Translators, a documentary short by two-time Emmy-winning director Rudy Valdez, showcases the lives of three Latino children – Harye, 13; Densel, 11; and Virginia, 16 – as they translate everyday transactions for their parents who don’t speak English. Following a screening at Hollywood’s Ricardo Montalban Theater (the film also premiered at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival and Tribeca Film Festival), Valdez explains that his approach to the movie 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 small Mexican grocery store where I grew up and people knew they could speak English, Spanish, Spanglish, anything,” he recalls. “Many times I witnessed, when I was 7 or 8 years old, people came in, went to my parents and said, ‘Look, I need to go to my child’s school, or the hospital, or the courthouse and I need someone to translate for me because I don’t speak English.’”
For Valdez, that often meant helping strangers: “Every time that happened, my parents would lock up the store and take me with them. My parents understood how important it was to have someone there that could translate for them, the importance of that access.”
In Translators (or Translators), Harye, a bright, vibrant teen, assists her parents by translating for them as they obtain identification, and as her sister, who has a number of medical issues, sees a doctor.
“I was so nervous because I didn’t know if I would get anything wrong or right,” says Harye of her efforts. “I love helping my parents translate,” she adds. “They gave me everything I need and it’s my way to thank them. This connection got stronger with my parents and [me] because I was translating important situations and it [made] our love even stronger.” As Harye’s mother puts it, via her daughter’s translation, “This documentary shows how immigrants live when we come to a new country, and how if immigrants have a voice, we can show who we are.”
US Bank partnered with Valdez to help bring 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. US Bank chief diversity officer Greg Cunningham and his team heard bank managers sharing how older immigrants were bringing in their younger family members to help with everything from reading statements to IRS bills, and wanted to spotlight these younger people. Says Cunningham, “We should all see ourselves in the story. That the story of new Americans, or immigrants, is the story of America – every one of us at some point had to translate for our elders. 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 – including John Leguizamo and singer-songwriter and movie ambassador Leslie Grace, both of whom translated for their own relatives and Leguizamo says he continues to do so. “These are beautiful immigrant stories that you don’t see enough of,” the actor-producer said in a MaximoTV interview. “When you see how heartwarming this movie is, how kind, how beautiful they are, how they value family, and all they want is the best for their children and they sacrificed everything for that…. When you see that, you can’t be a grown adult and not cry.”
Grace underlined 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 experience firsthand and might not be aware that a third of Hispanics in this country aren’t fluent. in English and they contribute greatly to our country.” She added, “It opens the door for other companies and organizations to develop tools and resources that will help alleviate the burden of these younger folks.”
Cunningham says that the reception to Translators has exceeded expectations and strengthened the bank’s rapport with communities: “When you witness a banker interact with a customer who may be a little bit distrustful of banks right now, that trust gap immediately goes away when a banker is able to speak in their language. Trust is the only currency a bank really has and language can help us deepen relationships with our customers.”
Valdez also emphasizes the universality of Translators‘s message. “I want to take away those headlines of ‘One-third of Hispanic households don’t speak English’ and focus in on the human aspect of that,” he says. “I wanted these children to be emblematic, not just of their particular stories but of those 11 million other kids. It’s not just Spanish speakers.”
Valdez also chose to focus on the positive aspects of the kids’ lives. “A director could’ve gone in and told a victimhood story, that made you feel sorry for these kids,” he says. “What I wanted [was] to see themselves with agency, with a voice and hope,” he continues. “These kids are wonderful kids, and they’re wonderful, not despite the things they’re overcoming, but because they’re wonderful.”
The 20-minute documentary is available to watch now for free at translatorsfilm.com.
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