Spanish-speaking residents of the culturally diverse East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and North Corona area are more involved in Community Board 3 meetings because of one simple reason: they can fully understand what is being said.
Six Spanish-speaking participants donned audio transmitters, and with the aid of a skilled translator, were able to hear the entire meeting simultaneously in Spanish at Thursday’s monthly CB 3 meeting.
“It’s very important. I have a clear understanding about what is going on with the agenda. I can understand well,” said Vicente Guzman of Corona, via the translation of Teresa Arieta, an organizer at New York civic participation project La Fuente.
Guzman was attending his first CB 3 meeting, with the hopes of eventually becoming a community board member.
“It would be good to have more equipment, in order for more people to understand what is going on,” Guzman added.
The devices, manufactured by Minnesota-based company Williams Sound, have been used at CB 3 meetings since Feburary. Each portable audio transmitter can be held easily in the hand, with a single around-the-ear headphone worn on the right ear.
“This is the first community board in Queens to use them, second in the whole city,” said Valeria Treves, executive director of nonprofit organization New Immigrant Community Empowerment.
Last year, Community Board 12 in northern Manhattan become the first in the city to offer translation services through portable transmitters. The devices are easy to use and are a familiar tool used by the collective of interpreters utilized for CB 3 meetings.
NICE and La Fuente take turns offering the meeting’s translation. The two organizations are part of a one-year pilot program, which will be evaluated upon completion, to engage non-English speaking residents and encourage them to become involved in their communities.
“We represent newly arrived workers; their voices need to be heard. It’s key that non-English speakers have a voice at the community board,” Treves said.
The translators are paid stipends from a discretionary spending grant from Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights).
The predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods that make up CB 3 have additional concerns about getting residents involved, indicating more work needs to be done.
“[Translation services] have to be coupled with outreach in order to get people to the meetings, but unless it’s a hot-button issue, it’s just not common sense,” said Lucia Gomez-Jimenez, executive director of La Fuente.
Gomez-Jimenez said there is an increasing need to offer translation in more civic activities, but limited resources prevent it. It might be up to the community board itself to sustain translation services going forward, he said.