14 Mar Hail to the Chief! An Interview of NAJIT Chair Rob Cruz
I had some experience with interpreting and translating when I was an office manager and trainer for a direct sales company in the late 80’s and early 90’s in Miami, FL. I would never have considered myself an interpreter or translator although it was part of my job to translate sales materials and curriculum into Spanish and to interpret for management at conferences and off-site. My professional life allowed me to travel extensively as I took on different challenges before settling in Tennessee. In 2004 I closed a retail business in Tennessee and I was made aware of a new court interpreting program. I felt it married my love for the law and some of my language background. I completed the credentialing process within 6 months and began work as a freelance certified court interpreter in 2005.
What are the most important contributions you feel you have made during your tenure of 3 years as the NAJIT Chair and 6 years as a director? What do you feel the experience has given back to you personally?
I believe this is a difficult question for me to address. Contributions are usually tied to results or accomplishments and those two things are ones that I will leave for history and others to discuss. What I feel I have contributed is a leadership style of consensus building and resource leveraging born from my days in the private sector. I have attempted to maximize NAJIT’s relevance in the industry by tapping into the wealth of knowledge and experience of our members and fellow directors. I am proud of the work we did on an Amicus Curiae brief for a US Supreme Court case that now has defined our TI professions as similar yet separate ones. I am pleased to have helped with the inclusion of our professions in the Occupational Handbook that is distributed by the US Department of Labor and Statistics. The “Laying the Path” project of the American Bar Association created the “Standards for Language Access in Courts” and I was proud to have worked on the advisory group representing NAJIT and my colleagues’ interests. In addition, the forming of a national interpreter association’s coalition (NIAC) was very important to me as well. The experience of leading NAJIT through exciting times has left me with a deep sense of satisfaction from knowing I have worked proactively towards improving the relevance, importance and prestige of the TI professions to the best of my ability.
What significant developments have you witnessed in the interpreting profession since you first became involved with it?
As I mentioned previously, my tenure has seen some exciting developments, some of which I listed earlier. Moreover, I have seen a significant change in the way court systems address the need for and importance of court interpreters. The US Department of Justice’s stand on Title VI and the subsequent changes that has created, makes for a court interpreting landscape that is much different from the one I entered. My tenure has also seen certification of medical interpreters brought to fruition. In my estimation we have moved beyond the “why” of language access in courts and medical settings and onto the “how” of making it happen. These developments have improved the profession but they are not without pitfalls and challenges going forward.
What do you feel should be the next goals for the industry and NAJIT in particular? What challenges do you see in this regard?
Now that language access has become more broadly accepted as a vital component of fundamental fairness, it is crucial that NAJIT and other interpreter associations and groups play a central role in how language access policies are written and implemented. The use of technology, for instance, will be more and more prevalent as it pertains to interpreter services. It is important that jurisdictions do not overreach in its implementation. Interpreter associations like NAJIT need to be a part of that process if it is to best serve the LEP community and interpreters in a cost effective manner. As municipalities and private entities begin to enter into contracts with language service providers to satisfy Title VI, it is also important that those providers not circumvent certification programs and rules already in place. The challenge will be to ensure that interpreting best practices do not get sacrificed in the name of expediency or fiscal considerations.
Do you see possibilities to interact with interpreters or associations outside of the U.S.?
I certainly do and in fact, during my tenure NAJIT has joined FIT and we have a representative within FIT North America. I have represented NAJIT on the Translation and Interpreting Summit Advisory Council (TISAC) where several international organizations are represented. We have also worked in collaboration with AIIC as part of our efforts with NIAC. There are challenges in terms of different laws, jurisdictions, priorities, etc. If collaboration is to continue, it will require leaders that can identify and focus on the areas of commonality.
What are your plans when you step down as Chair this year?
As one might imagine, I have mixed emotions about my tenure coming to an end. I have been a part of NAJIT’s volunteer leadership and TAPIT’s, the Tennessee association, for the better part of 9 years. It will feel strange to not have those responsibilities but I confess that I am looking forward to the extra time. I plan on re-focusing my energies into the private sector and to devote more time to my hobbies. I am proud of our work and I will utilize the many things I have learned in my time here to be better at whatever the “next thing” may be.