Janis: what is your name sign?

EWO: E-W-O

Janis: Firstly, congratulations on receiving the Mary Stotler Award from CIT! It’s truly a significant honor. I’d love to hear more about how you felt when you were recognized with this award.

BY REFLECTING YOUR EXPERIENCE, HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU WERE RECOGNIZED THE MARY STOTLER AWARD?

EWO: Well, the award itself is certainly nice, but what truly touched me was knowing that my colleagues thought highly enough of me to write recommendations and nominate me. It’s a process that requires signatures from the community to support the nomination, and that really meant a lot to me. It showed that they valued my work and contributions to this field, and that truly touched my heart. I feel enormously honored.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR RESEARCH WORK

EWO: When I was at WOU for my graduate studies, my focus was on exploring the perspective and experiences of Black interpreters within the US. I delved into the experiences of Black interpreters in educational settings, exploring how they interact with colleagues and why there remains a small number of Black interpreters in the education interpreting field. I remembered when I entered the interpreting field, I frequently heard comments about the shortage of Black interpreters. I was encouraged to focus on interpreting, as there was a need for more Black interpreters in the field.

Despite this encouragement, and after many years, the number of Black interpreters in the field remains low. Why does the trend of having a small number of Black interpreters persist within the field? It hasn’t changed much; there are still only around 5 or 6 percent of RID members who are Black. This lack of representation made me question why this disparity persists. There has been a lot of talk about the shortage of Black interpreters, but little action to address the issue. So, I decided to gather data on the experiences of Black interpreters. While I knew my own narrative, I was curious about their experiences and what it was like for them.

I had conversations with Black Deaf individuals in the community to understand their experiences as well, as their narratives significantly impact interpreting services. We know that the quality of interpreting services in the Deaf community, in general, is not always at its best. For Black and Brown Deaf people, their experiences are impacted by the small number of Black and Brown interpreters available to provide services for them.

So, that was the crucial curiosity of my research. We learned that the education system was not prepared for black and brown interpreters.

WHAT WERE THE MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCES IN YOUR PROFESSION AS AN INTERPRETER?

EWO: Interpreting is not an easy job, period. It involves working with people, which can be both rewarding and challenging. One of the main challenges, especially for those from marginalized backgrounds, is find a sense of community and support.

Mentoring is crucial, as it provides an opportunity to discuss experiences with someone who understands. However, during my time, I noticed a lack of diversity among my mentors. While they listened and cared, they couldn’t fully empathize with my experiences as a Black person. It wasn’t until later that I discovered the strong connection and understanding within the Black and Brown interpreter community. Interacting with fellow interpreters from similar backgrounds felt like being at home.

My goal is for all black and brown interpreters to feel this sense of belonging in the field. We need a safe space where we can openly express our feelings and experiences without fear of being labeled as complainers. It’s about sharing ideas and being willing to listen to each other. We should be open to feedback, even when it’s challenging, and avoid becoming defensive. By fostering this environment of mutual respect and understanding, we can create a more inclusive and supportive interpreting community.

Janis: Erica.. E-W-O.. Thank you. You received this award, Mary Stotler Award because of your work as a teacher, as an interpreter and a member of the community. People in the community recognize you and you deserve this award. Again, I congratulate you.

EWO: Thank you. Thank you for this chat.