“¿Y ahora quién podrá defendernos?”: Exploring the Application of Ally Theory in Community Interpreting in Aotearoa From a Latin American Service-User Perspective
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Community interpreters hold a powerful position within any interpreted event due to their linguistic and multicultural knowledge, as well as their agency to make decisions that affect the outcomes of the interaction (Davidson, 2000; Mason & Ren, 2013). Interpreters’ power interacts with other sources of power at the individual and social levels, creating a network of power differentials intrinsic to community interpreting, where power is constantly being negotiated interpersonally through discourse and within institutions that reflect the covert hierarchies imposed by the state (Mason & Ren, 2013; Rudvin, 2005). However, these power differences are often unacknowledged as a result of non-engagement and invisibility ideals in professional interpreting, as well as cultural and linguistic hegemonies which hide systemic injustices (Coyne & Hill, 2016). In opposition to restrictive conduit views of the interpreting role, the ally model of interpreting recognises interpreters’ power and contextualises decision-making within historic oppression and inequality, enabling interpreters to act in ways that promote social justice, empower interpreting service users, and offer equality of access (Baker-Shenk, 1991; Witter-Merithew, 1999). However, the ally model has mostly been studied from within the field of signed languages, in relation to the deaf community (Baker-Shenk, 1986; Hsieh et al., 2013). In addition, there is limited research into users’ experiences of interpreters from their own point of view (R. Edwards et al., 2005), with interpreting guidelines remaining mostly in the hands of the practitioners (Rudvin, 2007). The purpose of this research is to explore allyship and social justice in spoken-language interpreting from a service-user perspective. The research was conducted with the Latin American community in Aotearoa, employing a horizontal methodology developed by Latin American and European transdisciplinary researchers who see research as a political commitment to improve life in public spaces (Kaltmeier & Corona Berkin, 2012). Knowledge was created collaboratively with Aotearoa-based interlocutors through four one-on-one dialogues with service users and one group dialogue involving two service users, three professional English-Spanish interpreters, and one Latin American community representative. The results of the dialogues show a disparity between users’ expectations and the deontological ethical principles guiding interpreter behaviour. Users were found to value interpreters’ humane qualities over linguistic proficiency, which was not considered enough to meet users’ needs. Instead, professional practice was seen to require empathy, flexibility, self-reflection, and a middle ground that avoids over-intrusions and unnecessarily rigid behaviour. From this research, this approach to practice was seen to promote an understanding of situated needs and challenges and, consequently, to enable a consideration for social justice and critical perspectives. While the findings suggest that there is room for the incorporation of the ally model in spoken-language interpreting, they also reinforce the need to complement discussions about role models with the development of professional responsibility and a focus on the consequences of interpreters’ actions, similar to other caring and practice professions (Dean & Pollard, 2018; Drugan & Tipton, 2017). Therefore, this research supports recent calls to reinforce a teleological, consequence-based approach to ethics (Enríquez Raído et al., 2020) and encourages a revision of the Euro-centric bias and universality ideals in the current code and training programmes to align them with Aotearoa’s multicultural identity.