Calderon visit lost in translation

Rookie translator garbles Mexican president's speech so badly the White House doesn't transcribe it


Erica Werner
May 19, 2010 11:36PM (UTC)

A halting and grammatically incoherent English translation marred Mexican President Felipe Calderon's arrival ceremony at the White House Wednesday, rendering his remarks difficult to understand at times. The Mexican delegation blamed its own translator.

In Spanish, Calderon's comments were straightforward and clear as he stood by President Barack Obama on the South Lawn and spoke to the common values and principles that unite the U.S. and Mexico.

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But the English translation that American viewers heard was so bad that the official White House transcript ignored it. Instead the White House used a translation provided by the Mexican Embassy and it was markedly different from the words actually spoken by the translator as Calderon talked.

For example, here's how Calderon's comments on the tough new immigration law in Arizona were rendered by his translator during the opening ceremony:

"We can do so with a community that will promote a dignified life and an orderly way for both our countries, who are, some of them, still living here in the shadows with such laws as the Arizona law that is placing our people to face discrimination."

And here's how those same comments appeared in the official transcript issued later Wednesday:

"I know that we share the interest in promoting dignified, legal and orderly living conditions to all migrant workers. Many of them, despite their significant contribution to the economy and to the society of the United States, still live in the shadows and, occasionally, as in Arizona, they even face discrimination."

The spotty translation was a surprising lapse for a state visit with all the trappings meant to showcase close cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico and allow both presidents to demonstrate their commitment to addressing immigration reform, drug trafficking and other issues.

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An official with the Mexican delegation said the translator came with the Mexican delegation but apparently was not someone who regularly translates for Calderon. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue and because details of the situation remained unclear.


Erica Werner

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Immigration Latin America Mexico

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