Megan Figueroa: Hi, and welcome to the Vocal Fries podcast, the podcast about linguistic discrimination.
Carrie Gillon: I’m Carrie Gillon.
Megan Figueroa: I’m Megan Figueroa. It’s July. And we’re here.
Carrie Gillon: Wow. So many things. Yeah, this is very overdue.
Megan Figueroa: But luckily our listeners are very lovely and understanding.
Carrie Gillon: Because a bunch of things happened.
Megan Figueroa: Yes. COVID, of course, just COVID and that general COVID stuff and living in this world right now happened. And then we were ready to record an intro and then my beloved Rilo gets very sick. So, I’ve been dealing with that. And then I turn a year older, and then my aunt dies on the same day. I’m still dealing with getting Rilo healthy, and I got a puppy. It’s all very stressful. The puppy’s the good news in all of that. I shouldn’t really lump her into death and sickness.
Carrie Gillon: It’s true. But she’s still a puppy. That’s very stressful on its own.
Megan Figueroa: On its own. It would’ve been good stress any other time. Right now, sometimes it feels too overwhelming, but then you remember it’s a puppy and the puppy actually makes you feel better about their own pee and vomit. [Laughter]
Carrie Gillon: Oh, boy. Yes. Baby animals are so cute.
Megan Figueroa: They’re so cute. I drove by the zoo. No one’s there, obviously, but apparently there’s new baby meerkats at the Tucson Zoo. I’m like, ah! I wanna go see the baby meerkats. It’s just like –
Carrie Gillon: Me too!
Megan Figueroa: – COVID is ruining something else. But, yeah, all of this is happening to me. I missed just an amazing amount of stuff on linguist Twitter. Just being a linguist right now, I’ve missed a lot.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah.
Megan Figueroa: Tell me a little bit about being a linguist on the internet right now, Carrie.
Carrie Gillon: God. So, as you know because you signed it too, there was a letter going around asking for Steven Pinker to no longer be listed as a media expert on the LSA. He was one of only two that were listed for “General Linguistics.” And the man doesn’t even do linguistics anymore, as he freely admits, so even for that reason alone he should be taken off, but no.
The letter was mostly pointing out a bunch of tweets that, at best, could be characterized as clueless and at worst could be characterized as racist. It’s just kind of exploded. Of course, there’s another letter that people are calling the “Boomer Letter,” [laughter] which –
Megan Figueroa: The Harper’s Letter, right? That’s the Boomer Letter.
Carrie Gillon: No, no, no. The Harper’s Letter is actually not rel – it’s related in terms of themes, but it’s not related to what’s going on in the linguistics world. The Boomer Letter is David Pesetsky wrote this long Facebook post in consultation with Barbara Partee and someone else that I don’t know.
I think the intent was, “We support our junior colleagues” – [sighs]. There’s this sense that it’s mostly junior colleagues who signed the Steven Pinker letter saying he should not be a representative for the media and also, he should not be listed as a fellow, but those are two separate things and it doesn’t matter. At least one of these things should be done immediately, LSA [coughs], but whatever.
Megan Figueroa: Exactly.
Carrie Gillon: So the Pozesky letter – Pozesky, Partee, and I don’t know, whoever the other one is. I think the intent of the letter was, you should not be harassing our junior colleagues. We don’t agree with the letter but don’t harass them. I [sighs] – if they had just focused on the stop harassing them – regardless of whether you agree with the letter or not, you shouldn’t be harassing them – I could’ve very easily been like, “Yes, of course people should be signing this letter.”
Unfortunately, it spent so much time explaining why they didn’t sign it and why the letter was bad and wrong and all these things. It just kinda shoved people under the bus while they were supposedly supporting them. It didn’t look good. That’s why it’s been called the “Boomer Letter.”
Megan Figueroa: That’s amazing. I didn’t see this letter, nor did I see reference to it as a boomer letter, and that’s amazing. Is it so wrong, people, for younger voices to come up and say, “We are the future of this organization and this field. Steven Pinker doesn’t even talk about this stuff anymore. We want other people to be able to talk about this stuff”? It’s not unreasonable just that fact about it.
Carrie Gillon: And also, it’s not really a fair characterization. I would say that there’s a tendency for people to have signed the Steven Pinker letter, the original letter, to be younger, more junior, not tenured, all these things. That’s a tendency, that is true. But there are certainly tenured professors who also signed that letter, like David Adger. It’s not as clear cut as some people would like to make it out to be.
But I agree. Younger people should have more of a say than they have had up to this point. The LSA is doing a very bad job of responding to it because first they were kind of like, “Well, we support everyone has academic freedom and they can say what they want, basically, but we also don’t like racism.” It’s like, well, which is it? You have this statement about how there are racial disparities, and that those are bad, and we should work for racial justice. You can’t say that while at the same time saying, “It’s fine if Pinker speaks for us.”
Megan Figueroa: Right. Because even though, I mean, a lot of people were saying that the letter didn’t properly – or they were trying to dispute the fact that Pinker says racist or does racist things and all this stuff. There’s so many receipts on the internet about Pinker’s into race science. He peddles that shit. I’ve been saying it on Twitter for so long. We’ve even talked about him on the show about saying don’t listen to Steven Pinker because he’s problematic as fuck.
Carrie Gillon: He’s obsessed with IQ, which you have pointed out and, again, definitely said many, many things that I think are completely racist. But even the most charitable thing you can say is that he’s completely clueless about how the world actually works. That’s the best-case scenario. Is that who you want representing you?
Megan Figueroa: Exactly. We’re not even on that list, right? There’re people like you and I who do more stuff that might be, maybe media would want to reach out to us because we’re trying to be public-facing linguists who are putting linguistic work out there. We’re not on there, but Steven Pinker is.
Carrie Gillon: I mean, I don’t know what’s gonna happen, but right now, I do not want to represent the LSA. I don’t want anything to do with the LSA right now. If they come around, then we can have a conversation. But could you imagine if we were the faces of the LSA right now how embarrassing that would be?
Megan Figueroa: I’m so grateful that we’re not in any way affiliated with the LSA. I actually realized that I didn’t renew my membership because of money issues, so I was like, “Oh, that’s why I didn’t get the letter from the LSA because I’m not a member.”
Carrie Gillon: I haven’t been a member for a few years. Supposedly – I mean, I have no reason to doubt this – but supposedly John McWhorter told Michael Powell from the New York Times to contact me about the letter because I was one of the signatories. According to Michael Powell, he had reached out to a bunch of linguists and basically everyone had said no to him.
This was after we talked for a while. We’ve been talking for a while. So, it’s kind of the end of the conversation. He was like, “I just don’t get it. If you put your name up there, then why wouldn’t you wanna talk to me?” And I was like, well, because I think people are afraid of harassment. It’s one thing to be listed on a letter, but then if you’re actually in the New York Times, then how much more attention will you get? I don’t know why but he did not quote me at all.
Megan Figueroa: Really?
Carrie Gillon: Even though we talked for 20-30 minutes. Yeah. The article just came out today and nothing. Which is good because I was not looking forward to the harassment.
Megan Figueroa: Well, we’re kind of getting some right-wing trolls harassing the Vocal Fries on Apple, iTunes, right now.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. But that was before.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. This is different. But it’s like, I wonder what else it could possibly bring if we spoke out – and we are speaking out against Steven Pinker. We’ve also said that John McWhorter is problematic as fuck, too. And they’re BFFs right now in this fight, this linguistics fight.
Carrie Gillon: They’re very good – good friends, sorry. McWhorter is heavily quoted in this article, which is unsurprising, but I did think that at least one person who had a problem with it would be cited besides Adger – so David Adger, something he wrote on his website is quoted, not him directly because he didn’t talk to the reporter – and Byron Ahn just wrote a tweet and the guy quoted his tweet and that was it. He didn’t quote me who actually did talk to him. I’m like, very curious why. I was worried because I knew that if I was in this the Vocal Fries would get a lot of flak and I was like, “Oh, no! We’ve already had so many” – well, two – we’ve had two reviews from people who are clearly from the alt-right.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, no, John McWhorter and Steven Pinker have a ton of power and, if you feel sorry for them, don’t. Don’t. Absolutely don’t feel sorry for them. I completely understand why people are afraid of going up against Steven Pinker’s and John McWhorter’s –
Carrie Gillon: And also, the guy who wrote this article is apparently – well, basically what he did in this article is exactly who he is. He’s just protecting Pinker, supporting Pinker. The last quote is from McWhorter.
Megan Figueroa: Of course.
Carrie Gillon: “We’re in this moment that’s a collective mic drop and civility and common sense go out the window. It’s enough to cry ‘racism’ or ‘sexism’ and that’s that.”
Megan Figueroa: Oh, my god.
Carrie Gillon: It’s such a bullshit argument, McWhorter, and you should know that.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. This is why other linguists didn’t wanna talk to this person because that’s why kind of article they thought might happen, too. I guess your words weren’t able to be manipulated, Carrie.
Carrie Gillon: One of my Facebook friends, who’s a linguist, that’s what he said. He said something to the effect of, “Well, I guess you didn’t fit into the frame that he wanted for the article,” which is true because, obviously, I’m not siding with Pinker, but I guess my arguments against Pinker weren’t silly enough for him to cite me to make me look bad.
Megan Figueroa: To undermine people who are trying to say Pinker doesn’t represent us. He’s trying to undermine that message and he’s trying to find quote-unquote “silly” reasons that we’re saying Pinker should not represent us. You didn’t fall into that. What you said didn’t fall into that. I’m sure of it.
Carrie Gillon: I guess not because otherwise I’d be in there, I guarantee it, which makes me feel better about the whole situation that I didn’t fall into some trap, but it’s also very confusing. You complained that no one would talk to you, and then I did, and you didn’t use anything I said.
Megan Figueroa: Wow. So, yeah, this is the last two weeks of being a linguist. I am glad that we have this podcast because I think that we are good linguists that aren’t trying to be racist or sexist like, uh, Steven Pinker.
Carrie Gillon: Well, yeah, we’re not obsessed with IQ etc. Someone else actually pointed out that there’s a real divide between psychologists and linguists. Psychologists are really obsessed with individual differences, and linguists are more like, “Hey, everybody has language. Isn’t that cool?” Pinker really falls into the individual differences thing.
Anyway, it was just this really eye-opening movement for me. I was like, “Oh, that’s right! That’s what’s really different between psychologists and linguists.” Linguists don’t care about individual differences that much because, when it comes to language, it’s just not really there. The language that you learn is different, but every person who speaks X language has that language.
Megan Figueroa: This is exactly, to bring it back to something our listeners might very much remember, this is very much related to the 30-million-word gap. Psychologists are responsible for it and for perpetuating it. Linguists, and anthropologists, and linguistic anthropologists, and educators are trying to say, no, why are you so obsessed with this idea? I don’t know. It’s just this whole putting the blame on the individual kind of thing when why is there any blame to be placed. It’s a whole thing for sure.
Carrie Gillon: And they haven’t proven that there really is a gap in the first place.
Megan Figueroa: Right. It was shoddy science in the first place.
Carrie Gillon: It was very shoddy science. Even if it had been true, there probably are lots of things that were playing into that, but I don’t even think it was true. Why are we worried about this stuff? What we should be worried about, like, people getting the food that they need and access to the education that they need.
Megan Figueroa: But, no, we’re obsessed with how much you speak directly to your child in affirmatives. Like, come on!
Carrie Gillon: We’ve talked about this before, but that is so ridiculous, and it’s very European. Lots of cultures do not do that and it is fine. Anyway, there’s lots of variation. Variation is interesting and cool, but it’s not as important to us. We’re just like, hey, what can language do? What do we do with language?
Megan Figueroa: What can it look like? What does it look like? And how can we celebrate that? Because that’s really fucking cool.
Carrie Gillon: Exactly! That’s really fucking cool. That’s what I think of when I think of linguistics. That makes me feel a little bit better about being in this field because last week I had felt utterly despondent about our field because I was like, is this really what our field is? Our field is supporting Pinker, of all people. Why?
Megan Figueroa: I mean, there are some among us that are, and I’m glad they’re showing themselves. It’s very helpful.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. But it’s also very depressing.
Megan Figueroa: It’s depressing, yeah, but not entirely shocking.
Carrie Gillon: Some of them were. That’s the thing. I think that’s why I was depressed. Like, okay, McWhorter supporting Pinker – completely, completely expected. But then there were some other people who were like, “Well, I don’t think that he should be kicked off of the media list,” which is, to me, nothing. Like, why do you care that much? That is not a thing. He doesn’t do linguistics anymore! No one should care.
Megan Figueroa: He doesn’t care. He just wants to yell “cancel culture.”
Carrie Gillon: He only cares because, yeah, he can say, “Oh, I’m being canceled.” But he doesn’t care. That’s not a thing he cares about. So, I don’t even know why you’re trying to protect him with that. Those people who were not, like, obviously friends with him but who were like, “Ah, I don’t know. It’s fine,” who depressed me.
Megan Figueroa: Who, for some reason, may be afraid that they’re gonna get quote-unquote “canceled” or whatever. They don’t want it to happen to them.
Carrie Gillon: I think in some cases that’s what it is, but I don’t think it’s always the case because most people aren’t tweeting those kinds of things. Over 600 people have signed the original letter, so that’s nice that there’s a bunch of people.
Megan Figueroa: And good on the anonymous letter writers. I know it was a scary thing that you did. I hope you’re listening to this just so you know that I think that you’re really brave and amazing. It’s just so scary to go against people like Pinker because he does have these very alt-right fans. They can go after you. It’s scary.
Carrie Gillon: And they will. They have.
Megan Figueroa: Right. Exactly. It’s like, I don’t know, it’s not a good sign if you have alt-right fans. I mean, what is that – you know.
Carrie Gillon: Nope. He never tries to reign them in, either.
Megan Figueroa: No, of course not. I guess kinda bringing it back to the podcast, if listeners out there would do us a favor and go review us positively on iTunes to counteract some of the trollage that we’ve seen calling us “Marxist Karens” – whatever. [Laughter] That would be great if you have the time. We appreciate you.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. We got two reviews that were sort of troll-ish, which isn’t that terrible but, still, it’d be nice to see at least a couple of nice ones to counteract.
Megan Figueroa: It would. Exactly. I mean, they made me laugh, mostly, because there wasn’t anything –
Carrie Gillon: It wasn’t too ruthless.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. There wasn’t anything aggressively violent or anything. That would’ve been scary. It was more just ridiculousness.
Carrie Gillon: We talked about the Marxist Karen in our bonus episode for last month, so if you’re interested in that.
Megan Figueroa: Or if you’re like, “What the heck? What Marxist Karen?” you should definitely join our Patreon to go check it out.
Carrie Gillon: Yes. [Laughter]
Megan Figueroa: And we have a sticker on Redbubble that you can buy that is our image with “Marxist Karens.” There’s that too. There have been some things that have been happening while we’ve been away.
Carrie Gillon: The other one, the other review, also brings up Marxism, “A sad product of Marxist programming. Two self-hating white female SWJ” – should be “SJW” but anyway – “liberals explain why everything in language is racist, classist, etc. Wonder Bread for the mind.”
Megan Figueroa: Oh, right! “Wonder Bread for the mind.” I forgot that was amazing too. I should probably make some sort of sticker for that.
Carrie Gillon: It’s so good. Come on, people.
Megan Figueroa: Wonder Bread is delicious.
Carrie Gillon: Up your game.
Megan Figueroa: Wonder Bread – I would eat that any day, so go fuck yourself. [Laughter]
Carrie Gillon: Wonder Bread lasts forever, so you’re just saying that we last forever.
Megan Figueroa: Yes. Long-lasting impacts.
Carrie Gillon: Okay. Today, we have Dr. Marie-Eve Monette, who was a professor of Spanish until last year. She left that job because she wanted to start Creating Puentes. Welcome!
Marie-Eve Monette: Thank you.
Megan Figueroa: Hi! Thank you for being here.
Marie-Eve Monette: Thank you for inviting me.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah! It’s like, I saw that you were doing something really important and we thought we should have you on to talk about your work. What is Creating Puentes?
Marie-Eve Monette: At the moment, it’s a program that is focused on language access. Basically, what we do is offer a range of services that go from helping legal nonprofits design language access plans to implementing them and monitoring them. We really focus on translation – legal translation at the moment – but we hope that eventually we’ll be able to incorporate interpretation as well.
Megan Figueroa: So necessary and yet so many people don’t really understand the gaps that there are when it comes to those resources.
Marie-Eve Monette: My partner is an immigration attorney and he has been working with mostly undocumented immigrants since he started working in 2011. He’s been working with legal nonprofits since. I’ve seen second hand the different issues regarding language access there. He speaks Spanish, so he was able to work with clients that were Spanish speaking, but with clients that speak other languages and that are limited English proficiency speakers, it gets very complicated.
Carrie Gillon: Why did you decide to start Creating Puentes?
Marie-Eve Monette: Well, I’m Canadian. I’ve been living in the US since 2014, but I’ve always been really involved in the different communities that I’ve lived in. When I moved to Alabama, I moved just the year before the elections, and I tried to figure out where I fit, what kind of work I could do. Then, the immigration crisis on the border just got bigger and worse. It already existed prior to the elections in 2016 but, as we all know, it just got worse and worse after that.
I had the opportunity of serving as a remote volunteer translator for different legal nonprofits on the Mexico-US border. I started doing that. I worked with different organizations like RAICES, like AVID in the Chihuahuan desert in New Mexico, Al Otro Lado in California as well. I worked – and I still do volunteer work for those organizations until today. But I also started seeing gaps and difficulties that the different legal nonprofits were having in doing the translations of the documents necessary for fighting for their clients.
I just started feeling less and less fulfilled with the work I was doing at the university. There was not much space for me to be able to do this translation work. So, I decided to leave and dedicate myself fully to working on filling that gap and collaborating with other people already working in this field to do that.
Megan Figueroa: Can you tell us a little bit about what those gaps look like? What is missing right now? What gap are you trying to fill?
Marie-Eve Monette: So many. [Laughter] There are gaps from the nonprofit side. There’re gaps also for the volunteer side. If you look at the nonprofit – funding, right. Funding is just, you know – not just for legal nonprofits, nonprofits generally – getting funding is really difficult. When they do manage to get funding, it’s really difficult to argue the case that you need funding for language access.
Oftentimes, especially on the border, for instance, you have a lot of Spanish speakers that are on staff in these nonprofits. So arguing with grant providers that, well, we actually need to pay translators to do this, the grant providers will say, “Well, hold on, you already have staff that speaks Spanish, so why do you need to spend extra money with translators?”
Megan Figueroa: Oh, so they think that just by being a speaker of another language you automatically become some sort of translation or interpreting expert?
Marie-Eve Monette: Yes. The staff that work for these nonprofits, they’re obviously very familiar with the discourse that they use on a daily basis, but the time that they spend doing translations on these cases is time taken away from doing the actual legal work prepping the cases, working with the attorney, speaking with the clients. It takes resources away from doing the work that can help.
One of the ways that many legal nonprofits have found to address this, particularly since the 2016 elections, is to work with remote volunteer translators. What I saw, especially towards the beginning – these things are starting to be addressed now – but what I saw at the beginning is the need was so high that they would take on just anybody.
In my experience, it’s very easy to say, “Yes, I’m fluent in Spanish” or “Yes, I speak French,” but when you start speaking to the person, you think, “Whoa.” Okay? Your level’s not quite where you think it is. You could hold a conversation in the supermarket, for instance, but actually translating legal or medical documents, that’s another thing. If the translation isn’t done properly, it can have really dire consequences on the cases of these clients. So, I thought, well, there’s one problematic – they weren’t being vetted.
Retention is another big issue. Translating these materials is difficult. A lot of vicarious trauma that can result from that. I mean, you’re translating the stories, the lives, of these people and they didn’t migrate to the United States just because they felt like it. They’re really escaping terrible situations, terrible circumstances. So, the emotional labor that’s involved in doing the work is really heavy and there’s no support for volunteers in that sense – or at least when I started. Now, there are organizations like Al Otro Lado created a system where there is support for volunteers to help them manage any vicarious trauma that they may experience as a result of their volunteer work. But at the beginning, that wasn’t happening.
And people have their lives, right? One week, they can dedicate five hours to translating and then they disappear for three weeks. So, sustaining the translation can be really difficult. Those are the main gaps that I saw and that I wanted to support. I wanted to also support translators and interpreters because there are many that do the work that are certified and that are fighting to get paid to do that work that is so important. With these nonprofits working with volunteer translators, it kind of devalues the work that certified translators are doing and are fighting to get paid for.
Megan Figueroa: So not only is this work so important, but it’s legally mandated, right? In court and in medical settings, the government is supposed to provide translation and interpretation services. Is that correct?
Marie-Eve Monette: Yes. If you look at Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and the executive order that came out in 2000, the memorandum that was written in 2011, federally funded agencies are supposed to provide at least a minimum of language access to their clients. However, since 2016 – and it had begun being problematic way before then. Implementation has always been difficult. But since 2016, that’s being done less and less, and the crisis has just reached such a level that even if people are trying to address these issues, there’re so many fires to put out at the moment that you put out one and then five more crop up somewhere else.
I know that the ACLU is very involved in suing the government for different aspects of language access in immigration courts. The Immigration Law Lab in Oregon – Immigration Law Lab, sorry – in Oregon is part of that as well. Clients are losing rights every day, basically. They don’t have access to interpreters for their first court hearing. Now, it’s all done through video or video conferencing. So, the first court hearing, they receive a fact sheet that explains the process, but if they don’t understand the fact sheet, they can’t speak to anyone – to an attorney – to explain to them what happens afterwards.
On paper, there are laws that are supposed to be followed, but it’s really – they’re not being followed, and they’re being tossed pretty much all the time since 2016.
Carrie Gillon: Who does Creating Puentes serve?
Marie-Eve Monette: Legal nonprofits mostly. I did a pilot program with the Las Americas Immigrant Advocate Center in El Paso, Texas, last fall. We did a three-month pilot program where I served as a translator. I translated documents ranging from marriage certificates, birth certificates, to the credible fear interview. Then, towards the end of the pilot, we started onboarding volunteer translators. We created an onboarding protocol. We also included the vicarious trauma management as well in that.
After the three months, we tried to see if we could get funding so I could continue doing the work with them and maybe see if we could partner with local universities. Unfortunately, that didn’t work, but they did find the funding to hire a translator part-time to work with them from now on. Because the amount of translations that we managed to do just during that pilot, it showed them how much time their staff could dedicate to the actual legal work when they had someone dedicated to the translation.
I’m trying to continue doing that. I’m talking with the Navigate Law Group that’s based in Vancouver, Washington, at the moment to see how we can do something similar here and serve the Spanish speaking population in Washington and Oregon. Those are the main types of organizations that we have served so far.
Megan Figueroa: I hear that you helped translate credible fear interviews – I can only imagine how hard that is to do. Now, I’m understanding what you mean by the vicarious trauma because I really can’t imagine having to read through those. Thank you for doing that work. It needs to be done. Who interviews these folks in the first place? Is there a Spanish speaker that interviews them? How does that happen? The resources that you get, how are they compiled or obtained?
Marie-Eve Monette: It really depends. Legal nonprofits have had to be extremely creative and increasingly so in the past few years. Normally, you have an attorney that meets with the clients. If the attorney speaks Spanish, then they’ll get the interview that way. You can have an interpreter that will be with the attorney. Oftentimes, that interpreter, like I said, will be a staff member of that nonprofit.
I’ve also worked with other organizations like AVID in the Chihuahuan desert where they ask immigrants to write out the credible fear statement. Then, when they go visit them, they take screengrabs or just photographs of the written version and then they send those to the volunteer translator. It depends on what you have access to and how creative you can get, really.
Oftentimes, as well, what happens is you’ll get it in bits and pieces. I’ve done credible fear interviews where – or translated credible fear interviews – where I’ve received three pages the first week, then I will get nine a week later, and then just one. Then, we just try to compile them as best as we can at the time.
Carrie Gillon: Oh, wow. That sounds hard to do.
Megan Figueroa: Just the idea that this process isn’t streamlined in any way – how you said, oh, there’s so many gaps, I see it even here the fact that they have to be creative in getting those credible fear interviews when that’s a really important part of a refugee or asylum claim.
Marie-Eve Monette: Just reading through the credible fear interviews, you can see exactly the moments that provoke the most traumatic reactions because, generally, one of the ways that you can see that is they will be writing in the past tense, and then when they start talking about the traumatic experiences, they switch to the present tense. They’re reliving it as they write or as they speak. There’s no best way, I think, at the moment. It’s just doing the best that we can to get the materials that we can use to support their asylum-seeking claim or request as best as possible.
Carrie Gillon: Have you helped facilitate access to speakers of Mayan languages? I know that that’s a big need.
Marie-Eve Monette: I have not. I don’t have the connections with Mayan communities. That being said, there is a group that’s called the International Mayan League. I can’t remember where they’re based out of. But they have been mobilizing in a very powerful way. For instance, I think it was last year, they did a fundraiser where they managed to pay the flights, the hotel, the food for a number of Mayan-speaking interpreters to come from Guatemala to Arizona to work with asylum seekers there. That’s happening.
Many different communities around the country are mobilizing in that way. What I have managed to do, however, with the pilot program with Las Americas, for instance, is that they had quite a few asylum seekers from India. There’s a lot of Indian asylum seekers that are arriving through Mexico. I managed to find volunteers that were either native speakers of that specific dialect that we were looking for and we managed to translate the entire credible interview for that particular client.
Sometimes, because I speak French and Spanish, I can help with translations from those languages. If there’s a request for another language, then I can try to find connections with translators or interpreters that do or other people that can connect me to them.
Carrie Gillon: We’re all living through this pandemic now. Has the COVID-19 affected your organization?
Marie-Eve Monette: Definitely. I wasn’t quite ready to launch. We had done the pilot program in the fall with Las Americas, like I said. I’ve been working on my website, on my business plan, on applying for funding the past few months. Then, the pandemic hit, and an article came out in the Oregonian, I think it’s three weeks ago now, saying that the immigrant communities in Portland and in Oregon weren’t getting not only access to resources but just the basic information about how you can fight this – washing your hands, wearing masks, that sort of thing.
I thought, you know what? The website isn’t ready. The organization is not quite ready, but it doesn’t matter. The need is now, and this is why I left my job in May in the first place, so let’s just jump in and see what we can do. So, I designed a request system so organizations or groups – mutual aid groups – that need support translating materials – so fliers to share information about resources, translating their websites to other languages, that sort of thing – they can put in the request. Then, if I can do the translations myself, I’ll do them. Otherwise, I’ll try to connect them with people who can translate or interpret in other languages.
So far, we’ve done that for different mutual aid groups in Portland. We’re working closely with a mutual aid group that is focusing on supporting people with disabilities because they’ve been extremely marginalized during this time of pandemic. I think it’s a situation that was ongoing before, but it’s just made worse since the pandemic began. We’re working closely with them. Like I said, I’ve started talking with the Navigate Law Group to see about supporting a free, virtual clinic that they’re offering every Thursday – offering that in Spanish – to Spanish-speaking clients and then to see how we can move forward.
All the services we’re offering right now that are related to COVID-19 responses are free. We’re not charging for those. I think everyone’s really struggling right now to figure out how we’ll move forward, so eventually, when we all get back on our feet, we’ll do that. But right now, I’m not getting a salary. None of us are. We’re just trying to support each other as best as we can.
Megan Figueroa: I read an article in ProPublica about how – it was about access to language – or interpretation services or translation services – in the hospital and how one of the residents, or one of the doctors, said that X person probably would’ve lived if they spoke English. I’m seeing a lot of that. That was a problem before. Now, the rate with which COVID is going through our communities, it’s just like this problem has been infinitely made worse.
Marie-Eve Monette: It has, and it can be really discouraging. But at the same time, I’m also seeing encouraging things happen. One of them is a lot of people are finally realizing the importance of language access. I think when we met, Carrie, I gave the example since the elections we see a lot of those flags that have the rainbow colors and it says, “We welcome immigrants.” That’s a beautiful sentiment, and I think it’s very helpful to see that there are people that are open to other communities.
But that flag always bothered me a little bit because, yes, we welcome immigrants, but what are you doing to welcome them? Are you speaking their language? Are you making sure that through their language they have access to the information to feel welcome? They may not even be able to read those flags. I think a lot of people are finally becoming aware of the importance of language access and that language access isn’t just translating a website.
I was working with a group, and we were translating a website and also translating a request form for mutual aid, and then the person said, well, “Oh, I don’t know if we can continue this because now, when we receive forms in Spanish, we can’t read them.” Well, yes, it’s a process. You can’t just start with one thing. You actually need to set up a system to make sure that it’s sustainable throughout.
So, people are starting to realize what “language access” means and what it implies in the long run as well. I’m hopeful that that will mean that more people will be willing to perhaps put the funding towards supporting translators and interpreters. Maybe that’s me being a little bit overly optimistic.
Megan Figueroa: I mean, I also have to believe that not everyone’s an asshole and that –
Carrie Gillon: Well, they’re not.
Megan Figueroa: Right. It’s a matter of maybe not thinking beyond yourself because a lot us haven’t had to. We haven’t had language access issues ourself. Perhaps it’s just a matter of knowing that that’s a thing when you didn’t know before that will push this forward.
Marie-Eve Monette: I think you’re right. It’s not that everybody’s a bad person. I think the intentions are good. What I’m seeing, anyway, right now is a lot of people realizing that this is a thing. It’s something that needs to be addressed and, also, realizing what it takes to address it. It’s not just at the level of Portland. I’m part of some mutual aid slack channels, so people from around the country, and around the world as well, are meeting on those and talking about different things.
We’re sharing free documents once the system is set up with Creating Puentes. I’m actually sharing it for free with anybody who wants to replicate it in their cities. I think it’s important to do and, yeah, that really does encourage me that people, like you said, it may just be that they weren’t aware before but, now that they are, they really wanna do something about it.
Carrie Gillon: I do think that language and linguistics in general, it’s kind of ignored by many people, or has been, and just being aware of it and understanding like, hey, actually language is every where and does all these things – people are learning, and that’s a good thing.
Marie-Eve Monette: Definitely.
Megan Figueroa: It’s almost like since language is everywhere and a part of our lives at all times, we don’t actually think about it as deeply as perhaps we think about other things. I mean, not us. We’re linguists. But other people.
Carrie Gillon: It’s absolutely the case because everyone speaks or signs a language, at least one. They think they know everything about it, and we don’t.
Megan Figueroa: No. That’s what linguists are for.
Carrie Gillon: Even we don’t know. We know a lot, but we don’t know everything.
Megan Figueroa: Linguists have many failings. [Laughter]
Marie-Eve Monette: It’s also seeing what’s attached to language as well, right? It’s all the cultural components that come with them. I’ve worked with some mutual aid groups here that make suggestions on how to approach immigrant communities. Again, the intention is really good, but then you think, how do you think they’re going to receive that coming from you? I know that some immigrant communities right now are grateful that there is a lot of mutual aid, that there are resources available to everyone no matter what their status is, but that’s also mixed with feelings of “But where were you before this?” because this was also needed before, perhaps not to the extent that it is now.
It’s messy. It’s complicated. It’s not just a question of knowing how to speak that language, it’s knowing all the cultural components that come with it. Oftentimes, the cultural components, it’s not just like, I’m from Canada, but I’m from Quebec in Canada. I’m not just Canadian, I’m French Canadian, and that comes with this whole lot of baggage. It’s the same thing with all immigrants that live in this country. It’s not just a matter of being from Mexico or from Peru or from India, you come with everything else there.
I think the dialogue that is starting to happen right now hopefully will lead to an exchange beyond just an exchange of services but actually an exchange of cultures and knowledge and maybe build something better. I don’t know. Again, the eternal optimistic in me is kind of hopeful.
Carrie Gillon: I mean, we kind of have to. Either we build something better, or everything falls apart. We don’t really have a choice.
Marie-Eve Monette: And I don’t think we’re out of this anytime soon, so it’s, yeah, I think we need to start looking at other options now. The mutual aid groups, like I said, it’s messy, and it’s not easy, but there’s a lot of good that’s happening and a lot of communication.
Carrie Gillon: Messy is not always bad, too. I mean, sometimes the best things come out of miscommunications that get discussed. So, yeah, French Canadian. I’m Canadian, but I’m not French Canadian. I’m from British Columbia – one of the more Anglo areas. What is it like being a French speaker in the US versus being a French speaker in Canada?
Marie-Eve Monette: Well, going from being a majority, part of the majority speaking population, in Quebec to becoming a minority speaking person in the US is definitely something that’s been an adjustment. I do miss speaking French a lot and hearing it. I’ve been speaking English for decades now. I learned at an American school. But my brain definitely can relax only when I switch to French. I can feel it that I can just not relax fully until I do that.
It’s been an adjustment for that. I think, again, to go back to those cultural components for me, that’s what’s been the biggest challenge. Because I’m from Canada, a lot of Americans that I’ve met seem to think that we’re just kind of an extension of the United States. You just have to add “Eh” at the end of sentences and that’s the amount of the difference. [Laughter] That’s been a little bit frustrating, I have to say, because I didn’t grow up with the same kids TV shows, with the same music. I don’t really listen to American pop-cultural music. I don’t like it. That’s my personal taste. I’m fine with anybody who does, but that’s just not what I grew up with.
And getting comments like, “Oh, how come you don’t know that?” or “Where have you been all this time?” Well, not here. I’ve been in Quebec. It’s been a bit challenging in that way. But at the same time, it’s opened conversations that have been really enriching because when you do meet with people that have different perspectives, that have different backgrounds, and that have connected with those, then you start talking about the similarities and the differences. That can be really powerful, too. That’s been a lot of fun as well.
Megan Figueroa: It kind of sounds like being a French speaker in the US is at least perhaps partially inspired Creating Puentes?
Marie-Eve Monette: I mean, I don’t know about you coming – Canada’s so big. It’s like the US, right? You say you’re “Canadian,” but at the same time, there’re so many idiosyncrasies from each province.
Carrie Gillon: And that gets flattened here. Nobody knows the difference. They’ll ask me, “Oh, are you from Toronto?” “No, no, I’m from Vancouver.” And like, “Where’s that?” I’m like, “Kind of the opposite side?”
Marie-Eve Monette: I mean, I don’t know what it’s like in B.C., but I know that in Quebec I feel like, as a French Canadian, in my experience at least, you don’t really have a choice but grow up as a bridge between cultures. Whether you like it or not, there’re so few pockets of French-speaking communities throughout Canada. We’re surrounded by English speakers. So, you need to learn very early how to navigate those communications and those relationships.
In Quebec, you have the additional component of separation and nationalism that you have to learn to compose with, whether you are for it or against it. It’s just there. Then, in Quebec as well, you have – we’re colonizers and colonized at the same time, which adds another layer of complication or messiness that is not necessarily negative, like you said. Then, you have the other component which is that it’s a very multicultural society with all the messiness and the beautiful novelty that comes from it as well.
I think when you’re from Quebec that being a bridge – whether it’s a broken one, whether it’s one you need to keep working on – I think that’s part of who we are, at least that’s how I feel about my identity coming from Quebec, and I’m a person that really wants to create those bridges. I will plunge into that messiness. It hurts, and it’s hard, but at the same time, such beautiful relationships and things come out of it that I, yeah, I don’t hesitate. I just plunge in and see what happens.
Carrie Gillon: That’s so beautiful.
Megan Figueroa: I admire that so much. I dip my toes in and then step back. [Laughter]
Marie-Eve Monette: We all do different types of work and in different ways. Sometimes, dipping your toe, that’s enough to understand what you need to do with it. Some people, maybe, it could be argued that I just don’t get it quickly and I need to plunge to my neck to get in, whereas you just need to dip your toe and you got it, right? [Laughter]
Megan Figueroa: You sound like my therapist right now trying to make me feel better about being a little timid.
Marie-Eve Monette: I seriously think that. We have different ways of learning. Some people, it takes them longer sometimes where you need to do that.
Carrie Gillon: I’ve never really thought about Quebec that way, but it’s so true the way you describe it. It is this bridge between the French and the Anglo and, I mean, it’s more complicated than that, but. Whereas, where I come from, there’s a lot of anti-French sentiment and it’s awful. Canada’s messy.
Marie-Eve Monette: It is. I mean, in my own family there’s anti-Anglo sentiment. For example, I remember I went to – for the Saint-Jean-Baptiste that’s on the 24th of July, that’s Quebec’s “National Day” if you wanna call it that – we always have – is it a “parade,” that you say? – for that day. I went a few years ago. For the first time I saw a group – there were different political groups that were part of the parade, and I saw one of the groups was “Anglos for Separation of Quebec from Canada.”
Wow! Okay. So, being Anglophone in Canada is not the same thing in Quebec as it is in B.C. or in Manitoba. So, yeah, it is definitely messy. There are negative sentiments coming from both sides of it. I don’t know in B.C. as well, but in Quebec, since the different anniversaries of Quebec and Montreal, there’s been a lot more dialogue about indigenous communities as well and about the history of the relationships between the different communities. I think there are a lot of things that are very common to the whole of Canada. They just look different in different places.
Carrie Gillon: Yes. Absolutely. In B.C., the fact that there’s hardly any treaties means that that’s the main conversation. Indigenous communities are very much part of the conversation.
Marie-Eve Monette: In Quebec, with the Oka crisis that happened in the early 90s, that was a big part of growing up. But then a lot of people kind of forgot what happened since then and just went back to their things, right? It’s just part of it. It’s always there, not necessarily because you’re not aware of it.
Megan Figueroa: As an American, I don’t have the same context as ya’ll do. I can’t imagine this anti-French sentiment because I am from the US southwest and I’m used to anti-Spanish sentiment where French is, like, fancy or, oh, you know, French! Okay.
Carrie Gillon: Not in Canada. It used to be considered working class. It’s not quite the same now, but definitely that’s what it used to be felt as.
Marie-Eve Monette: I had conversations with my dad recently talking about growing up. My mom, on her side, her family was definitely working class. My father as well although was a bit higher middle-class than my mom was. He lived in a very Anglophone neighborhood in the suburbs of Montreal. He told me stories about being beaten up by the kids in the neighborhood because he spoke French and because his dad was a bus driver. That is part of our history. It’s important to acknowledge that, to acknowledge the ugliness, but it’s also important to acknowledge that we’re not there anymore, that a lot of good has come since then, that there’s still a lot of work to be done.
But I don’t wanna stay stuck in those negative feelings. It’s easy to get back to it when you read those negative comments towards French Canadians on social media. You just really wanna plunge in and take the gloves off and – [laughter]. But, yeah, you just have to talk to yourself and hold back and think, “Okay. Is it really worth getting into this now?” choosing your moments and trying to figure out where you can actually build on all those things that happened in the past and how we can move forward better.
Carrie Gillon: I agree. It’s a perfect place to end. But if you have final thoughts for our listeners?
Marie-Eve Monette: I mean, I think that’s it. Thank you so much for inviting me to have this conversation this morning. I think it’s so easy to feel discouraged these days with everything that’s going on. It’s hard to bring it around to a more positive outlook, but I think the way you said it was the best way, right, messiness is not a bad thing because it helps us work through things and, hopefully, get out the other side better. Thank you for sharing that image because that’s actually going to help me with continuing my work here in Portland.
Carrie Gillon: Good!
Megan Figueroa: Where can we find you on the internet?
Marie-Eve Monette: So, Creating Puentes is http://www.creatingpuentes.com, which means “Creating Bridges.” I mixed both English and Spanish. That’s the only place, really, I’m at at the moment. Still working on social media because we weren’t ready to launch, but soon I’m hoping to be on Facebook and Twitter as well.
Megan Figueroa: We’ll definitely share that update, the information, once we get it from you. Thank you so much for doing the work that you do. It’s so important and I’m so glad that there’re people like you who can do this kind of – I feel like you’re doing emotional labor for a lot of us for a better world.
Carrie Gillon: You are.
Megan Figueroa: So, thank you.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, thank you. We always leave our listeners with one final thought, don’t be an asshole!
Megan Figueroa: Don’t be an asshole! [Laughter]
Marie-Eve Monette: I love it.
Megan Figueroa: Jinx. [Laughter]
Carrie Gillon: We’d like to thank our newest patrons. We have Phillipp Angermeyer.
Megan Figueroa: Yay!
Carrie Gillon: Jennifer Medina.
Megan Figueroa: Yay! I recognize that name from Twitter.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. Casey.
Megan Figueroa: Thank you.
Carrie Gillon: Michelle Smith.
Megan Figueroa: I would say I recognize that name, but I feel like I know a couple Michelle Smiths for some reason.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. Unfortunately, that’s a very common name. It might be the case.
Megan Figueroa: Well, I appreciate you anyway.
Carrie Gillon: We’d also like to thank Daniel Greeson for increasing your Patreon.
Megan Figueroa: That’s really amazing.
Carrie Gillon: That’s really great. Thank you so much, everybody. Again, any time you wanna let us know what you’d like us to talk about, please do let us know.
Megan Figueroa: And we really appreciate you, especially during this COVID – it just feels extra special when the world is falling apart like this for people to be supportive. Thank you.
Carrie Gillon: Yes. Thank you so much.