Meet Mariana, Professional Mam Interpreter
Welcome to our Linguist Limelight series!
Each month, we feature one of our amazing interpreters, highlighting their unique skills and talents and sharing some of their personal stories and insights. With interpreters in over 150 countries, our Linguist Limelight series is dedicated to showcasing the variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds, as well as the beautiful kaleidoscope of human experiences, that make up Jeenie’s uniquely amazing interpreter community.
Through this series, we hope to help users of interpreting services see the wonderful humans behind the headset, and to inspire other talented bilinguals to consider a rewarding career in interpretation!
Hear It From Mariana
Mariana is a professional Mam interpreter with 6 years of experience in the industry! Mariana’s journey as a professional interpreter began in 2017 through work she was doing with a San Antonio, Texas-based organization that works with migrants and refugees from Central and South America.
Mam is a indigenous Mayan language spoken predominantly in Guatemala. In recent years, demand for Mam interpreters, as well as other indigenous language interpreters, has skyrocketed across the US in response to the need to support newly-arrived migrants from Central America. Jeenie is proud to offer the most extensive list of on-demand indigenous languages in the industry.
Mariana took the time to share some of her personal insights gained from her years of interpreting experience, along with advice for aspiring interpreters. Take a look!
What started you on the path to becoming a Mam interpreter?
I started doing a volunteering service in 2017 with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) based in San Antonio, Texas. At that time, they were looking for a Mam interpreter to assist a 13 year old girl in talking with a legal assistant. The girl was pregnant, but she didn’t understand Spanish at all; she only spoke Mam.
What do you find the most rewarding part of being an interpreter?
Helping others and receiving a “Thank You” are the most rewarding parts. Helping one person doesn’t mean changing the whole world, but I might change one person’s whole world.
Can you share a story where you felt you really made a difference when interpreting?
During 2017 and 2018, there was a strong separation between parents and children at the border with Mexico and the United States.
In 2018, I interpreted for a social worker, who was working in detention centers, filling out forms to help two parents who had been separated from their children. The father mentioned to the social worker on many occasions that he couldn’t fill out the forms to find his son, because he couldn’t communicate with the workers in his native language, until this social worker helped him find a Maya Mam interpreter.
I helped the father fill out the form and interpreted through the whole process to find his son. After two weeks, the social worker arrived with good news and gave the father a phone call with his son. I was quite moved by how they cried on the phone and how he told his son that he was going to see and hug him soon and that he was not going to return home without him.
One week later, they were reunited in Phoenix, Arizona. It was both very sad and very happy to see them hug each other and see how they were crying at the reunification.
The father was very grateful to the social worker and to me as the interpreter, and there’s something I have never forgotten. He told me: “God bless you, because without you I don’t think I would have found my son.”
I wanted to cry at that very moment, but I managed to wait until after the call was finished.
What advice do you have for someone interested in becoming an interpreter?
Being an interpreter means providing a significant resource to another person with a less favorable, sometimes even life or death, situation. The most important thing is that you, as the interpreter, find yourself feeling fulfillment and happiness from helping people. It’s a feeling that you can’t find easily with other jobs.
How do you like to spend your time when not interpreting?
In ways that honor my Mayan language Mam and make me feel proud to be trilingual. I live in a country where English is not the main language and where being indigenous and speaking a Mayan language is a sign of inferiority, but I feel that each person has something valuable to share with the world.
What’s one life lesson you’ve learned from your experience as a Mam interpreter?
One overall lesson is that you should have the desire to help people, in addition to knowledge of the language.
What qualities do you think make someone a great interpreter?
You should be very consistent, persevering, and have a lot of discipline, since these are the fundamental keys to feel comfortable when interpreting. Know how to control your own nerves, since interpreting is not an easy task. Finally, never stop studying and learning, because we need to know what is happening in the world, since we never know what we may have to interpret.
What’s a quote that speaks to you?
Be the change you want to see in the world.
Tell us a surprising fact about you!
I became an interpreter doing a volunteer job and, because of the lack of job opportunities in my country, I decided to keep working as a remote interpreter, but I’m very passionate about the environment. I’m an environmental engineer, and even though I don’t have a job in that field, I volunteer in environmental organizations in my community.
How many languages do you speak? How did you learn them?
- Maya Mam: I was born and raised in a family where the language Maya mam is spoken.
- Spanish: I started learning Spanish at the age of 6 years old when I started school.
- English: I learned some basic English while studying high school in Guatemala, but it was always my desire to speak English fluently. In 200,7 I got a scholarship to study as a Natural Resources Technician at Mount Hood Community College in Gresham, Oregon from the Cooperative Association of States for Scholarships (CASS), which was an educational program affiliate of Georgetown University, funded by the Agency for International Development. Thanks to this opportunity, I learned English fluently.
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