Lost in translation : transnational indigenous migrants re-defining social services in Los Angeles, California

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Date

2014-08

Authors

Huitzil, Cintia Marisol

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Abstract

Recently, the ‘changing patterns of migration’ have become a growing focus in academia specifically in regards to indigenous migration to the U.S. from nontraditional migrant sending regions south of the border. Such work has focused on migrant farm workers, transnational identities and/or transnational community networks. This case study on language barriers, ingenuity and resilience as a result of miscommunication between monolingual or limited spanish, or english speaking indigenous transnational migrants and service providers in Los Angeles County compliments previous research in its analysis of public service interactions and their resulting symbolic and physical violence. Latin American, non-native Spanish speaking, migrants residing in the U.S, number anywhere between 500,000-1,250,000. LA County is home to the largest immigrant community in the US and forty percent of county social service recipients do not identify English as their primary language. Services are currently offered in nine ‘threshold languages’ at a county wide, public service level: Vietnamese, Spanish, Armenian, Russian, Farsi, Chinese, Tagalog, Cambodian, and Korean. The Los Angeles. Department of Public Social Services (LADPSS), boasts a mission of “effective and caring service.” However, for indigenous migrants in LA county who do not speak one of these languages, (and who lack a legal status), “effective and caring service” is virtually non-existent. With the growing presence of Indigenous migrants in the US, including Mixtec, Maya and Zapotec peoples, current LADPSS language policies perpetuate and can instigate psychological, physical, and structural violence for these communities as no services are offered in their indigenous languages. Currently, there are four organizations in Los Angeles that are challenging traditional service provider practices. This study looks at the ways in which Mayavison, Clinica Monseñor Oscar Romero, the Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño and the Frente Indígena the Organizaciones Binacionales are re-defining services and service provider practices through grassroots, community education campaigns and training workshops to lessen and spread awareness about the violence perpetuated by the social exclusion of indigenous transnational migrant communities and their needs.

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