Letters

Readers weigh in on growing up with non-English-speaking parents.


Salon Staff
August 12, 2004 9:09PM (UTC)

[Read "Innocence Lost in Translation," by Cara Nissman.]

It's 11 p.m. and I should be in bed. But my mom had a bad accident and is able to file a lawsuit for compensation. I am filling out all the paperwork because she is unable to speak more than friendly English. I decide to check out the Salon headlines, and this article reminds me of what I should be doing.

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I am first-generation-born American and have worked as the family translator since I could read. And I'm talking entire extended family, since I was the oldest child. From Social Security forms to rental applications, to Blockbuster memberships -- sometimes I just didn't understand all the legalese! I have been doing this since I can remember and, honestly, am sick of it. But as a child, I was more exposed to the English language [than other family members] because of school and the desire to fit in, and immigrants usually work with immigrants.

-- Fabiola Robles

I am the daughter of Cuban refugees and served for many, many years as the "unofficial" translator for my parents, but mostly for my grandmother. Not only did I feel this experience brought us closer together, but I would also like to emphasize that I never felt badly or used when I was doing this; in fact, I felt it was a privilege to be able to help my family with things they didn't understand.

Professionally speaking, this "translating experience" helped me to improve my Spanish and language skills and today, I am a 31-year-old attorney and translator with her own translating company. I love what I do and I love studying the differences between languages.

Thank you for including this article on Salon.com. Although I am a huge fan, sometimes I feel the site caters to the "young white liberals" and we Latinos are left out of the loop. So thanks for including something about us for a little change!

-- Laura Ma. Rodriguez de Muniz

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As the child of immigrants, I empathize with parents who sometimes ask their children to translate for them. Where my empathy ends is with immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for as long as 20 years and don't understand or speak English. Not only that, but they expect their children to shoulder the responsibility of being their on-call interpreters. For many reasons, learning English isn't a priority for some immigrants. As Mrs. Garibay in the piece puts it, "I'd like to learn [English] some day." I suppose it's nice to have the option.

When we moved to the U.S. from Russia 24 years ago, there weren't any Russian interpretation services available -- and why should there have been? Newcomers need to learn the main language of the country and not expect to have an interpreter at their disposal. I was lucky to have picked up the language quickly as a 6-year-old in school. My parents learned English by attempting it anywhere they could -- at work, over the phone, and in the grocery store. Their English was broken but at least they tried. The practice made them fluent. It is possible to learn the language if you're willing to put in the effort. For the folks who've lived here for 15, 17 and 20 years and still can't speak English, you won't get any sympathy from me.

-- Rita Mangeyn

While I agree that taking children out of school to translate for their parents is not a good thing, I have to disagree with the wider point of the article -- that of "innocence lost." I was such a child when my family emigrated from Russia. I learned English relatively quickly and saw it as my duty to help my parents with their English. I translated for them, tutored my mother in English, corrected her errors, and taught her various vocabulary words that she would need for her work. And yes, medical terms were difficult for her, and I still translate medical words for her on occasion. I don't understand where your article gets the idea that such experiences would traumatize a child. If anything, doing this helped me feel useful in our family's endeavor to survive in a strange new country. I knew that my parents had a hard time with English, and I knew I could help them -- what's so wrong with doing so?

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I am appalled that someone should actually lobby to make it illegal for a child to help his or her parents.

-- Larisa Migachyov


Salon Staff

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