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Conference stresses need for interpreters - America, Dec 2005

By Dana Boone

David Jones asked the people in his audience to imagine being told they had heart disease and had to rely on a young sibling to interpret the prognosis of a doctor speaking a different language.

"How many of you want to use your 6-year-old sister to ask questions about that?" asked Jones, manager of Interpretation Services at Mercy Medical Center. "None of us."

Jones and others at a conference in Des Moines on Friday stressed the need in Iowa for skilled translators and interpreters.

The conference, hosted by Latinos Unidos of Iowa and timed to coincide with Latino Heritage Month, was called "Education: A Bridge to Employment." About 70 people attended the conference at the Hotel Fort Des Moines.

The conference also highlighted the importance of a diverse work force, cultural understanding, education and health care.One of the keynote speakers, Dr. Jose Angel, who founded Clinica Medica Latina in Des Moines, said education must be emphasized.

"It's OK to work roofing, on the farm, or painting a shed or driving a truck. There's nothing wrong with that," he said. "But the kids' job is to get an education. And we're not doing as good of a job as we could of enforcing that."Workshops were designed to help organizations, businesses and individuals serve Latino employees and customers.

Some participants at a workshop about the value of translation and interpretation services lamented that their agencies are strapped for cash and frequently rely on bilingual workers or inexperienced volunteers for interpretation.

"You cannot rely on untrained interpreters," said Eugenia Hernandez , an Iowa City attorney and workshop moderator.

Agencies, businesses and groups must budget for language services, Hernandez said.

"What I've seen is people not valuing and not wanting to pay for those skills," said Minnie Mallard, program performance analyst and minority outreach liaison with the Iowa Department of Elder Affairs. "It's a valuable service. You need a professional. Then you need to pay for it and put it in the budget."

Ralph Rosenberg, director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, helped conduct a workshop about diversity. He said there are moral and religious reasons to have diversity in the work force, as well as economic reasons.

"It makes good economic sense to have a work force that is diverse instead of homogenous," he said. "We need to embrace diversity and civil rights. I think employers need to know that."

Eric Idehen, a community development officer at Wells Fargo Bank and board member of Latinos Unidos, said the bank has made strides during the past four years in hiring Latino bankers for each bank and conducting community outreach to hire more African-Americans and Asian-Americans.

J. Antonio Prieto, a retired Des Moines English as a Second Language teacher, said he's concerned that too many Latinos, and members of other minority groups, remain stuck in menial positions.

"We have a long ways to go," he said.