Interpreting Saved My Life

Posted on September 30, 2020

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Interpretation demands accuracy.

That’s why Cesar Bastias goes by Tony when he’s interpreting.

Many people were misinterpreting his first name as “scissor,” so he picked Tony for its simplicity. For Tony, delivering accurate interpretation is so vital that he altered his own name so as to be understood correctly.

Tony, one the many wonderful interpreters at the Center for New North Carolinians (CNNC) Interpreter Access program (IAP), was called on for a special assignment in September. He interpreted for Spanish-speaking individuals at a Census drive-thru for High Point Central High School.

This Census assignment is just one critical example of the necessary work interpreters provide; in the case of the Census, being counted includes more funding for the schools, healthcare centers, and infrastructure in your community.

For Tony, accurate information is key and requires listening. Rather than interpreting word for word, he listens, waits, and then interprets.

Image of the info card for the Census event.

Throughout Tony’s interpreting career, he has engaged with Latinx, working class communities of North Carolina. As his clients use their own regional dialects of Spanish, including slang, Tony slowly developed a collaborative process of meaning making to decode their message.

Over many years of interpreting, his own Spanish accent transformed – his native Chilean accent subsided into a more neutral tone.

Although he witnesses his clients in many vulnerable and frustrating situations, often hearing vulgar language, he does not repeat the vulgarities — he remains patient, positive, and professional.

In Tony’s quest for accuracy, he has also adopted a specific way of inhabiting the interpretive space which usually means taking a backseat role. When the professional looks at him, rather than the client — whom Tony usually sits or stands behind — Tony directs his gaze to the client, hinting to the professional that they, too, should directly address the client.

Whilst Tony has perfected his interpretation style, he wasn’t always an interpreter. It found him in a curious way.

Thirty-three years ago, Tony’s life transformed when he left his home country, Chile, and came to California to pursue a Masters in Business Administration. Shortly after, he transferred to South Florida to continue his auditing career.

The 2008 recession catalyzed change in his life again and, with a fresh start in mind, he moved his family to North Carolina for more opportunities. Through a family friend, he discovered an interpreter certification program at a local college, and it soon became a way to support his family and a prosperous career.

Tony’s work and dedication shows us why interpreting services are absolutely imperative for the community. Without clear communication, information can easily become misconstrued and lead to liabilities.

In medical environments, it’s essential for healthcare providers to understand their patients’ symptoms and treat their diagnosis. In legal situations, clear understanding assists families in making informed legal decisions. In school settings, teacher-parent communication is necessary to ensure the success of a child’s education. As these scenarios illustrate, gathering information is a key part of the communication process and results in saving time, money, and lives.

After nearly ten years of interpreting, Tony’s passion continues to grow as he shares his knowledge with others. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has decreased interpreting cases, restricted his interactions, and added sanitizing protocols.

Nonetheless, he perseveres and motivates the next generation. Tony encourages young people to take interpreting classes at local community colleges, as he has experienced firsthand how access to accurate information can save one’s life.

For more information on how to join the interpreter bank, check out the CNNC’s page:
Interpreter Training

Janie Raghunandan
Marketing and Communications Intern for CNNC

Photo Credit: Matthew Barham
Marketing and Communications Intern for CNNC

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