By Lorena Ortiz Schneider
The Interpreters Division Distinguished Speaker for ATA60 is Odilia Romero, a court and medical interpreter, and native speaker of Zapotec. She came to California in 1981, at age 11, from Zoogocho, an indigenous community in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Ms. Romero has developed innovative programs to meet the challenging needs that Indigenous Latin American immigrants face in California. She is the General Binational Coordinator of the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations (FIOB), the first woman elected to this position. Her work focuses on educational programs, health fairs and leadership institutes for indigenous families. The FIOB has been holding interpreter trainings since 1993 in languages such as Mixteco, Triqui and Zapotec. In 2017, the FIOB and Ms. Romero partnered with Esther Navarro-Hall and Holly Mickelson to provide Bene Shde Dixha Dao, a 72-hour training to prepare interpreters for court proceedings. Ms. Romero also developed a program to educate the Los Angeles Police Department officers on how to better serve the indigenous-migrant communities.
She is the cofounder of Comunidades Indígenas en Liderazgo (CIELO), which works on empowering and developing leadership among indigenous women, and she started Dixha Dxhon Dixha Ban, the Northern Highlands Zapotec language revitalization movement, which hosts an indigenous literature conference.
She is a lecturer at John Hopkins, USC and UCLA. She has published on the challenges of organizing in indigenous communities, developing women’s leadership, and preparing a new generation of youth, and has been interviewed by national media outlets such as AP and NPR.
We are honored to have her speak, in this, the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages, which aims to raise awareness of the consequences of the endangerment of indigenous languages across the world, seeking to establish a link between language, development, peace and reconciliation.
Her presentation is titled:
Indigenous migration to the Unites States: Historical perspective, Contemporary Problems and the Struggle for Recognition of Indigenous People’s Rights
She comes to ATA with the hope of educating interpreters on critical areas of indigenous culture and migrant experience in California, increasing social awareness, service delivery, and accessibility for this population. Even if you are not in California, you will find many of the lessons learned useful. Ms. Romero will provide some background about the indigenous populations in the United States, and discuss the challenges they face, specifically in the area of their linguistic and cultural differences. Practical strategies to make institutions and staff more culturally competent and sensitive in their interactions with indigenous community members will also be addressed.
A little background for those of you new to California immigration: In recent decades, the United States has witnessed an unprecedented wave of immigration of indigenous people from Southern Mexico, primarily from the State of Oaxaca. The Mexican government estimates that there are over 120,000 indigenous Oaxacans currently living in the United States. Furthermore, census reports reveal that indigenous people from Mexico make up the largest Native American population in the State of California today. As U.S. immigrants, Oaxacan indigenous people face not only the cultural dislocation of being immigrants, but the additional factor of being economically and socially marginalized. Ms. Romero’s presentation will provide information for interpreters to better work in partnership with these communities.
You will learn about the migration patterns indigenous peoples from Mexico and Guatemala, as well as the incredible number of languages they speak. Understanding how their cultural beliefs and self-governance structures affect their interaction with points of contact in the US, including interpreters, can lead to greater acceptance by American counterparts. These migrants are culturally and socioeconomically diverse and differ from other Mexican and Guatemalan migrant populations. They are also contributing in significant ways to the cultural, intellectual, and financial landscape of Southern California.
We are looking forward to a rich, inspiring presentation in this International Year of Indigenous Languages. Join us!
Picture kindly provided by Odilia Romero