The interpreting profession is full of passionate and worldly people with a range of life experiences, and interesting stories to tell.
We want to highlight some of our amazing members of the National Interpreter Action Network and its member organizations as a regular feature on this site. To kick off this series, we’d like to introduce the president of the California Federation of Interpreters, Michael Ferreira.
If you know someone who should be profiled, please send us a note!
Michael Ferreira, California Federation of Interpreters President
What language(s) do you interpret?
Professionally, I interpret in Spanish and English. Right now, I am a fulltime employee of the Los Angeles Superior Court. My permanent assignment is in the Long Beach Courthouse.
How long have you been interpreting?
Professionally, since 1988.
What do you do for your job?
As far as I can see, it’s my job to give language access to anyone who needs it, to what’s happening in our courthouse. That’s our job, that’s what they pay to be there all day for. It’s not just in the courtroom, it’s everything that has to do with the judicial system. There have been some jurisdictions where they try to discipline interpreters for going and doing things that they believe they’re not supposed to do. You are always to be the language access to the judicial system.
What are some of the challenges you face on the job?
The interpreter isn’t just somebody’s kid, or pulling someone from the audience. The interpreter is to be a qualified, competent interpreter. In California, that means someone who has passed the exam, or registered if the language doesn’t have an exam.
The challenge is the courts don’t want to spend the funds that are available, in that particular judicial event. If you don’t have access to an attorney while you’re in the hallways trying to prepare a case, is it really just? These are the shorts of things we’re constantly fighting against.
Why is this not a career path? Why at 54 years of age, I’m the youngest guy? I’ll tell you why. I make the same salary as the guy who starts behind me. And I’ve been doing this for 24 years. What young kid with competent language skills is going to say, yeah, I want to work in a field where my salary is the same 24 years later? They’ve done nothing to make this an attractive career path. The average age of working interpreters in LA County is around 61.
These are things I’m focusing on, making this a career, making language access our top priority inside, outside and everywhere that has to do with the judicial system and any court related event. And to constantly improve what is a competent, qualified interpreter.
What is your favorite thing about your job?
I’m not going to lie. I really enjoy spending time with my colleagues. There’s something special about interpreters. We’re a unique group of people, some of the most intelligent, with some of the most interesting life stories. I think when you find a good group of colleagues to work with, that’s probably one of the best parts of the job.
Insofar as when I do my job, I think, at the end of it, when I really hit the mark. It’s like you switch a switch on. It’s like a shaman. You’re channeling this person, the communication is so precise and accurate. You really became that bridge that was needed. And great things happen when you do that. Victims tell their story. Defendants can get up and really understand what’s going on, and make decisions from that.
Sometimes I’m the first person they see where they feel like they could get their stories told. And that’s the part of my job that I think I really love the best too. In one respect, you’re not the one that’s important. But at the same time, you became that crucial point, that moment where they can tell their story, where they can understand what’s going on, where they can participate fully.