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How This Translator Uses Language to Connect with Different Cultures

My name is Andrea Bazoin, and I am a translator. 

In high school, I used my then-limited Spanish to translate for the Central American immigrants who came to my checkout line at the grocery store in our small Nebraska town. Interpreting their “Cuanto cuesta?” was helpful, but I knew what I was really translating was a message of welcome and dignity to newly arrived residents who had found their way to our tiny town because of employment opportunities at the local meat packing plant. 

You see, even though I had lived in this small town my entire life, it was easy for me to recognize an outsider’s desire to belong and to be understood. My mother moved to Nebraska from Santiago, Chile when she was 17 after her mother was tragically killed in a bus accident. A few years before, her older sister had married a Nebraska farmer, whom she met by chance while standing in line at a customs office in the middle of the Andes mountains. After my abuela died, my mom left Chile to live with this sister and her gringo husband. The crazy stories my tia and mom tell about those early days always makes me laugh, and yet they are underscored with the pain of leaving home and moving to a place where you are neither understood nor welcomed. 

My mom met my dad (also a local farmer) through mutual friends that very first year she was in Nebraska. They eventually married and made their life among the rolling hills of the northeastern part of the state in the middle of corn and cow country. My childhood was pretty typical of midwest farm families with some exceptions: We listened to Julio Iglesias and danced cumbia in the living room at Christmas. We made very loud, often tearful, long distance phone calls to my mom’s sisters in Australia, Argentina and Chile and ate way more paltas (avocados), mariscos (seafood), and arroz a la valenciana than we did macaroni and cheese or Jell-O salad.

Growing up biculturally allowed me to understand, intimately, what it means to belong and how a person copes when they feel like they don’t. My mom often responded to microaggressions and discrimination with a “kill ‘em with kindness” attitude. Both of my parents modeled for me how to welcome others, how to practice empathy and how to value family. So, as I began a career, I found new ways to use my liminal identity to be a translator.

Chilean empanada

I became a higher education professional working with immigrant and underserved families to help them navigate the confusing world of university admissions and financial aid, as their kids prepared to enter college for the first time. Although I was also the daughter of an immigrant and a first-generation college student, I experienced various forms of privilege in my upbringing. I knew lots of people in my community who had gone to college, I never personally experienced racial discrimination because I have light skin, and I went to a smaller private school because our low-income status allowed my brother and I to receive the financial aid needed to attend. All of those things, combined with my cultural background, made it possible for me as a translator to decipher a complicated system in a way that made it feel familiar and accessible to the families I was helping. 

Today, I continue to be a translator — now, of technology. I am what some would call a digital native. I was born at just the right time in history to grow up with pen pals and encyclopedias, yet grow into adulthood with Skype and Wikipedia. I now own a company called everHuman where, in part, I teach older adults (digital immigrants) how to use today’s technology, so they will understand and feel empowered to take ownership of their digital lives. Without this, they often feel like outsiders in a foreign country, like they don’t belong.

The purpose of everHuman is to help people of all ages embrace the digital world without becoming slaves to technology or losing the best of what makes us human. Our main goal is to create a bridge between technology tools and human pursuits — translating the how into the why. The language of the digital age has become a new kind of privilege, so our goal is to ensure no one is left behind because they don’t speak the language. 

I teach older adults (digital immigrants) how to use today’s technology, so they will understand and feel empowered to take ownership of their digital lives. Without this, they often feel like outsiders in a foreign country, like they don’t belong.

The word translate comes from the Latin translatus, which means to transfer or carry over. It’s not just about words; it’s about creating a bridge of understanding and inclusivity between people with different backgrounds, cultures and life experiences. Being a translator has become one of the deepest parts of my identity. I am still the first to welcome the newcomer at the office, the one who offers a “Can I help you?” to strangers who look lost or confused, and the one who invites a new neighbor for dinner. I know that I am privileged in so many ways, and using my privilege and my unique identity to share what I know with others has been the greatest gift of growing up biculturally.

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