The subject of language justice is one that is important to Stand for Children. If you have ever attended one of our workshops or events you have probably noticed that interpretation is available so that parents and community members can fully participate no matter what language they speak. Materials—presentations, handouts, and other resources are always translated as well. While most of the parents and community members we work with speak either English or Spanish, we have also worked with Vietnamese, Somali and Burmese families. We recently shared our Summer of Learning newsletters and resources in both English and Spanish on our blog so that more parents could access the information to support their children.
I recently sat down with Lynette Garcia, one of our parent organizers who has worked as an interpreter and translator for many years to discuss language justice and share her experiences. Before we dive in though, I just wanted to share some definitions. Interpretation is spoken. Translation is a written document.
We partner with the Community Language Cooperative for our translation and integration needs. They define Language Justice as “a key practice used in social justice movements in order to create shared power, practice inclusion and dismantle traditional systems of oppression that have traditionally disenfranchised non-English speakers. Language Justice is more than just interpretation and translation, it’s an intentional practice that values interpretation and translation as critical tools for opening communication. This includes the following key elements: resistance of the dominant language; intentionality in valuing and respecting everyone’s voice; freedom in expressing ourselves in the language that most fully helps us connect to our ideas, frustrations and questions: our heart language; quality, simultaneous interpretation into all represented languages; commitment and allocation of resources, training and the resistance of dominant-language facilitation practices; creation of the feeling of openness, acceptance and willingness to listen.”
Tell me about your background.
I am a Mexicana born in Los Angeles, California. Daughter of Mexican immigrants, I think it’s important to understand the power and privilege that is associated with language, making sure that people are not simply understood, but are free to stand up, express, and lead in their community regardless of language. I have been interpreting for my parents since I can remember. I started interpreting for the Community Language Cooperative about a year ago and have helped both with interpretation and translation. I have the privilege to share and work with Stand, an organization that believes and practices language justice.
What happens at a meeting when language justice is applied?
When language justice is practiced there is no dominate language. It is beautiful because everyone gets to speak, everyone gets to share without feeling intimidated. Community members that may be coming in feeling oppressed because they do not speak English can sit down and talk and share and ask questions. I’ve seen when there is no interpretation and people don’t want to speak, they don’t want to share, they don’t want to ask questions. Interpretation gives people their right to speak, to ask questions about their child’s education and how they are doing at school. I’ve been pulled aside at some of the schools we work in to interpret for families and community members – it is so powerful, when my voice is there to be their voice. It is powerful when families feel like they can come into any space with us and speak in their language. Interpreters that practice language justice usually were raised and live in the communities that they work in so they understand and know community members.
Can you share a parent experience that makes language justice powerful?
I think the most powerful experience I’ve witnessed was last legislative session at the Capitol. When community members get to speak to a legislator or government agency directly in their language. I think this is especially powerful for people who maybe were holding back because of the language barrier. Seeing families pushing policy that affects us all in their own language, has been one of the powerful experiences that I’ve witnessed as a community organizer and interpreter.
What are the first steps for partners and others in our community interested in incorporating language justice into their work?
The first step is knowing the community you are working in and what languages are spoken and what their needs are. It goes beyond interpretation and translation— it is important to find an interpretation and translation agency that is committed to true language justice and the belief that everyone deserves to be heard. There is equity in language.