Access for English-Speakers to Spanish Language Event: Stop the Destruction of San Miguel

Holly Yasui
Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Center for Global Justice, in support of the citizens’ movement to Stop the Destruction of San Miguel (Basta Ya a la Destruccion de San Miguel), provided simultaneous interpretation from Spanish to English during the meeting on Thursday, March 8 at which Ambassador Alberto Szekely of the Szekely Environmental Defense Law Office, presented a “Legal Strategy for the Protection of the Traditional Town of San Miguel de Allende.”

“We are committed, within our limited resources, to providing the means for foreign residents and visitors in San Miguel to keep apprised of and participate in important civic activities,” said Bob Stone, one of the founders of the Center. As Ambassador Szekely emphasized several times in his talk, the issues of San Miguel’s cultural and natural heritage do NOT fall under the category of political activities prohibited to foreigners by Article 33 of the Mexican Constitution, and he encouraged foreigners to participate in the movement. Stone agreed: “We at the Center believe that development of San Miguel without democratic control, from which both hosts and foreigners suffer, is a local form of neo-liberal globalization. This is a very important chance for us to join shoulder-to-shoulder with our hosts to resist the way that development is taking place in this town.”

Of the 300 people who attended the meeting, about 50 were foreigners, representing a broad cross-section of people interested in preserving the integrity of San Miguel. Approximately 40 headsets were rented for the simultaneous interpretation. (Note: the term “interpretation” generally refers to oral translation, which does indeed always include an element of interpretation since it is on-the-fly, as opposed to “translation” which generally refers to the written form, which can be more precise because the translator can refer to dictionaries and consult with native speakers before making the translation.)

The Center for Global Justice rented the simultaneous interpretation equipment from a company in Mexico City, Traductec, which works with various progressive organizations, and one of the interpreters also made the trip from the capital to support the cause: Yuridia Corte, member of Babels, a worldwide network of interpreters and translators that arose from the World Social Forum. Since the original interpreter fell ill the day before the event, Yuri was drafted at the last minute, and volunteered to drive directly from her job in Mexico City to San Miguel, and then back again the same night in order to go to work the next morning! Because of traffic and construction delays, Yuri didn’t arrive until 7:30 PM, so local Center for Global Justice member, Silvia Elguea, did the interpretation for the first half hour of the meeting.

Simultaneous interpretation is extremely difficult since it means listening and speaking at the same time. It requires intense concentration and exceptional language skills. Consecutive interpretation, where the speaker pauses and alternates with the interpreter, also requires special expertise, but it takes twice the amount of time as simultaneous, and there’s “down time” for monolingual listeners while the other language is being spoken. For that reason, the Center for Global Justice hopes to provide simultaneous for the next event with Ambassador Szekely, tentatively planned for July 6, and for intervening meetings, consecutive.

This is the third year that the Center for Global Justice has worked with the Babels interpreters and Traductec. During its annual workshops, which attract an international group of researchers and activists from throughout the Americas, the Center provides simultaneous interpretation for all the activities. As stated in its vision statement, which is published in its website, the Center “hopes to become a locus of North-South dialogue” — and providing interpretation for non-Spanish speaking residents of San Miguel is a step in that direction.