Aug 17, 2023 - News

Documentary highlights Tampa's child translators

Densel, 11, one of three children featured in "Translators."

Densel, an 11-year-old from Tampa featured in "Translators." Photo: Courtesy of Park Pictures.

Virginia Vasquez is only a teenager, but she's had to help her parents pay bills, understand conversations with their doctors and make phone calls.

What's happening: Virginia, 16, is one of three children from Tampa featured in a short film, "Translators," which has garnered critical acclaim since it premiered in June. It will screen at the Tampa River Center next week.

Why it matters: Language barriers can make it difficult to access resources, like health care, getting a driver's license or getting a mortgage.

By the numbers: The number of U.S. Latinos who are proficient in English is increasing, according to the Pew Research Center. Still, less than 40% of Latino immigrants can speak the language proficiently.

  • There are an estimated 11 million children in the U.S. who act as translators for their parents, according to U.S. Census Bureau.

Zoom in: Virginia's family left Venezuela six years ago. Neither she nor her parents knew English then. She told Axios she had to learn the language in a few months to help her parents navigate life in Tampa.

  • In the film, she translates emails for her mother while reviewing invoices for her father. "I'm aware I'm doing a lot for someone my age; it's a big responsibility," she said. "But if I don't do it, who will?"
  • Her mother, Wendy, told Axios it's hard to depend on her child to communicate. "Virginia's had to grow up quickly to help us. She's left school early to translate our doctor's appointments."

The big picture: One in five Florida residents is an immigrant, many of whom hail from a Spanish-speaking country, according to the American Immigration Council.

  • Nearly 30% of Florida's population speaks a language other than English at home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

What they're saying: "The film centers on the idea that language is access," director Rudy Valdez told Axios. "We need to cultivate more empathy and offer assistance to these individuals."

  • My parents "went to a university. They got their degrees. But here, you start over," Virginia said. "They don't get English classes like I do. They are at work, doing everything they can for me and my brother."

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