It's a sad day when our profession makes the homepage of CNN.com and the national news in every corner in America because of three deaths that could have been prevented if language access had been provided. The case of Deisy Garcia and her two young daughters is truly tragic, and it's incomprehensible that the New York Police Department cannot answer the question as to why previous complaints that she had filed in her native Spanish were never translated into English. No action was taken against her ex-husband, who is the suspect in the killings and was arrested as he was trying to flee to Mexico. Read the whole story here.
|Screenshot from CNN.com, February 20|
To say that the system failed Deisy is an understatement, and this lack of action in a violent domestic abuse case is almost unfathomable in 2014, especially for a language as common as Spanish. There are plenty of court-certified Spanish interpreters and myriad top-notch translators in New York City (of all places). Courts and police departments across the country go to great lengths (or at least try) to assist non-English speakers, especially if they are the victims of crimes. Although Nevada is no poster child for language access, Judy has spent quite some time at family court (as a certified court interpreter), where she routinely translated abused women's statements into English. These statements would then be used as an official court record on which a temporary restraining order (TPO) against the perpetrator would be based. In essence, these translated documents are a critical link in the legal system that tries to protect both men and women from violent crimes within the family. This is standard procedure, and it is truly incomprehensible that Deisy's cries for help were unanswered because they were not in English. Let us take a moment to think of Deisy and her two young little daughters. After that, we might have to start looking for answers, as will the rest of the nation. Perhaps it's time for interpreters and translators to unite and demand change so cases like Deisy's never happen again.
So there we have it: translation can save lives, and highly qualified translators are readily available, but Deisy still died, allegedly at the hands of the very perpetrator she had already reported. Perhaps this is a wake-up call for all the public agencies around the country to whom language access is merely an inconvenience and not a necessity. Sometimes translation can mean the difference between life and death. It might be labeled as hyperbole, but it's not.
We would love to hear your thoughts on this serious and important topic, dear colleagues. What can we, as translators and interpreters, do to help prevent these tragic deaths? Can we put more pressure on public agencies? Lobby our state legislatures more than we are already doing?