming from a microphone. They did not know how to do it. I described the cable they needed and told them that they could buy it anywhere for very little money. Once I said “little money” they listened. One of their staffers went out, purchased the cable, and we had perfect sound in the booth. The video was interpreted, but there was another delay.

At the end of the day all interpreters from all languages got together, we talked about what happened during the day, and we all decided to request a real sound technician for the duration of the event. When we went to talk to the organizers we found them buried in complaints from the attendees who were not happy about the delays due to equipment malfunction (that could have been resolved in a few minutes like the first day when the professional technician was in the premises) At that point I knew we were getting our technician without even having to request him. Sure enough, after the commotion ended, a representative of the organizers came to inform us that they had talked to the technician and he would be at the event first thing in the morning. He then told us that the professional technician was going to stay for the rest of the event, and that he would be our point of contact in case there was another technical problem. The organizers learned their lesson! Unfortunately, they learned it the hard way. Now they know that there are many ways to cut costs, but having an event without a sound technician is not one of them. As things go sometimes, the next morning my technician friend checked all the equipment and adjusted certain things that had been changed by the IT staff the day before, he stayed with us for the rest of the week until the event ended, and we never had another incident. On the last day, as we were leaving the venue, I reminded all my colleagues from the other booths of this valuable lesson, and I asked them to always remember it, and use it as an example when another agency or event organizer decided to go without a full-time sound technician to cut costs. I now ask all of you to please share with the rest of us your stories of equipment malfunction, and what was done to solve the problem.

The ten worst things a speaker can do to an interpreter. Part 2.

September 11, 2014 § 16 Comments

Dear colleagues:

Once again the “Ten worst…” are back. Last time we talked about some of the things that the person who we are interpreting for can do to really make our work difficult, and I shared with you my first five; today we will discuss the rest to complete the list of ten. As always, this list is not limitative and it only represents what I personally consider the absolute ten worst things that the speaker can do to us as professional interpreters. You may agree with them all, some or none of them; but even if you disagree, I believe that the simple mentioning of these issues will help us all focus on ways to solve the problems with the speaker that may arise while we are interpreting, and to prevent them and keep them from happening again. Here we go:

SIX.  When the speaker stops in the middle of a sentence, and there is nothing to interpret. Sometimes we run into speakers who have worked with interpreters in the past, but those interpreters were of a different level. They have given speeches or presentations using the services of interpreters who deliver their rendition consecutively; that means that the speaker is used to start and stop many times during the speech. This should not be a problem and the transition to a simultaneous interpreter should be smooth when the speaker worked with good interpreters in the past. There are excellent diplomatic interpreters who work the consecutive interpretation magnificently; the orator can talk in complete sentences and ideas, and he can do it for a long time without having to worry about the interpretation being deficient. This speaker can adapt to the simultaneous interpretation used in conferences easier. The real problem is when the speakers have used the services of not-so-skilled interpreters before: sometimes low-level agency interpreters, sometimes a relative or a friend who is not even a professional interpreter, and they have been told to stop their speech frequently so that the interpreter can render a few words at a time (often sounding nonsensical and monosyllabic) Because the service providers’ professional capacity was so limited, the speaker just assumes that this is the way it needs to be done. The consequences of this type of speech are nefarious. All interpreters know that it is impossible to interpret what has not been said yet, and in these cases, when the speaker stops in the middle of a sentence, half way through an idea, or right after a “difficult” name or technical word, the interpreter is being left defenseless. There is nothing to interpret because the speaker has not said anything yet. Even when the main idea has already been expressed in the source language, or even when the words already uttered make for a good beginning of a sentence in the source language, the interpreter may be unable to say a word because of linguistic or comprehension reasons. The interpreter will not be able to start his rendition when the syntax in the target language is different because the interpreter does not know yet how to start the sentence. Interpreting requires that the interpreter understand and process an idea spoken by the presenter in order to find the right words in the target language; to do this, we as interpreters need to understand that idea. Of course, this is impossible when the interpreter only gets half of the idea. These two realities that interpreters work with all the time, make it impossible to interpret what the speaker has said. Of course, there are agencies, speakers, and unfortunately even interpreters, who will tell you that interpreters must interpret what is being said, that if the speaker is not making any sense, the interpreter should interpret nonsense as well. I am sorry to tell those who subscribe to this theory that they are wrong. The interpreter is never meant to sound like a telegram or a broken record (I understand that this last analogy may sound strange to those of you who were born after records were gone, but I did not find another updated expression that accurately conveys what I am trying to express) One thing is to work in court where the interpreter’s job is to interpret everything because the rendition’s goal is to assess the credibility of the speaker, but that has nothing to do with the job of the conference interpreter who has to act as a bridge between two languages and two cultures to facilitate mutual understanding and comprehension. This can only be achieved when people express themselves in a coherent fashion. Once again, if this is happening during the presentation, the interpreters need to let the speaker know that this is not working and they need to ask him to speak naturally, without any pauses and ignoring the presence of the interpreters in the booth. To prevent this from happening, when we meet the speaker and we learn that this person has only worked with consecutive interpreters, we need to briefly explain simultaneous interpretation to the speaker, and ask him not to pause the way he does when he works with interpreters who do not do a simultaneous rendition. Speakers are usually smart people and they understand the absurdity of speaking like a telegram.

SEVEN.  When the speaker uses metaphors unknown to the audience. A very common occurrence is when in the middle of a presentation the speaker uses an analogy, quotes a character, or resorts to a metaphor that has no meaning or relevance in the culture of the foreign language audience. These are tricky situations because the interpreter has no way to know ahead of time that this will happen, unless the speaker is well-known for turning to these practice in which case the interpreters must discuss it with him ahead of time. This is the permanent solution: to educate the orator so he knows and understands that his message could get lost because of the examples or cultural references he is making during the speech. Once they understand this point, they should be encouraged to omit the allusions, or if that is impossible due to the nature of the message, to at least replace the metaphor or the example with something from the local culture or with something universally known. If the speaker does not like these options, then the interpreter should at least ask him to put his analogies and metaphors in context and to explain what they mean. Going back to the main problem: What is the interpreter to do when the speaker brings up the culturally unknown example or story right in the middle of the speech? Because the interpreter’s job is to facilitate communication between speaker and audience, in my opinion the interpreter can do one of two things: Either find an acceptable equivalent in the audience’s language and culture, or at least explain and put in context, when possible, what the speaker just said. I will give you some examples: Americans are very proud of what they call “Americana,” (American culture and lifestyle) and sometimes they assume that it is universally known. For this reason, many great American speakers use “Americana” during their speeches; one typical example is baseball. Americans love baseball, it is their national pastime, you can find 10 to 15 professional games on TV every summer night, they grow up with the sport, its terminology, its analogies, and its heroes. As far as the rest of the world, unless you come from Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada, Japan, or Korea, most people have never even heard of baseball, and those who have, have never watched a game, much less know its rules and history. On the other hand, if you take the United States off the picture, you will agree that football (which by the way, is called “soccer” in the U.S., is the most popular sport in the world) So when an American speaker brings up a metaphor or a remark from their national pastime and he says: “…It was three and two with two outs at the bottom of the nine with the score tied and on the verge of extra innings…” as an interpreter you have two choices, you can either transplant the analogy to a well-known cultural reference to the audience, in this case I would chose football, or you can just explain what the speaker is saying. In my example, the rendition would go like this: “…it was the last minute of the second half, the score was tied, and they were about to go to overtime…” If I cannot find a similar analogy in the target culture, then I would have explained it like this: “…now the speaker is using an analogy from an American sport called baseball to illustrate that they were at the very end of the line, and nothing had been decided yet…” In other words, if needed to facilitate the communication, as long as it does not alter the message, I would replace Washington with Bolivar, Jerry Lewis with “Cantinflas,” and “more American than apple pie” with “más mexicano que los nopales.” The key is to make sure that you are facilitating the communication without altering the message. That is why we need to study and have a wide knowledge of many things so that we can make these calls and in case we made a mistake, so we can bring the audience back to the speaker’s message. Remember, this is working under extreme conditions, it is not the type of speech we face every day.

EIGHT.  When the speaker is constantly saying: “let’s see if they can interpret this.” I know that most interpreters are very proud of their professional achievements. We all know that this is not an easy career and it is difficult to reach a certain level. Professional interpreters are constantly studying and practicing their craft; they thoroughly prepare for an assignment by researching, studying, and planning, so when it is time to get in the booth and interpret the presentation, they do a magnificent job and make the event a success. It is for this reason that I dislike speakers who think they are clever or even funny when after saying a technical term, or an unusual word or expression, they interrupt their speech to tell the audience: “let’s see if they can interpret this,” or “I hope this didn’t get lost in translation,” or even worse: “I don’t know if this was interpreted correctly…” Who do these individuals think is interpreting for them? Don’t they know that there are two professionals in the booth? Or, do they think so little of themselves that they just can’t imagine anybody spending enough money to get them top quality interpreters? Obviously, I dislike these remarks and the attitude of these speakers. I also know that their comments do not affect our job as far as being able to do the rendition. Of course I could say that these constant remarks are annoying and distracting and they can break an interpreter’s concentration. This is true, but the professionals that we are, we cannot allow for these remarks to bother us. They are uncomfortable, but our reaction should be no different from that of the actor who gets booed while on stage and continues with the performance. Therefore, what is the value of including this annoying practice in my “worst ten”? Besides the ranting session above, it lets me make the point that even this disgusting experiences cannot keep us from doing our job; and if there is a speaker who is constantly challenging the booth or casting doubt on the skill and knowledge of the interpreters, this can create a feeling of mistrust in the audience. By making these remarks over and over again, he is sending a message to the audience that what they are hearing with the headphones may not be accurate or complete. This is unacceptable. Even under these conditions the interpreter’s job is to make sure that there is communication between the parties; therefore, during the first recess, the interpreters need to address this issue with the agency or event organizer, and with the presenter. It is a simple matter of expressing this potential risk in a professional and respectful manner. Many speakers will realize that what they have been doing is not so funny, that they have offended somebody, and that it makes sense when they are told that some of the people in the audience may be second guessing what they have been hearing so far. After the break, most caring savvy presenters will clarify this point with their audience and will refrain from making any more comments about the interpretation. So you see, there was a reason why I included this as part of my “worst ten.”

NINE.  When the speaker refuses to share his materials with the booth. It is common practice for the interpreter to get all of the materials that will be used during a presentation. This is usually done without thinking twice about it. The interpreter accepts the assignment and the materials start to flow into the e-mailbox, or they become available in the cloud. Speeches, resumes, Power Point presentations, publications, newspaper and magazine articles, etcetera; they all come to the interpreter. Everybody knows, from the agency, to the publisher, to the presenter, that these materials are essential to the interpreter’s preparation for the assignment. They are all aware that the interpreter has absolutely no interest in reproducing the materials or to violate in any other way any intellectual property legislation. This is why it is extremely difficult to work those events when the speaker refuses to share his materials or his presentation. For a long time I thought that this would only happen in second-tier assignments where the speakers were not sophisticated enough to understand the role of the interpreter, but I was wrong. I have run into conferences with very well-known researchers, college professors, and others, who refuse to share their materials. Of course this is a problem that either will be resolved before the event, or it will be unsolved but the interpreters will at least know what to expect. The best course of action in these rare cases will be to first talk to the agency and ask them if they would have any problem with you talking directly to the presenter so you can explain why it is that you need the materials. If the agency says no then that’s that. The event will not go as smoothly as it should, but it will not be your fault. On the other hand, if it is possible for you to talk to the speaker, you should explain to him what interpreters do, state the reasons why you need his materials, and even promise him that you will delete the files after the event. Assure him that your interest on his papers does not go beyond the conference, and tell him, if confidentiality allows it, who are some of your clients. This will put him at ease and he will share the materials. You see, sometimes the problem is simply a lack of communication; when the agency contacted him they only asked for the materials (like they usually do) without any explanation as to why they needed them and who was going to use them. The only thing missing was the explanation. On the other hand, when the speaker refuses to share, then you have a difficult bumpy road ahead, but it can be a little smoother if you do your homework. When you have no materials, you need to find them yourself. Get together with the rest of the interpreting team (including all languages as this research will benefit you all) and develop a strategy. Allocate tasks and responsibilities to the team members: Decide who will research on line, who will talk to others in the field to see if you can get some answers to your questions, google the speaker to see if he has any accessible publications online, download and study his previous speeches, and on the day of the event, show up with a fast computer or tablet an a defined plan of action so that the support interpreter is constantly looking up information while the principal is interpreting. Do this throughout the speech, both interpreters switching tasks back and forth. At the end of the day you will not have the materials for the conference, but you will have enough materials and other tools to do a first-class job.

TEN.  When the speaker starts reading very fast. Fewer things can affect more an interpreter’s rendition than a speaker, turned “town crier,” who starts reading at the speed of light from a document that was never shared with the booth. It is true that many presentations include portions of materials that are read aloud; it is a fact of life than many speakers will read their speech from a teleprompter, some people still pull out the little piece of paper and read from it, but most of those cases involve materials that have been given to the interpreters ahead of time. If that is the case, the interpreters will adjust to the speakers speed (because it is also a fact that we all speak faster when we are reading from a prepared text) by either doing a sight translation or, depending on the interpreters’ preference, a simultaneous interpretation of what is being read. It is difficult but doable because the interpreters saw the text ahead of time; they know what the speech is about, they have detected and solved the linguistic and cultural problems contained in the text; in other words, the interpreters did their homework because they were given the chance to do so. The “pulling out of my sleeve the document I am going to read” strategy represents a different kind of problem and all the interpreter can do is to follow the speaker as accurately as possible, trying his best. If possible, even after the reading session started, the second interpreter can go to the speaker’s team and see if they have an extra copy of the speech they may want to share with the booth. This happens more often than you think, and although it is not the same as getting the document ahead of time, at least helps the interpreter with two key elements: First, the names that sometimes are very difficult to understand when we are not expecting them, and second, the interpreters will at least have an idea on the length of the written speech and this will help them plan accordingly and distribute the tasks in the booth. I want to make it clear that top level interpreters will interpret the contents of the document the speaker is reading and transmit the message to the foreign language audience seamlessly, that has never been in doubt, as it has never been in doubt the high difficulty that is involved in an interpretation of this nature.

With these last five of the ten worst things a speaker can do to an interpreter I conclude my two-part post that started last week. I now invite you all to share with the rest of us some of your “ten worst” or to opine on any of mine.

How to Defend Your Rendition and Professional Reputation as an Interpreter.

September 4, 2014 § 12 Comments

Dear colleagues:

Good professional interpreters are usually consumed with taking care of their clients, improving their skills, managing their agenda, and marketing to new clients. This takes a lot of time and energy, and it is essential to succeed as an interpreter. Unfortunately, sometimes during their career some interpreters may experience other aspects of the profession that are less pleasant, more time-consuming, and very stressful.

Our professional tools are our brain, mouth, and a language combination. We can make mistakes, we are susceptible to questioning and second-guessing by others, and in our litigious society we are exposed to lawsuits that can leave us with no career, no resources, and a tainted reputation.

There are many circumstances that can affect our career as professional interpreters, but at this time I would like to focus on two of them:

The first one occurs when our work is subject to criticism and questioning by our peers or by others. This often happens in a legal setting. All court interpreters have faced situations when in the middle of a court hearing a judge, attorney, witness, litigant, and even a juror, have interrupted our rendition to correct what we just said. Most of the time we were right and they were wrong. On occasion, because we are not machines, and because nobody can possibly know all regional expressions, these voices do us a favor as they correct our mistake and allow justice to be served. These are the scenarios we usually face when doing our job. It sounds simple and straight to the point: Either we are right and we say so in order to keep the process moving along, or we are wrong, and in that case we correct our error. The same facts are true in a healthcare or community interpreting setting; even at the negotiating table or in the booth during a conference we sometimes make mistakes out of exhaustion, due to bad acoustics, a speaker with a heavy accent, or because we misunderstood a word or term. This is why we have team interpreting, this is why good interpreting equipment, an appropriate conference room, and breaks or recesses are important.

Unfortunately in the real world we have to deal with attorneys who are not happy because their foreign language speaking client or witness is not saying what they wanted them to say in the trial, and with doctors and nurses who want to dodge the consequences of their negligence, and with the party that lost at the business negotiating table, or with the agency that tries to justify the disaster caused by its outdated broken-down interpreting equipment. The first thing they all do is to cast a doubt over the rendition of the interpreter. It is even worse when all of this happens and you know that those who are questioning your work are clearly wrong.

The second situation I want to bring to your attention is when the same individuals mentioned above, decide to go for the jugular and to put the blame on the interpreter’s rendition; so they take you to court. They argue inadequate interpretation and you are sued for damages. How can we defend our work when our rendition is questioned and we know we are right? What can we do to protect ourselves in case somebody takes us to court for damages? There are preventive measures that we can take as interpreters to diminish the possibility of having to defend our work, our assets, and our reputation.

There are also steps we must follow in case our professional work is questioned or attacked in court.

These complex issues have to be addressed, and as true professionals we must be prepared in case this happens to us. For this reason, I will present: How to Defend Our Rendition and Professional Reputation as an Interpreter” during Lenguando Londres in London on September 13, 2014 at 2:30 pm. I invite you to attend the event on the 13 and 14 of this month and see how you will be able to interact with some of the superstars of all language-related professions, and I encourage you to attend this presentation where we will discuss these sad but possible scenarios, we will explore the different preventive measures that we should always take in order to avoid an adverse outcome, and we will talk about the path to follow once our rendition or our skill has been formally questioned in a court of law. I hope to see you in London; but even if you are not attending, I ask you to share with the rest of us your experiences on having your rendition questioned, challenged, or having a lawsuit filed against you as an interpreter.

Why do Americans celebrate Labor Day in September?

August 28, 2014 § 10 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

For those of you who are reading this blog in the United States: Happy Labor Day!

Yes, Monday is Labor Day in the United States and we celebrate it as a major holiday; one of those “real” holidays when the banks are closed, the mail is not delivered, and kids stay home from school. I have been asked many times by my foreign friends and colleagues why is it that we celebrate Labor Day in September instead of May 1st. like most countries in Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere do. Then, the second question that always follows the one above is: “But the labor movement celebrated with an international holiday on May 1st. commemorates the events of Chicago in 1886…”

The fact is that most Americans have never heard of the events of 1886 when a peaceful labor rally in Haymarket Square in Chicago suddenly turned violent after police arrived and ordered the meeting to end. A bomb was thrown into the crowd, and the police started to shoot and beat the crowd. In a matter of minutes eight people were killed and over 120 police and civilians were injured. The police seized the opportunity to arrest eight anarchists, that perhaps today would be referred to as labor rights activists, and the authorities charged them with conspiracy to commit murder even though the police had sparked the riot. Seven of the eight arrested were sentenced to death, and one of the jurors at their trial was a relative of one of the dead police officers. This is how the labor movement started in the United States. For a long time the media and government were firmly allied with the business community while labor organizers were viewed as criminals.

Today in the United States labor unions are controversial, and with good reason. Many of them have been run as criminal enterprises, with deep connections to organized crime; many operate in a blatantly coercive and undemocratic fashion. Union demands and strong-arm tactics have crippled some American industries and limited the number of jobs. In today’s America the unions get publicity when they step up to defend a member who should be punished, when the baseball players’ union fights suspension of players who have cheated by using steroids, or when the union protects incompetent teachers in public schools. There are many who support organized labor, although it seems to be less people every day, and labor rights are a good thing that America needed in the 19th. century and still needs today; however, the real perception (well-deserved in many cases) that unions are troublemakers, and the national fight against communism from the cold war days, have put these events in Chicago at the end of the 19th. century in the forgotten corner of American history.

Our Labor Day holiday is very different from most around the world. Instead of commemorating a tragic event, we celebrate those who have contributed to America’s social and economic achievements with their work. Since 1882 we have celebrated labor on the first Monday in September as a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the United States. Labor Day has come to be considered by most Americans as the end of summer; the last barbecue of the year, the beginning of football season, the start of a new school year.   This weekend millions of Americans will gather around the grill, at the shopping malls, and football fields, to officially end the summer of 2014. It is perhaps the second most American of all holidays (after Thanksgiving that is) because it describes the mind and spirit of the American people. Regardless of your political persuasion and your support, love, disdain or indifference towards organized labor, the first Monday in September is a holiday when Americans decided to celebrate work and creativity while most of the world chose to commemorate a tragic event that happened on American soil but is unknown to an overwhelming majority of the American people. I hope this brief explanation of the reasons why Americans are staying home on Monday celebrating a holiday with the same name as another holiday celebrated abroad, but with a very different meaning and motivation behind it, helps you understand better the United States. Now, without bringing up any political views on the labor movement, I ask you to please share with us when it is that you observe Labor Day in your respective countries and why it is a holiday there.

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