There are as many ways of thinking about translation as there are ways of thinking about language. In an academic environment, we tend to focus on the theoretical or philosophical dimensions of translation, at the risk of downplaying the tangible urgency of translation and simultaneous interpretation practices in our everyday lives and the lives of those around us. At the University of Michigan, initiatives like the Mellon Sawyer seminar series on Sites of Translation in the Multilingual Midwest and the annual Translate-A-Thon are helping bring attention to the many ways people and organizations in our immediate community rely on translation, in the state of Michigan and beyond.
Freedom House Detroit, a participant in this year’s tenth annual Translate-A-Thon in October 2021, is a nonprofit organization helping individuals and families from all over the world apply for asylum and make a new home in the US or Canada. Freedom House provides asylum seekers with crucial services like legal aid, health care, job training and shelter. The vast range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds represented by Freedom House’s clientele means translation and translators play a big role in the services the nonprofit provides. Much of this translation work is done by local multilingual volunteers, many with a personal or family history of migration themselves, and including many current and former UM teachers, undergraduate and graduate students.
On the occasion of this year’s Translate-A-Thon, Emmanuel produced a short documentary video called “Translating for Freedom House Detroit,” featuring interviews with fellow students, staff and community members who have worked for and with the organization. The translators interviewed in this video discuss such diverse applications of their craft as: translating between feeling and dance, live interpretation, translating legal testimony, translation as a form of community engagement, translation on the level of life and death. In sharing their experiences and perspectives, they underscore how translation means building bridges not only between languages and modes of expression, but also between ways of thinking and being, between communities and ways of life.
The interviews for the video were conducted by Emmanuel Orozco Castellanos, a junior at the University of Michigan majoring in International Studies, with minors in Translation and Latin American Studies. He began working as a volunteer translator for Freedom House while a student at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, before eventually transferring to UM. He details his own story of immigration to the United States from Mexico in his essay “El Norte,” published on Translating Michigan. Click here to read an interview with Emmanuel about making the video.
Watch the video below:
To watch an extended version of this video, click here.