Event Before Election

“Have you registered to vote?” The lady behind the thick plate of glass asked.
“No.” I answered.
“Why do you answer for her? I am asking her?” The lady said, pointing to my friend W.
I translated for W and W shook her head. So I said “No” across the glass barrier again.
“Do you want to register to vote?” The lady asked. People could register right here at the DMV when they renew their license.
I translated for W and W shook her head.
“No, she doesn’t want to.” I replied. The lady looked at me and then looked at W, and didn’t say anything, but I could feel her thinly veiled contempt. I felt really hurt. I would feel better if she yelled at W that she’s being irresponsible and it’s her duty to vote. Seriously. I would feel more comfortable if she yelled.
“It’s on Tuesday. She has to work to pay bills. Also New Jersey is not a swing state.” I said, trying in vain to spin this to W’s advantage. The lady wanted to say something, but she stopped herself. Somehow I felt she’s accusing W of something–moral ineptitude or dereliction of duty–in a polite way, and in a righteous way, and I was guilty by association.

Holding her newly renewed license, W smiled happily. For months, DMV was swarmed by endless queues and unimaginable large number of people, which had prevented W getting her renew. She was so worried. If she’s stopped by the police on the highway, she won’t be able to explain her expired license. With her limited English, it’s impossible. Finally, she doesn’t need to worry about it anymore.

“How can I vote? I don’t even know English.” W said to me as we were walking out of the one story building. There are three burly guys wearing jacket with “SECURITY” printed on the back and they were talking about the presidential election. North Jersey, South Jersey and the northwestern part of Jersey can be republican territories, but in our area, the Central Jersey, it’s solid democrat stronghold for as long as anybody can remember.

“You are right. There should be multi-lingual voting booth in New Jersey.” I said. W agreed. We know that’s not going to happen, but it feels good to say it. Now I think of it, it is almost impossible for immigrants to vote if they know limited English. Just think of the ballot, with all the questions and all the candidates. W would have trouble to understand the ballot. She needs to take a class and be tutored before she can exercise her rights and fulfill her duty. I don’t know if there are such classes in those swing states, for example Pennsylvania, but I do believe that there won’t be such classes in a non-swing state like New Jersey.

Probably people would say W should learn English. However that’s not going to happen. She works six days a week from 10AM to 10PM. The one day off is used to run all kinds of errands. When is she ever going to find the time to study English? Well, probably not having time is just a convenient excuse. W is not interested in study. She’s interested in earning money and paying bills and chasing after her dreams. Even if she has time, a very big if that is, she won’t use it on studying.

Lost In Translation

No matter how I explained, he just wouldn’t understand. Or probably it’s just his pretensions which offer him his rights to insist on his own idea. Show your stubbornness long enough and other people would mistake that for your strength. What a wish. Go your own way; enjoy your freedom of making your own mistakes and suffering the consequences. It is no surprise that he works seven days a week–a common immigrant virtue or vice depending on one’s perspective–but it is a little surprise to me that he expects that other people work seven days a week too and Saturday is the right time to deal with issues that he should have done during the weekdays.

Being a translator must be an undesirable job. I had not realized this before I became the regular go-to person for two or three of my friends whenever there’s such a need–home improvement negotiations, government agency phone calls, and many more. Not that I’m a professional translator. I am not. Just an amateur who can’t stop telling other people what I know. One of my friend’s mother used to call me artless and I actually agreed with her. I am quite artless under her cunning observation and I have none of her (and her daughter’s as well) microscopic evaluation of human advantage and her quiet calculation of a path for advancement. If I was brought up by a normal mother like her and if I have a contentment for easy comforts, I know I would become exactly like my friend and her mother. Unfortunately such an upbringing is out of my reach. I was left a victim of inspiration and acknowledgement. The problem is when inspirations turned out to be illusions, I often suffered the misfortune of becoming disillusioned. And acknowledgement can be so unsatisfying–when you don’t get it, you fret over it; when you get it, you despise yourself for being so vain or so stupid to take casual sweetness so seriously.

Translation itself is not difficult, but the problem is one has to deal with two egos which expand uncontrollably in their own language. The expansion is limitless, owing to the fact that the opposite side is of different language and culture. The translator becomes the person who’s squeezed in between two inflated balloons and often feel crushed under the pressures from all sides.