Hello, I’m Tarra Grammenos, Director of MRID.
Hello, I’m Regina Daniels.
Hi, I’m Nella Titus and I’m an interpreter.
Regina: We want to have an open discussion today related to the workshop I presented at Camp ASL.
I want to have a conversation with Nella. But first, the reason why we’re here. Just a heads up, the three of us have already talked prior to this being filmed. We wanted to have a chance to unpack our emotions before all of this. The three of us decided to just talk this out by ourselves, without anyone else in the room. Get all our feelings out so we’re able to clear the air. I know rumors were spreading and I know there were different sides to the story, but not everyone was there to see what happened. We had a discussion before today, and decided to do this together. We felt it was appropriate to witness what we unpacked, what we faced, and what MRID can do going forward. The whole purpose was to vlog together was to avoid any misunderstandings by doing individual videos separately. So that’s the reason we decided to go forward with this vlog together. We had some really good eye-opening moments, and I know I learned a lot, Nella learned a lot, MRID learned a lot, we all did. I think this conversation is valuable and beneficial for all. So I would like Nella to open with her comments on the situation.
Nella: I attended Camp ASL and I went to Regina’s workshop. During her presentation, I got up for some tea. At that same time, Regina had called me up to the stage. I was surprised, but I did go up. She had a good question. She asked me why I had accepted a job interpreting for Michelle Obama. I was taken off guard and I froze. My mind went blank, I completely shut down, and in that moment, I lost the chance to respond. The opportunity was ripe for honest, vulnerable discussion and it passed us by because I was not able to express my thoughts. And you know that that opportunity could’ve been so meaningful. There were many students there, and students want to learn.
Regina: The topic was about People of Color and reframing impact in the interpreting field. The reason I called Nella up was to challenge her and her experience, and I thought that this approach could really influence new interpreters, or students who are still learning. In challenging her, I was trying to do something different. I wanted to show ways to really step back and unpack yourself. When Nella froze, I realized things weren’t going according to plan. Nella ended up walking out and I started questioning myself. Was I in the wrong? Was it me? I was shocked at that point, too. Tarra and I made eye contact and I just thought, “Shit.” I was still questioning it. But part of me said, No, this is the topic. I warned people that this topic is heavy and sensitive. I told them they would feel uncomfortable and unsettled, and to be prepared for that. But it seems that didn’t happen that day. When she walked out, people seemed shaken. But I did take a minute...I felt like...I decided to... OK, no one told me what to do with this, no one, but I got back up on stage and I said . “I’m sorry if that made you feel uncomfortable. I’m sorry if this caused an upset." And I explained my reasons. "I’m sorry you feel that way, that it was uncomfortable. I’m sorry that you were confronted with that situation. I’m so sorry that you are experiencing this. But unfortunately, this is hard core stuff, period. Whether you like it or not, because it’s for a reason." So when I met with you, and I wanted to know what happened, what was your response?
Nella: I said, "Wow, I feel embarrassed. When I was called up I panicked, I wasn't ready." But really that opportunity for discussion, all those students watching and waiting for me to say something, and I was just standing there like a deer in the headlights...really I embarrassed myself.
I did not have a good response to continue the discussion. I didn’t open up. I missed out. Really, I failed you. I failed the students and everyone in attendance. It wasn’t your fault, Regina. And I’m really sorry that happened.
Regina: And that...that helps me understand how we as People of Color, as this diverse group, can better help the community. Because if they don’t have that experience, or they aren’t ready to approach that-- like in your situation, you weren’t ready or weren’t prepared. So how can we, in a situation like this, step in and say "Ok, this is what happened, engage with me here," and encourage a change of mind and a change of heart? Because this is how we will improve the interpreting field. I mean, you're right Nella, people were watching! Because you are, how many years have you been interpreting?
Nella: Technically 7 years but I’m a CODA so I’ve really been interpreting all my life.
Regina: Right! So people really look up to you as an interpreter. I’m not a hearing interpreter, but I am a Deaf interpreter, and also a Deaf instructor, so when we had this discussion, and you apologized to me, it really helped me understand where you were coming from in that moment, why you left, and why I felt I should apologized in that moment. Thank you for the apology. I really appreciate your explanation, it helps me understand how that situation played out for you. I would like to add because maybe we could explain a bit more about your culture and how you approach things, vs. my culture and how I approach things.
Nella: I’m white. Born and raised in Minnesota. I’m a woman. I typically prefer private one-one-one conversations. So part of the reason I left was because I wanted this to be a private conversation between the two of us, but that was a different cultural framework for this situation. It was different than what I usually expect. And some of my emotions came from it not being what I expected. And frankly, that stemmed from me being white.
Regina: I get it. From my culture, “calling out” just means to challenge you. "Let me challenge you." Right! Did I want to throw you under the bus? No! It was more of a teaching moment. We all need to learn. So I did challenge you. That's why I called her to the stage to say, "Let me challenge you." So that was the reason behind it.
Nella: Right, I completely misunderstood. I thought the purpose was to embarrass me, which wasn’t true at all. Thank you, Regina, for explaining it to me because now it makes sense, and it wasn't what I thought.
Regina: And again, it could be my Black culture, too. We tend to be very expressive and more animated than white people are used to.
Sometimes they think we’re mad, like ‘Omg is she’s screaming at me?’ and they get intimidated. It's like, come on! It’s a Black culture thing.
So, yeah. We just have so much to learn.
Nella: Very true! I’m here and excited to learn more.
Regina: And I look forward to teaching! I’m not going to give up; people better get ready! But honestly, I think this situation has really impacted the community too. Even outside our community...it's kind of crazy. Like, wow, people are actually listening, people are really taking it to heart. They are showing support and checking in with us. And it's like, finally! You’re paying attention to this! This is an issue within the community, and we need to wake up. We can't keep writing other people off. How can we pull each other up? If we someone with good skills, a Black interpreter, Deaf interpreter, Deaf presenter, Deaf...anyone, we have to support them. There’s just too much rejection and judgement out there. Too much ignorance. When will that stop? I know it's only my second year here in Minnesota but come on, I see it now. It's like, wow...
This is really becoming a problem. And hopefully one day, we can say this is where we started; the three of us started with this and said . "Hey, what you’re doing is not appropriate. Stop."
Nella: Right. Thank you for this dialogue.
Regina: Yes, you're welcome. Okay so now that you’ve recognized the situation, what will you do differently, related to interpreting for Michelle Obama? You’ve unpacked a lot, what will change and how will you make that decision?
Nella: OK. I’ve been working as an interpreter for 7 years and throughout the years, many jobs such as plays or concerts have come up that involved people of color. In the past, I would reach out to interpreters of color and try to bring them on as my team. This happened several times. But some of them would say, "Hey, I feel like you chose me because of my skin color alone." Or, "You picked me to team with you only because I’m a person of color?" It felt very tokenizing to them. So I took a hard look at the situation and realized I was causing them harm, and I clearly don’t want that. Plus, I’m a CODA. I grew up with Deaf parents. And I went through an interpreter training program which taught me to always follow what the Deaf consumer wants. Whatever I do, where I stand or sit, what I wear, etc., I must honor what the Deaf person wants. Sometimes it means adopting their signs, whatever it takes to best meet their needs. So, I saw the request for me to interpret for Michelle Obama's event, and I thought, Okay, on the one hand, do I risk causing harm to my colleagues, interpreters of color? But on the other hand, I must also follow what the Deaf consumer wants. I thought about both sides, and I eventually made the decision to accept the job. After the show, many people told me that I made the wrong decision. I did some serious soul searching and realized they were right. It wasn’t a good decision on my part. Because who am I to decide what jobs to offer interpreters of color and what jobs to interpret myself? That’s not for me to decide. Plus that job, come on, it’s Michelle Obama, she’s incredible. It would have been such a great opportunity for an interpreter of color and I took it away. They never even had a chance at it. I feel terrible, and now I recognize the impact of my decision. I apologize for that. So, going forward, what will I do differently? I will always reach out to interpreters of color; I now know they actually do want to be contacted. You know, to let them know I've been offered a job and see if they would be interested. If so, I can step out of the way and let them interpret for the job instead. I’m also thinking about students and newly graduated interpreters of color. I can mentor them, work with them on their platform interpreting skills. So I'm thinking about that. Plus, now I got your number, Regina.
Regina: Right! You know where to find me. A few other things:
You're right. Sometimes we don’t realize that in accepting a job, we know that we have to follow the Interpreter's Code of Professional Conduct and all those rules, and that's great!... but sometimes we just have to change our mindset and think about what’s best for the community.
What's best for diversity, best for the Deaf community? And how can we support them and their advancement? That’s key here. We need to figure out how to give them a leg up. Many people of color, Black, Indian, Muslim, Asian, etc. I mean, really, the list goes on and on. They have amazing talent. The question is how we can support them. White people get many amazing opportunities, whereas we’re sitting here like, "Hey! Help us out!" First of all, now you know what to do going forward. If someone says you picked them just for the color of their skin, I would say, "I’m here to offer you mentoring, feedback, support, whatever you need." Then they may feel like, "Oh, well, she’s got my back. She knows I have talent and she’s here to help me out." It's a support system. We have to work together. Many people don’t recognize that. It’s not about tokenism, it’s about supporting and helping them get to a point of recognition. The beauty of it is, we won’t be abandoned. We won’t feel abandoned. It’s not about taking advantage, it’s more like offering others a hand. Raising them up. It’s like that crab theory, pulling everyone down, saying they can’t do this and that. That needs to stop right now. This is where the community needs to hear and see. See? She just recognized the next step. We need to pull each other up. If someone has a bad reputation, help them out. Have some heart. Benefit of the doubt, because everyone deserves a second chance. Everyone deserves any help we can get. Every little piece of wisdom, we all need from each other. We don’t have time to bitter each other up, or fight with each other. This is 2019, soon 2020, when will all of this stop?
So now, that leads me to the open letter that was sent out. First, I will say this, I know the letter was sent, it was not written by me. I feel conflicted here. I get it they meant well, supporting me. But at the same time, let me do the talking. Let me do the signing. Let me put myself out there. Let me be the front runner. But by them taking over, it didn’t leave anything for me to say. It didn’t allow me to think through things myself. It felt more like I was under pressure to respond. I don't need that. We as people of color need to be on the front line. Those who want to advocate and encourage us need to take a seat. We love you all but let us have our spot. Let us have the floor, let us have our message. You mean well. I appreciate the thought that was behind the letter but... let our POC Community express our thoughts without taking over. It took me a long time to process it but at the same time, people want to show their emotional support. Thank you. I really do thank you for listening and checking in. I do know you mean well, but let us be. Because it is our time, our words, our thoughts, our message. Let us.
Nella: Thank you for that message.
Tarra: Deep breath!
Regina: I've already cried enough.
Tarra: Thank you, Regina. And thank you, Nella. MRID needs to apologize to you Regina, that you experienced that going to Camp ASL. Nella, your experience, Regina your experience, it was a tough weekend. I apologize that you went through that. I know you were looking forward to a fun weekend at Camp, playing musical/light chairs your favorite game.
Nella: Spoons tournament!
Regina: Yes, spoons tournament was the best!
Tarra: Right, spoons tournament was great! But then that situation happened and we as a Board and me as President, we didn't intervene in that moment. We waited trying to figure out what to do and ended up doing nothing. So now we know, we’re learning. We're all learning. We have a full white board, we’re still learning. We’re from Minnesota. We're learning.
Regina: Yeah, "Minnesota Nice."
Tarra: Well, in talking with you, talking with interpreters of color, getting their advice and help. Thank you for your energy, time, patience, going through this with us has really taught us a lot, and it really has only just begun. I’m excited for the conversations going forward. The MRID Board did meet, and talked about what to do going forward. We will be using you and other interpreters of color as our guide. Now we have an action plan, and that feels good. We have a list of things we’re going to do, it’s nice to see it written out. Rather than saying "Oh we will eventually do these things," it’s just nice to have something down on paper. I’m excited to work with you and others, I’m happy this is happening.
Regina: I’m glad we’re talking about this right now because we finally have something concrete that can be done and successfully done.
Nella: Right. I’m hoping that interpreters who are watching this now aren't just thinking,"Oh I will make different choices in the future,"but really, I would say make a different decision starting today. Now, right now.
Tarra: Thank you.
Regina: I'm touched. I love you!
All: Love you!
Tarra: Thank you for watching.
Regina: Yes, thank you.
Tarra: We’re excited for important dialogue in the future. Thanks again! Bye!