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 Portada del sitio > Localised > México

[ es es ]

San Miguel Allende - A Report

Conference on Women and Globalization, July 25-August 5
(Fecha: 29 de septiembre de 2005)

It was a very small event - only 7 interpreters selected - but Babels participation went smoothly, with almost no glitches, and a new local group is born: Babels-Mexico.

The conference Women and Globalization, organized by the Center for Global Justice, took place in San Miguel de Allende (SMA from now on), Mexico, between July 27 and August 3, 2005

Background: Babels was contacted by Jackie Mosio, who’s a babelita and also linked to the organizers, and asked to take care of the interpretation needs, which the previous year were provided by a few bilingual participants of the conference on a voluntary basis. The organizers estimated initially that they would need between 4 and 6 Babels volunteers to help their own volunteers in the task, and said they would provide additional local volunteers as needed. The needs were later raised to 8 interpreters. We were never told how many and how reliable local volunteers were; a few days before the Conference, we were sent a list of names with e-mails and were asked to contact them—i.e., we had to coordinate those people too, starting from scratch. In the end, Babels was to take on the greatest portion of the work, as only three local volunteers responded to our messages. They were very helpful in teaming up with a Babels interpreter to cover some sessions.

Mailing list and other technical tools: Once Babels coordinators list approved the project, an email list was created for it. This did not work too well. Some of us were not able to subscribe to the new list (probably because of our own technical deficiencies), and we ended up doing most of the communication through collective emails sent back and forth, with an occasional telephone call. A wiki page was also used to draft the call to interpreters, but we all preferred to do it by sending a Word document through email and working on it. We recognize how useful the wiki and the mailing list are for larger events, but for this one, with just 4 coordinators, and very little disagreement between us, it was easier to do things directly, without the mediation of Babels’ tools.

Call to interpreters and selection: Coordinators were Jackie in Minnesota, Atenea Acevedo in Mexico City, Leda Beck in San Francisco, and Minerva Grajeda in Guadalajara. Together we drafted a message to be sent through Babels database, asking for EN<>ES and PT<>EN interpreters based in or around Mexico. The message was sent to about 2,162 babelit@s registered at the database (and willing to get info about extra events), and 115 answered the call by checking the box “Mexico-Globalization” in the Babels registration page.

Even though our message had been very clear about location and languages, most volunteers did not correspond to what we had asked. About 40 of them were based in Brazil, and other 40 were from Europe! Many did not even have the language pairs we asked for. We had about three US candidates – a professional ES<>EN interpreter in San Diego who was immediately selected but ended up not coming for personal reasons; one in Las Vegas, and one in Washington, DC, who were not professionals and/or did not have the languages needed. Two or three Canadians also applied with the same problems. From within Mexico, only about 10 people volunteered, and most of them were not professional nor experienced interpreters. We had decided that, considering the very small size of the event, we would prioritize professionals, and experienced interpreters. Upon close examination of each of the 12 Mexican candidates, we came up with only 4 or 5 that could be selected, at a moment where the organizers were actually raising their demands from 6 to 8 interpreters. We were already on July 13, only two weeks before the conference.

That’s when Atenea Acevedo, in Mexico City, and Minerva Grajeda, in Guadalajara, started spreading the word in the Mexican interpreters networks – mailing lists, websites, schools of interpretation. Being a professional herself, Atenea also contacted her colleagues in Mexico City. The good work of both had two consequences: first, by tapping into the pool of Atenea’s colleagues we were able to complete a team of 7 professional interpreters and translators, all based in Mexico City; secondly, through Minerva’s contacts, and also through the interpreters not selected, we could also help the organizers translate into EN or ES some of the papers that would be presented at the conference. Translations were posted on the Center for Global Justice’s website, with the recommendation that all participants read them before coming to the conference, so the time there could be productive in terms of debate. San Miguel AllendeThe dark side of our initiative regarding translations is that we were not coordinating the translations (they were coordinated directly by the organizers, and for the most part they were done by volunteers associated with the organizers), so they were not proof-read, and some of them ended up being very poor. Initially, the demand for translation was directed to TransTrad, at first by Leda, then by Jackie, and finally by the organizers themselves, to no avail. We never ever got a reply to our messages. It would be very helpful if TransTrad could help with translations in projects Babels is involved with. We don’t think it is a good practice to do the translation ourselves, unless we can coordinate the translations and have them proof-read – precisely TransTrad’s job… And coordinators involved with a project barely have time to deal with their job, let alone TransTrad’s job.

One of the great results of the intense networking to find interpreters in Mexico is that the group that ended up going to SMA, plus those who got contacted and were interested but couldn’t come, now constitutes the core of a Babels-MX that could grow exponentially due to the needs of local social movements, and the obvious interest of the interpreters. It is very fortunate for Babels to have a local group that can be critical in attending to the needs of World Social Forums, Social Forums of the Americas, Caribbean Social Forums, and other important events in the region.

In conclusion: with the exception of a few stressful moments, when we thought we wouldn’t find all the interpreters in Mexico, and in spite of the non-response from TransTrad when we needed them, the whole process of selection went smoothly and worked well.

Planning and Quality: all interpreters worked with EN>SP and SP>EN. There was a big need for a PT>SP or PT>EN interpreter, but we were unable to find someone near enough to cover their transportation costs. One of the interpreters met with the Portuguese lecturers for a couple of hours and was able to draft an English translation of their speech in order to read it out during the presentation. In the end, it went well, but could have been much better with a PT interpreter. Having at least one native speaker of English in the team would have also been helpful.

All seven volunteers are professional interpreters and performed really well. The activities of the Conference started at 9:00 a.m. and went on until 8:00 p.m., with concurrent sessions and virtually no breaks in between lectures. This meant for every interpreter to work two to three times every day on 2-hour sessions, i.e., each volunteer worked an average of six hours per day, always with a break in between. We believe that having two additional interpreters would have been more productive and would have allowed everyone to enjoy the experience (and the beautiful town!) much more, including having the chance to speak with those lecturers we found most interesting as activists. We had to do consecutive interpreting all the time (something we were not told until a few days before the event), and not everyone was equally skilled for this type of work. However, we teamed up remarkably well, especially considering that we had just met, and figured out rather rapidly who was best at doing what (delivering the speech, long/short memory span, Q&A sessions, one-on-one meetings, business meetings, taking notes for fellow interpreters). Overall, the interpreters showed a high level of commitment both as Babels volunteers and with the subject of the meeting.

General environment: there were no major issues between interpreters. There was a great display of camaraderie, even at the end of very long working days. Short debriefing meetings were held every night to share our views, have a snack, and relax. The organizers were kind at all times and showed great appreciation of our work. However, during last year’s Conference the volunteer interpreters were basically two people who belong to the organizing group, so the interpreting of the sessions was rather informal and quite a "collective" task. There was an early incident in which some participants would feel the urge to interrupt the interpreters to clarify or point out errors. We had a friendly meeting with the organizers to explain what interpreting is about and why this collective mode was very disruptive and not necessarily productive. Their response was very positive and our performance went on unaffected.


1) Transportation: six interpreters traveled to SMA by bus and one of them decided to drive (3-hour ride from Mexico City). All transportation expenses were reimbursed upon arrival to the venue of the Conference.

2) Lodging: all of us were accommodated in the home of a very kind and generous retired American couple living in SMA. The house was big and there was room for everyone, and it was at walking distance from the Conference. It should be noted that everything downtown SMA is within walking distance.

3) Meals: we were invited to have lunch and dinner at the small restaurant at the venue of the Conference. Interpreters badges had a small red star that identified them in the small restaurant in the Conference building; we did not pay for the meals. In the lodging, our hosts provided a small kitchen and some basics for light breakfasts (fruit, tea, cereal).

4) Snacks, water, pen and paper: there was no area for the interpreters to rest, no pens or paper, and no snacks. Our local contact with the organizers insisted on our need to have a rest and meeting area, but there was nothing feasible given the characteristics of the conference site (see below). We were given free bottles of water after the second day of the Conference.

Characteristics of the Conference that affected our performance/What could be changed to make everyone happier (interpreters and audience): the Conference was held in what is essentially a union hall converted into an alternative cultural center. The sessions took place in a closed room and in an open area (concurrent sessions); the former was extremely hot with no air circulation, and the latter lacked microphones. There were virtually no breaks between sessions. Consecutive interpretation is definitely not ideal for this type of meeting; the organizers are looking at options to afford booths and equipment for simultaneous interpreting next year.

- We had access to many of the papers that would be presented; however, some presenters did not submit their papers on time (a few did not submit them at all) and we were not as fluent in the use of terminology as we could/wish have been. Not all the papers were translated, and some of those that were available in both working languages reflected very poor translations.
- Some lectures were highly technical/theoretical. Vocabulary covered an enormous range of subjects (feminism, Socialism, capitalism, graphic arts, subjectivity, the Other, gender, Marxism… with theoretical and practical issues, from an academic approach to plain activism). The organizers, founders of a global justice center for research and learning, had very precise ideas about the terminology they preferred, so we suggested they develop for the future a glossary of frequently used terms. Such a glossary could be incorporated to Babels Lexicons.
- Some interpreters went beyond their commitment to interpret and helped speakers translate their presentations, draft notes, etc. This practice can be misleading for both, new interpreters and organizers of events, who might not be clear about what our role as volunteer interpreters involves and when we may be making an individual decision to do extra efforts.

Related article:
Conferencia sobre Mujeres y Globalización

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