'Translators' director aims to show young translators 'voice and hope'

‘Translators’ director aims to show young translators ‘voice and hope’

Translators, a documentary short by two-time Emmy Award-winning director Rudy Valdez, showcases the lives of three Latino children: 13-year-old Harye; Densel, 11; and Virginia, 16, as they translate daily transactions for their non-English speaking parents. After a screening at the Ricardo Montalban Theater in Hollywood (the film also premiered at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival), Valdez explains that his approach to the film was inspired by the many customers who shopped at his family’s convenience store in Michigan.

“I wasn’t a translator myself, but my parents had a little Mexican grocery store where I grew up and people knew they could speak English, Spanish, Spanish, whatever,” he recalls. “Many times I’ve witnessed, when I was 7 or 8, people would come in, go to my parents and say, ‘Look, I have to go to my son’s school, or the hospital, or the courthouse and I need someone to translate for me because I don’t speak English.’”

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For Valdez, that often meant helping strangers: “Whenever that happened, my parents would close up shop and take me with them. My parents understood how important it was to have someone there who could translate for them, the importance of that access.

In Translators (OR translators), Harye, a bright and lively teenager, assists her parents by translating for them as they get identification, and while her sister, who has a series of medical problems, sees a doctor.

“I was so nervous because I didn’t know if I was going to do something wrong or right,” Harye says of her efforts. “I love helping my parents translate,” she adds. “They gave me everything I needed and it’s my way of thanking them. This connection grew stronger with my parents and (me) because I was translating important situations and (made) our love even stronger. As Harye’s mother puts it, via her daughter’s translation, “This documentary shows how immigrants live when we arrive in a new country and how, if immigrants have a voice, we can show who we are.”

US Bank has partnered with Valdez to help lead Translators to life as part of an initiative dedicated to closing wealth disparities called Access Commitment, which includes a Spanish-language app to help with banking called Asistente Inteligente. U.S. bank Chief Diversity Officer Greg Cunningham and his team listened to bank managers share how older immigrants were bringing in their younger family members to help them with everything from reading statements to billing of the IRS, and they wanted to highlight these young people. Says Cunningham: “We should all see each other in history. That the story of new Americans, or immigrants, is the story of America — each of us has had to translate for our elders at some point. It’s a universal human story.”

Hollywood fans of Translators — which brings to light the fact that there are 11 million child translators in the US alone — they include John Leguizamo and songwriter and film ambassador Leslie Grace, both of whom translate for their own relatives and Leguizamo says she continues to do so. “These are beautiful immigrant stories that you don’t get to see enough of,” the actor-producer said in an interview with MaximoTV. “When you see how moving this movie is, how kind they are, how beautiful they are, how much they value family and all they want is the best for their children and they sacrificed everything for it…. When you see this, you can’t be a grown adult and not cry.

Grace stressed the need for awareness in an interview with Entertainment Weekly: “It’s important for those of us who know how common this experience is to do our best to amplify these stories for people who haven’t had this first-hand experience and may not be aware that one-third of Hispanics in this country he is not fluent in English and they make a great contribution to our country.” He added: “It opens the door for other companies and organizations to develop tools and resources that will help ease the burden of these younger people.”

Cunningham says the reception a Translators exceeded expectations and strengthened the bank’s relationship with communities: “When you witness a banker interacting with a customer who might be a little wary of banks right now, that trust gap immediately disappears when a banker is in able to speak in their language. Trust is the only currency a bank really has and language can help us deepen our relationships with our customers.”

Valdez also emphasizes the universality of Translatorsthe message of. “I want to take away those ‘A third of Hispanic households don’t speak English’ headlines and focus on the human aspect of that,” she says. “I wanted these children to be emblematic, not just of their particular stories, but of those 11 million other children as well. It’s not just the Spanish speakers.”

Valdez has also chosen to focus on the positive aspects of children’s lives. “A director could have come in and told a story of victimhood, that made you feel sorry for these kids,” he says. “What I wanted (was) to see yourself with agency, with a voice and a hope,” he continues. “These kids are wonderful kids, and they’re wonderful, not in spite of the things they’re going through, but because they’re wonderful.”

The 20-minute documentary is now available for free viewing at translatesfilm.com.