Would It Be Enough?: A Tale of Migration
This is a short story about the first time I translated for an immigration screening. It is a work in progress that will show the personal aspects of immigration not reflected on legal documentation.
Alone on my bed with a computer, phone, notebook, and pen, I eagerly await the start of a WhatsApp conference call arranged for my translation session with a lawyer and her newly arrived client. I’m riddled with anxiousness; it’s my first time translating for someone other than my mother. Soothing my nerves, I flip my notebook open, focusing my attention on pages of pre-translated screening questions and guidelines, and Google Translate filling my computer screen.
I’ve been given specific instructions:
- Speak in the first person, and avoid phrases like “she said”
- Avoid simplifying responses, translate exactly what they said
- Mirror the emotional tone they use when speaking, if they said something emphatically, be sure to do so as well.
Can I do this?
As I wait for the call to come in, I begin to play a game of sorts, attempting to imagine Lila, the woman I’ll be translating for. My latest iteration of her is a dark-haired woman with warm brown eyes. She speaks with a slight accent, her voice soft and melodic. I picture her sitting across from me, hands folded in her lap, with the same anticipation and nervousness that I have.
The phone rings abruptly, and when the call begins, the lawyer introduces herself, expressing gratitude and hope for the session.
We begin by going down the list of screening questions, asking for names, date of birth, entry date, among other preliminary information. The lawyer’s tone softens as she tells me: “Please let them know that we understand answering the following section may be difficult but we appreciate them sharing to better serve their case.”
I look around. There are scattered, unfinished homework assignments, my brother’s toy cars, and staring down at my bedsheets, they are out of place in this conversation. An array of Lincoln-appearing penguins are at my side while the printer’s static humming and the radiator’s low-strung song surround me.
We begin asking them about their journey…
Have you ever consulted with an immigration attorney/legal representation before?
> No, I haven’t before.
Describe your journey to the United States.
> We first traveled through Venezuela followed by Colombia, the Darrien gap, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico to finally arrive at the US border.
Are you afraid to return to your home country?
On the other side of the line, there is reluctant silence. The sound of a pen clicking from the lawyer’s end is audibly joined by the quiet whistling of my computer. Seconds pass by as the silence fills the air with anticipation and hesitation. Almost reflexively, my eyes roam the room again, my fingers tapping my notebook. Seconds turn to minutes and silence into hushed whispers, followed by a deep breath, one of a family who knows that their response may change the course of this call. Would it be enough?
This piece was a result of a brainstorming meeting between my mentor and I. I have a special interest in policy and have always wanted to blend policy and the effect it has on people. I realized writing could be a medium to do so and worked on several short story angles, finally deciding on this entry point. This piece attempts to provide a personal lens on immigration policy in the U.S.
An emerging writer at the intersection of politics and the personal, Maria Fernanda Olivarez loves to debate, give back through volunteering, and is known to bust a move swing dancing. An avid reader of the news, Taylor Swift/pop music aficionado, and thoughtful introvert, Maria wants to make her mark on the world through policy, politics, writing, and definitely not math. Fun fact: she loves sloths. She won second place speaker in a debate tournament about cryptocurrency. She is a first-generation Guatemalan American and the eldest of three siblings. She keeps her circle of friends close and books closer.