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How To Translate A Concept Like 'Social Distancing' In Other Languages


We get new information every day about the coronavirus, the importance of social distancing, hand-washing and wearing masks and, of course, the daily toll of COVID-19. But how do you tell everyone in this country where so many languages and so many dialects can be spoken, especially among essential workers who harvest and deliver food? Arcenio Lopez and his staff at the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project in Ventura County, Calif., are trying to do just that. Arcenio Lopez joins us right now on the line. Thank you so much for being with us, sir.

ARCENIO LOPEZ: Thank you for the invitation.

SIMON: Give us some idea of how many people you're trying to keep informed and how many languages.

LOPEZ: Yeah. So in just in the whole state of California, there's about almost 200,000 Indigenous people living here. Most of us, we work in the fields and agriculture industry and most of us, we speak the Mixteco language as well, a Zapoteco (ph) language. A lot of people believe that Indigenous languages are a dialect or from Spanish. It's not the case. For example, how do we save virus in our language? We have to be more able to describe these terminologies. How do we say COVID-19 in our languages? How do we describe that? It's not like just COVID in Spanish, like COVID (speaking Spanish). When we have to be putting ourselves and start translating or interpreting these terminologies, we have to be creative for many of the terms that is being used right now.

SIMON: What are some of the common questions that you're getting from people?

LOPEZ: So just given the type of work that most of our people do, which is agricultural work, it's hard for them to keep the distances. So the - often question that we hear from them is, what else can I do to protect myself? I still need to share a ride going in the same car with four or five other people and to be able to go to my job.

SIMON: How do you tell them that they've got to stay farther away than that from each other? Is that really an answer you can give them?

LOPEZ: There's not an answer for that. We are trying to find ways to give another message and say, well, if you can, just try to not be so many people in the car. Like, get other cars or get other drivers, if it's possible. Do your best. The other thing is when you are leaving home, when you're getting into work, while you're driving to your work, use a mask all the time.

SIMON: Is it particularly hard to practice social distancing in agricultural work?

LOPEZ: It's pretty difficult. We've been seeing more changes in people or employees being more proactive and more - a little bit more progressive to allow that or to make sure that their workers have that chance and opportunity to at least, you know, keep that distance among themselves. But two weeks ago was not a case. So it - and it's difficult for the type of work that they do because farmworkers is a crew of at least 20, 30 people together working together in the strawberry, raspberry, celery, cilantro, so it's a big crew of workers. So keeping that distance is hard.

SIMON: And after all, these are the people who make it possible for people to eat these days, don't they?

LOPEZ: Right. Right. It's I think - I will say that in the front line, like, very similar to our health care workers, you know, working in a clinic and hospitals.

SIMON: Arcenio Lopez is executive director of the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project in Ventura County, Calif. Mr. Lopez, good luck. Thanks so much for being with us.

LOPEZ: Thank you for the opportunity. You take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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