The Future is Unlimited
Aspiring UN Interpreter, avid traveler, relentless advocate, intrepid business owner
What do I see in the future? Personally, I don’t see a lot of barriers. Am I scared of the new laws? Not anymore, because I learned to live without DACA. I mean, it was the reality so I had to get on with it. And once I was able to establish a base for myself, I gained the confidence that if anything happens to my stay here, nothing else will be affected. Sure, I mean, I’ll miss my family, but in terms of stability and assurance, I have skills I can use anywhere.
I’ve done interpretation for the ACLU, and for various nonprofits. I do it for town halls and all kinds of events. To me, it’s not just that I’m talking, it’s that I’m relaying a message that otherwise all these individuals would’ve been excluded from. So when I do my work, I like to imagine myself as one of the keys to accessing information. I like that what I do doesn’t just help me, it helps others. Because at some point I received help too and that’s how I got here.
I’ve always been a getter. Back in high school, I applied to this one pre-college program at UC Berkeley and they said no. And then I was like, yo, I’m a person of a community that needs these resources and I oppose this decision, I think you should reconsider. A couple days later they said, okay, fine, and they let me come. So I went to Berkeley for a whole weekend of shadowing students and when I left I was determined to go there for college.
I ended up going to UC Santa Cruz though, which was the best decision ever. I fell in love with the campus. You’re in the mountains by the beach, so you party and stay up late, go to the movies, do hikes, swim in the ocean, do cliff jumping. There are the late night study sessions, the all nighters during finals, the 3:00 a.m. pizzas. I was able to live in a house two blocks from the beach. In a million years, I never would’ve imagined I’d live two blocks from the beach, hearing the sea lions at six in the morning.
College, for me, was a lot about making genuine connections during a critical time when we didn’t know what we were going to put out into the world yet. I figured, yea, I’m undocumented, but somehow maybe there will be somebody right before me who figured out the path or somebody’s going to be willing to figure it out with me. I never saw a limitation. I just saw hurdles. Hurdles are not limitations. They’re challenges. And let’s be realistic, whether you are undocumented or not, life is gonna be hard one way or another. It’s all about how you take your reality. These are the cards that you’re dealt. What are you going to do with them?
Business was what my dad wanted me to study. He worked in the corporate world in Mexico City. So all of my college applications were for business administration. I tried it out my first year. My professors were like, this is the supply, this is the demand, this is the surplus. The most monotone individuals ever. And they looked so sad! I didn’t want to be like that thirty, forty years down the road.
When I found linguistics, I realized I was interested in the theories of language because I had questions about how my own brain worked. When I pulled all nighters I didn’t really care because somehow my brain was like, we’re having fun. It doesn’t matter how hard this is, we’re not whining about how hard this is.
Syntax is something that I see visually, so when I started to think about the movements of words in the syntactic trees, I would see them in a void. I’d picture the language. That’s what I do in interpreting. Sometimes when people speak too fast, I close my eyes or I just look into the void, and then I start seeing a transcript of what they’re saying. So if I’m delayed by too many milliseconds, I can somewhat still see what they were saying and catch up.
I love doing translation and interpretation because I love being able to understand both the surface and the hidden meanings of a language. Every language opens up a different way to see reality. I want to learn Arabic next, which is going to open up access to understanding tablets and later, hieroglyphics in Egypt. When I retire, I want to be at some university somewhere transcribing a hieroglyphic tablet. After all my adventures, all my professional endeavors, that’s my plan. I don’t care if no one else is interested in knowing what it says. It’s the fact that I get to be so close to such a distant part of human history. As long as I am alive and have that knowledge, that knowledge isn’t dead, you know? I can keep it alive.
When I was in Mexico growing up, my dad was always telling us, know about your roots, know where you come from. We toured the country when we were children. He took us to the pyramids. We went to different states. And what always piqued my interest was the indigenous ruins. So even without knowing why, I was interested in trying to understand what in the world these ancient languages were saying. Why is it that we no longer speak them? I think everything throughout my life just told me language, language, language.
I dream in both English and Spanish. And there was a weird time I dreamt in French. I’m an okay French speaker, but I was in an intensive reading session those couple days so it showed up in my dreams. In general, I have really vivid dreams. In my dreams, my passport says China, South Africa, Mexico. I almost went to Brazil, but I woke up right before the plane took off. The dreams are very detailed because I know that I can’t travel, so my brain says, look, we’re traveling, but not physically, so don’t wake up, carry on while you still can.
In one dream, I was driving across the border and no one was guarding it. I hit up my friend who’s a big traveler too, and I was like, Hey, Manny, if you wanna go to Mexico, it’s now or never. I’m at the border. I’m coming in and out. No one is stopping me!
About the Storyteller: Born in Mexico and now living in Stockton, David is a former Immigration Law Fellow and current translation consultant for Immigrants Rising. Learn more about David’s translation and interpretation business here.