Video by: Ignacio Torres
Berta Bejarano was suspended for a day for speaking Spanish with a friend in the hallway of her high school, but today she says she’s glad the language stayed with her.
“The language…definitely opened up doors for me to be in the roles I’m in today,” says Bejarano, who is the director of diversity for Linguistic & ADA Services, president of Kaiser Permanente Latino Association, as well as a court interpreter. “I was sought after because of my expertise in linguistics. It’s allowed me to engage different opportunities.”
She says because she has three different jobs, as well as being a mom, her days require a lot of time management. The other day for example, she was at a hospital at 8am to educate the nursing program in understanding the Latino population.
“I tell them the difference between a Mexican patient and a Mayan patient,” says Bejarano, who says her home in northern California is also home to a community of approximately 10,000 Mayans. “Mayan Indians speak Mayan first and Spanish second.”
Also, in order to maintain my certification as a federal court interpreter, Bejarano says she has to interpret a certain number of cases per year.
“I have a BA in Spanish,” she says, although it is not a prerequisite for the career. “It definitely assisted me to have an edge…Someone with a high school diploma can take the test, but it’s a rigorous exam. You have to interpret 75 words per minute, be well-versed in court terminology, gun terminology, quite a plethora of terminologies because anything can come up.”
Bejarano has certainly come a long way since she was suspended in high school in Alameda, Calif. for speaking the language of her parents and ancestors from Colima, Mexico. At 46, she says the memory from her teenage years still leaves a bitter taste in her mouth.
“She said that this was the U.S. and in California, we don’t speak Spanish,” says Bejarano. “It was a different time. Now, it’s more embracing to speak Spanish. In 20 years there will be 150 million Hispanics. Spanish is now the language to learn.”
She says as an interpreter, she love words and communicating.
“I can speak to anyone in South America and Central America,” she says. “Language has been a vehicle for me to expand my world and my career.”
She also enjoys donating her time to interpret at community meetings such as, talking about all the propositions coming up in the elections for the Latino community.
Last week, she also spoke at the Kaiser Permanente Latino Association 2012 Hispanic Heritage Scholarship Dinner.
“We have an annual celebration dinner where we give scholarships to local students going to different colleges,” says Bejarano. “More than 300 people attended.”
However, for Bejarano, nothing is a bigger inspiration to her than her two boys, 25 and 7.
“They inspire me to be a better person, a better mom,” she says. “I want them to be authentic and continue the legacy of Spanish. I know many times children are embarrassed or ashamed of speaking Spanish — serving as interpreters to their parents…I want them to have the opposite effect. My language has opened many many doors for me, and I want them to move forwards, not backwards.”