translators, a short documentary from two-time Emmy Award-winning director Rudy Valdez, traces the lives of three Latino children: Harye, 13; Densel, 11; and Virginia, 16, as they translate everyday transactions for their non-English speaking parents. Following a screening at the Ricardo Montalbán 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 shopping at his family’s convenience store in Michigan.
“I wasn’t a translator myself, but my parents owned a small Mexican grocery store where I grew up and people knew I could speak English, Spanish, Spanglish, anything,” he recalls. “Many times I witnessed, when I was 7 or 8 years old, people would come in, turn to my parents and say: ‘Look, I need to go to my son’s school, or to the hospital, or to the court and I need someone to help me. translate for me because I don’t speak English.’”
For Valdez, that often meant helping strangers: “Every time that happened, my parents would close the store 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 (either translators), Harye, a bright and vibrant teenager, helps her parents by translating for them while they get identification and when her sister, who has a series of medical problems, sees a doctor.
“I was so nervous because I didn’t know if I would do something right or wrong,” Harye says of her efforts. “I love helping my parents translate,” she adds. “They gave me everything I need and it is 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 says, through 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 partnered with Valdez to help bring translators to life as part of an initiative dedicated to closing wealth disparities called Compromiso de Acceso, which includes a Spanish-language app to help with banking called the Smart Assistant. US Bank director of diversity Greg Cunningham and his team heard bank managers share how older immigrants were bringing their younger relatives to help with everything from reading bank statements to IRS bills, and wanted highlight these younger people. Says Cunningham, “We should all see ourselves in the story. That the history of the new Americans, or immigrants, is the history of the United States: each of us at some point had to translate for our elders. It is a universal human story.”
Hollywood fans of translators – bringing to light the fact that there are 11 million child translators in the US alone – includes John Leguizamo and singer-songwriter and film ambassador Leslie Grace, who translated for their own family members and Leguizamo says he continues doing it. “These are beautiful stories of immigrants that are not seen enough,” said the actor and producer in an interview with MaximoTV. “When you see how touching 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 an adult and not cry.”
Grace underscored the need for awareness in an interview with entertainment weekly: “It is important for those of us who know how common this experience is to do our best to amplify these stories for people who have not had this experience first hand and who may not know that one third of Hispanics in this country they do not speak fluently. in English and contribute greatly to our country.” He added: “It opens the door for other companies and organizations to develop tools and resources that help ease the burden on these young people.”
Cunningham says that the welcome to translators exceeded expectations and strengthened the bank’s relationship with the communities: “When you see a banker interact with a client who may be a little wary of banks right now, that trust gap disappears immediately when a banker can speak 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 translatorsthe message of “I want to remove those ‘One-third of Hispanic households don’t speak English’ headlines and focus on the human aspect of that,” he says. “I wanted these kids to be emblematic, not just of their particular stories, but of those other 11 million kids. It’s not just Spanish speakers.”
Valdez also chose to focus on the positive aspects of the children’s lives. “A principal could have come in and told a victimhood story, which made you feel sorry for these kids,” she says. “what i wanted [was] See yourself with agency, with voice and hope”, he continues. “These kids are wonderful kids, and they’re wonderful, not despite the things they’re going through, but because they’re wonderful.”
The 20-minute documentary is available to view now for free at translatesfilm.com.