Spanish speakers are getting lost in translation at Dallas City Hall, and that’s unacceptable
Here is the Spanish version of this editorial
In the hours after robbers fatally shot Susana García’s teenage son outside her apartment door in Bachman Lake, the distraught mother grappled with her devastation and the language barrier with the police. Her 16-year-old twin daughters translated their Spanish that night three years ago.
Although Dallas police arrested the robbers, García said their neighbors asked them to move. They told her the killers could come back to harm their family, but García wasn’t afraid. They had already thrust a dagger through her heart when they killed 18-year-old Oziel.
García regained courage at the December 9 meeting of Dallas City Council. She and two other Spanish-speaking women from the Comadres Unidas de Dallas y Más community group wanted to weigh up the new chief of police, and they had asked for an interpreter when they signed up to speak the day before.
However, the Spanish translation at City Hall fell far short of what residents can rightly ask for a serious city in Texas. A bilingual city worker, not a certified interpreter, was brought in to translate. García and the other women spoke hesitantly as the city clerk tried to keep up.
Some of their feedback came through, but the translation left out important points. For example, Myrna Mendez called for integrity, accountability and a clear stance on the ban on the Texan Protected Cities known as SB4, which terrifies so many immigrants. She found that 41% of Dallas residents are Hispanic and speak of their economic power. None of this has been translated.
“That was important because there are two [local] Candidates to whom we would have access [in Spanish] when selected. We want that. We want to be heard and understood, ”said Mendez in a captivating voice.
Nobody should blame the city worker for doing a difficult task with the clock ticking. She is one of more than 1,400 city employees who have taken a language assessment and received a modest scholarship to assist the city with oral translations to complement their work. City spokeswoman Catherine Cuellar said it was city protocol to first hire a bilingual city clerk to translate a forum speaker and, if one is not available, provide a certified interpreter.
According to Cuellar, city officials are aware of the problems on December 9th and are considering whether the city can make it a practice to hire professional interpreters for speakers at the public forum. At the very least, we urge the city to guarantee certified interpreters for Spanish speakers who sign up to address council members.
More than a third of the Dallas population speaks Spanish, and in that group, about 216,000 speak less than “very good” English, according to the Census Bureau. That is a significant number of people who need to interact with their local government and who may not be able to do so in a professional and sustainable manner.
The city has done a lot in recent years to make information more accessible to Spanish speakers. It has set up Spanish social media channels, launched the office for welcoming communities and immigration matters, and tested Spanish subtitles for city meetings, among other things. This week it provided a live oral translation of the public Q&A session with the police chief candidates.
It would be a shame for the city to waste these efforts and alienate its Spanish-speaking residents by failing to meet the most basic requirement: the ability to be heard.