There Is More Than One Way to Skin a Cat; a Personal Story


images-2What do a Brazilian Butt-Lift and a Kindle book have in common?

They are two examples of our society’s penchant for instant gratification. Language proficiency  and by extension interpreting, nonetheless, are not abilities you acquire overnight. They improve exponentially as you practice, and reflect consciously or not, the experiences of a lifetime.

I came to the U.S., as a Cuban exile with my family, at the age of nine, speaking almost no English.  We arrived to a completely new environment, and to what my four brothers and I naively classified as Davy Crockett country from our limited exposure to American folklore. Life in a wooded enclave where we largely fended for ourselves after school and learned to adapt to the Spartan life of New England.  While my brothers were out trapping and hunting for fun, I devoted myself to self development through reading, favoring fairy tales as a form of escapism from the inevitable household chores there was no one else to do. One of my fondest memories as a kid, is of creating a tepee in bed with my covers, after “lights out”, when I would read, flashlight in hand, so as not to wake my siblings. Above all else, I wanted to speak English well to fit in, get good grades and make my parents proud of me.  Imagine my discouragement when learned that the “F” grades I was so proud of did not stand for “Fine.”

After initially cutting my ties to Spanish, as many first generation exiles do, I went back to my native language by reading an eclectic mix of periodicals. They included magazines my parents’s Cuban friends would give us when they were finished reading them, some of which contained what were for me,  riveting excepts of unbridled sexual passion.  These came via the  stories of Corín Tellado,  a prolific writer of romantic novels that were very popular in Spanish-speaking countries and were definitely not permissible reading for an eleven year old at my house. Fortunately, my parents had no time to read magazines so they were unaware of this content. I remember that “tepee-time” required a dictionary to figure out what she was even writing about. That input was thankfully balanced by  my mother’s classical texts from the M.A. in Spanish Literature that she went on to get in this country, which she would eagerly share with me. Another favorite, secret childhood activity that fed my avid love for reading in English, was one that I could not share with my parents either because  they would have never allowed it.    There was  a semi-abandoned paper mill a few blocks from my house. It consisted of a warehouse dotted with mysterious, boiling, gurgling vats filled with chemicals, where printed materials were dumped and melted for recycling. Looking back, the place was an accident waiting to happen, without any type of security, but that was the least of my worries.  The allure it had for me was is that it was a clandestine, eerie, half lit treasure trove of all kinds of books with adult content I would never have access to  otherwise, and comic books, which became a great source of information on American pop culture for me. I would sneak in after school when the workers had left and have a field day going through the musty piles of publications messily stacked in the aisles, beckoning half-heartedly to see if I would spring them from death row.

Ka-ching in more ways than one

While in college, studying plastic arts, I had a revelation. The puritanical work ethic I had eased into in New England had a silver lining, work could be fun!  My husband-to-be was writing the dissertation for his PhD. In French Lit, and to supplement his income as an Assistant Professor, he used to do conference interpreting. To me as a twenty-year-old, that simply meant he was paid to talk and seemed infinitely easier to accomplish than my career path at the time.

Fast forward thirty years. Unfortunately it was not as simple as I thought then. However, if you are able to consciously align your values, activities that you enjoy and output that is of worth to a paying segment of society, you will usually end up in the right place. I am fortunate that over the years I was able to harness my desire to work “speaking” in another language (which had never occurred to me), my interest in studying and the discipline to work hard. The universe opened the right doors for me. I audited what conferences I could, signed up for whatever workshops were available and trained hard with generous professionals who shared their time with me.  As many before and after me, I  did not have the option to go away to school, nor where there many programs offered back then, but I made it a point to secure the mentors and the practice needed to pursue my dream of becoming a professional interpreter.

If interpreting/translating is a field that interests you, rest assured that “where there is a will, there is a way” and opportunities have expanded nowadays that will make this career choice not be as daunting as it may have been in the past because of a lack of standardized resources. Today, we even have our own section in the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook.

About mariacristinadelavegamusings

Certified SpanishEnglish interpreter by the Administrative Offices of the U.S. Courts, the State of Florida and the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT), where I have served on the board of directors, am chair of the Public Relations Committee, and have a column entitled "Getting Down to Business" in Proteus, the association newsletter. I am a member of the American Translators Association (ATA) and have a monthly column named "Interpreters Forum". In addition to the prior two associations, I also belong to AIIC (International Association of Conference Interpreters). I own ProTranslating, Inc., an LSP in Florida. I hold an MBA, which keeps one foot firmly grounded in everyday waking consciousness while the other aggressively seeks unity consciousness...

Posted on April 30, 2013, in Interpreting, Languages and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. A well dressed lesson on persistence and dedication. Very entertaining. María Cristina. Thank you.

  2. GEORGANNE WELLER

    Wonderful reflections Maria Cristina, thanks a million. Hope to see you at NAJIT!

  3. Great post! I like the personal account and confessional tone. It adds a note of humanity to what we do. I also congratulate you for the encouragement you offer towards the end, which is as needed as it is rare in our field, as you know just too well.
    You write beautifully. More importantly: you write truthfully.

    • Ewandro, I have signed up for a writing course on coursera.com which has only been going on for a week. I am loving it and learning a lot, trying to incorporate those learnings into my blogging. I had told you after I read your firs post on the NAJIT blog that I loved the freshness and sense of adventure and immediacy that drew the reader into the narrative and I also told you I felt my own writing was getting stale.
      It was actually your example that put me on the lookout for ways to improve so I am indebted to you. Thank you!

  4. Wonderful blog, Maria Christina. I bookmarked it so I can come back again and again. I find myself entranced by the simplicity and detail in your writing. I’m also in your Coursera class. Thank you for posting your website!

    • Thank you very much Ann. If you read my prior posts in the blog, you will notice a big difference when compared to the last two, when I started to change, and in comparison to my assignments on the course. I am really enjoying the class and it has lifted me from the rut I had fallen into with my writing because of a lack of guidance.

      I will definitely look you up on the wexmooc! I have posted my second assignment and am in the process of doing the peer reviews. There are so many good writers taking this course. Cheers.

  5. This is an enchanting story of your childhood.
    I wish you’d develop it into a short-story
    and publish it.
    The Sun Magazine is a good source for
    this.

    • Thank you for the tip Sally. I’ll look into it. I really enjoyed writing it and it’s one of those early memories that I never envisioned writing about but it was so much a part of me that it flowed very easily when I tried to put it into words. I appreciate your comment!

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