Being Bilingual: A Volunteer Interview
Emma Pazos is a bilingual CASA volunteer in SCAN’s Alexandria/Arlington CASA Program. Originally from Peru, Emma is an internal auditor at a firm in D.C. She is currently on her first assigned case as a volunteer, and thus far has proven to be a dedicated, intelligent and caring CASA. We decided to sit down with her and ask why she thinks it’s vital for the CASA program to have bilingual volunteers.
CASA: Thank you, Emma, for taking the time to give us your insight as a bilingual CASA.
Emma: I’m very happy to do it, I think it’s very important for the families we work with.
CASA: What do you believe is the most important factor in being a bilingual CASA?
Emma: Being a Hispanic person really helps break down the barrier in cultural connections, and in building rapport and trust. The family may think, ‘Here is a person that shares a similar sense of culture and may understand me better;’ even if the connection is as basic as speaking the same language. It makes a huge difference to a family who might have an entirely different exposure to and understanding of parenting and the law. This issue of abuse often occurs in families who may not have the same resources or education regarding disciplinary alternatives as you and I may have.
CASA: Are there any barriers you find unique to Spanish-speaking families?
Emma: Yes. I think foreign families have a strong fear of the legal system, law enforcement, and social services, which seems to defer a sense of trust in the system. Thus, they simply comply with what they are asked to do. They may hesitate to ask questions or shy away from learning the rights or opportunities afforded to them out of fear. Compounded by a possible legal status circumstance, families may view questions as stirring the pot and are scared it may jeopardize their opportunity at the American dream.
CASA: What have you learned as a bilingual CASA thus far?
Emma: That a family just wants to be understood. They come to this country wanting a better life for their family, but they also bring with them generational models of parenting that may have been acceptable in their internal family dynamic, but deemed unfit in this culture. It’s important that these families have a person or persons with whom they feel are not placing judgment or even perhaps a stereotyped viewpoint.
Emma’s advocacy for the children in her case has been a significant contributing factor to the family’s proactive involvement with social services. The family has risen to the occasion and immersed themselves in the services offered. The children’s parents often comment to Emma that her dedication and unwavering promotion of their well-being has inspired them to gain trust in the juvenile court and team members active on their case. The family has been able to form a safety net with other parents in parenting classes, as well as mental health therapists. The parents have demonstrated a consistent ability to remain cognizant of their actions, and often comment how the family is now united and supportive of one another.
Emma’s skills as a bilingual CASA is a potent remainder that persons of a different culture or ethnicity that immigrate into a new country–with differing systems, language and laws that govern that society–have the right to be provided efficient guidance, support and compassion as they navigate and learn about the social system and cultural norms.
Learn more about SCAN’s Alexandria/Arlington CASA Program here.