Integration Gets Lost in Translation

It’s a long way off, but the diligent and organized are beginning plans for 2012 elections season now.  The Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon tries to build across generational and ethnic boundaries within the larger identity of Asian Pacific Islander, and language can be a significant barrier in integrating the most marginalized members of our community.

Proper translation requires more than language fluency.  It’s a specific skill set, requiring a translator to be able to mentally juggle listening to one language while correctly translating the meaning into another language.  This is a difficult task, and requires special care because certain concepts and phrases do not translate cleanly and directly into other languages, and vice versa. it would take experience, skill, and care to properly translate words like education equity and affirmative action in a way that actually makes sense.

Sometimes it seems as simple as finding someone who is multi-lingual to bridge gaps in language, because in our dominant narrative taught in the U.S., we relate to other cultures or countries by superimposing our own.  For example, saying Eid is Christmas for Muslims is a very reductivist explanation that obliterates the specific historical context it actually grew from and the meaning it holds for those who celebrate it, because it is in fact very different from what traditional Christmas celebrants are thinking of.

So many cultural frameworks and world views are embedded in language.  It’s not this objective medium of communication devoid of values.  As we move forward into a future in which People of Color are predicted to make up the majority of the census population within the next fifty years, how do we achieve true plurality and integration as opposed to flattening the nuances and differences embodied in languages?  There has to be a balance struck between identifying the commonalities in humanity we can build relationships from without invisibilizing and marginalizing differences and world views that make us unique.  But how?

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