Reimagining Re Entry

The show on Netflix called The Taco Chronicles came on my radar not long ago. I started watching, enthralled with the images, history, and diversity of this tubular treat. It was right around that same time that a decision was announced by the Chief Judge of New York State: all courthouse personnel would return to in-person work full time by the end of May.

What do tacos have to do with the return to in-person work? Nothing. In-person work wasn’t starting on a Tuesday and there would certainly not be any accompanying margaritas. The two have nothing in common other than the fact that I have been using one to escape the scary feelings brought on by the other.

It’s a mental side-step, you see. I started visualizing a tantalizing carne asada taco with anxious accuracy. I pictured the juicy meat on top of the pillowy hand-made tortilla in all its glory. The more detail, the better. The further it took me away from the reality of the situation, the better. The reality is that going back to work in person during a pandemic was scary.

The whole interpreting department in my courthouse, so it seemed, would be re-starting work on the same day. No staggered re-entry. But all the Oaxacan cheese.

Was this transition right now ineluctable? The anxious thought: this is an unnecessary risk. The separating thought: the guisado taco is totally new to me, I need to find a spot in Brooklyn that has these.

To remove myself from what I can’t control and putting my mind on things within my control, I take the edge off unease. It could be tacos, as is my case recently. Of course, it doesn’t have to be food related. A redirecting thought could be anything: drilling your multiplication tables, mouthing the lyrics to a song behind your mask, imagining your pet sleeping peacefully, creating a mental to-do-list. My distractor rotates frequently.

Currently, we are working remotely from within the courthouse. This means we’re in the building physically, however, most of the cases we’re interpreting for are still being done virtually. The concept doesn’t make a lot of logistical sense – we could very well still be working from home. I take a sip of horchata to wash down the juicy barbacoa meat.

4 x 4 = 16.

Laundry, stop at gas station, call electrician…

When we worked from home, we each had our own personal device. Now we share a limited number of computers. Sometimes, various courtrooms call at once, and all the desktop computers are in use. This leaves the interpreter in a jam. We’ve resorted to scattering throughout the hallways to find a quiet place with enough WiFi to use our personal device and interpret from there. Courtrooms find themselves waiting for an interpreter due to conditions beyond our control.

Stressful here! But not in Mexico City, standing at a carreta ordering a hearty taco al pastor with all the fixings. I take a giant bite, reveling in the spicy sauce.

The beautiful imagery of refried beans and a hardboiled egg on a double corn shell is not enough all the time, but this short-term fix has helped me to re-frame my thinking. Long term, there are other (less fattening) ways we can re-imagine our role.

Post pandemic

One of the most obvious changes that could be made is to incorporate an in-person & virtual hybrid schedule for court interpreters. I’m eager to see the continued expansion of remote simultaneous interpreting. Night shifts (that in our case end as late as 2AM and beyond) should continue virtually. The relief of not having to take public transportation home so late at night would be tremendous, to name one benefit. Mindfulness, burnout, and other mental health considerations for court interpreters should be unignorable factors at this point.

Many of us enjoy our in-person routine to a certain extent. I’ve savored reconnecting with my colleagues in person during this time. For me, some aspects of returning to work have also helped ameliorate my mental health. After all, things have been generally smooth in this transition, and within our department, we always help one another out in a time of need.

Nonetheless, we want to work as efficiently as we can while knowing that we are as safe as possible in an uncertain world. I’m learning that much of how this happens is out of my control. But you know what I do have total command of?

This especially messy birria taco with cilantro and onions on top. 

How has your experience been back to in-person work? Please feel free to share your stories!

Sara Elizabeth (Elle) Dowd is a staff court interpreter in New York City. Before starting work in criminal court in Brooklyn, she worked as an independent contractor to kick-start her interpreting career. Her experience includes Spanish<>English interpretation in sundry work environments: medical appointments, disability hearings, social services, public school system meetings, and much more. Her enthusiasm for interpretation can be traced back to living in Spain, where she often served as the language conduit between her visiting Dad and her Spanish then-boyfriend. She was an English teacher abroad for several years and considers teaching a passion. In her free time, you can find her running along the Hudson River or fostering kittens.


Main photo by Jeswin Thomas from Pexels

Body photo by Tranmautritam from Pexels

4 thoughts on “Reimagining Re Entry”


    What a delicious read over my lunch break! I appreciate the culinary balance here, between what we know should be done in person, and what we have now discovered cooks up better virtually. How many of us a little over a year ago scrambled to find a personal device, learned about muting and un-muting, and put our standard practices under the heat lamp to enlighten the true interplay of spice that occurs when teaming happens in the open for all to see. Thank you for tantalizing the mental taste buds Elle!

    1. Sara Elizabeth (Elle) Dowd says:


      Thanks for your amazing comment! You truly captured the essence 🙂

  2. Ivy says:

    I’m also an interpreter for NYS Courts & I was really shocked to learn that 100% of staff would return in person all on the same day. It was nerve-wracking but, thankfully it’s been okay. I’ve actually been doing more in person interpreting than virtual & I admit it’s been so nice to do simultaneous again. I also cover virtual proceedings that are requested with advance notice & I’ve been given a quiet office for those times. I did bring up that issue in the weeks before returning in person but it was nice to know that they’d already anticipated the issue (my usual workstation is in a very crowded, loud office that makes it imposible to work virtually) and were working on it. Of course, I wish I could’ve continued working remotely forever but, per usual, all good things come to an end.

    1. Sara Elizabeth (Elle) Dowd says:


      Thanks for your comment. I love to hear a success story and you have a great positive attitude. I hope things continue to unravel smoothly for you.


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