Lost in Translation

Published 2:29 pm Friday, September 22, 2023

By Susan Mah

I recently went to a court hearing for a traffic violation and was surprised to see that hispanic immigrants did not have a court-appointed translator. Instead, they had to bring a friend or family with them in order to have a voice before the judge or they simply winged it and had no one at all.

I also noticed that even natives of this country, due to their paucity of education, lacked an understanding of the court process and its consequences. I witnessed various individuals waive their right to explain their situation in a subsequent trial and agree to penalties they didn’t seem to understand.

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I found this experience disturbing.

We live in a country that espouses equal rights yet we don’t provide equal access or equal opportunities. Immigrants aren’t afforded assistance to understand fully what is going on in a legal proceeding. Native-born citizens, depending on what part of the country they live in as well as their socioeconomic class, are not given adequate education on any secondary school subject, much less civics.

When I grew up in Memphis I had the “privilege” of attending a private school until 11th grade, then graduated from a public school. Yet neither offered a class in civics, and I left for college with little to no understanding of how government is supposed to function. Over the years, I have discussed this fact with many friends, and we collectively agree we learned more about government from “Schoolhouse Rock” in the ’70s than we did at actual school.

Given these harsh realities, it’s no surprise that many Americans either think that their government doesn’t care about them or is actually against them. It’s also no surprise only 66 percent of Americans turned out for the 2020 presidential election and only 20 percent voted in the 2022 primary elections.

So many social problems we face in American society are rooted in a lack of education: lack of a voice (self-advocacy), political engagement, poverty, crime, poor health, shorter life span, unemployment, exploitation, gender inequality, economic growth, lack of critical thinking skills, difficulties with child rearing and job loss due to automation.

What will it take for us to change our priorities?

Sources: Bipartisan Policy Center, Pew Research Center, UN Refugee Agency, Fiscal Monitor Report, Borgen Project, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, UNICEF, United National Girls’ Education Initiative, American Psychological Association, The Hill.