“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”  – Nelson Mandela

The Urban Land Conservancy celebrates the achievements of its partnerships that create and preserve nonprofit facilities and affordable housing for communities in metro Denver. ULC’s Monthly Partner Spotlight is awarded to partners who demonstrate the value of collaboration, furthering our mission to improve the lives of Metro Denver residents through our real estate investments and community assets.

Congratulations to our July 2017 Partner Spotlight of the Month:  Community Language Cooperative!

Language – and the power it holds – is often underestimated. This realization came to Indira Guzman-Sais, Rosa Snyder and Claudia Lopez upon founding the Community Language Cooperative (CLC) in 2014. Indira, who worked as an interpreter in the Westwood neighborhood in year’s prior, recognized the powerful role that language plays within communities. With this in mind, she shaped the mission of CLC around empowering community members through language services.

“I loved the idea of giving ownership back to the people,” Indira said. “I didn’t want CLC to become a traditional agency that simply provides services. This is how the idea of our co-op originated.”

Rosa and Indira explained that their co-op is largely focused on the Language Justice Model, which makes everyone a part of the same conversation. In group settings, CLC provides headsets to each participant, not solely to those speaking the non-dominant language.  This allows CLC to go well beyond traditional translation and interpretation services. The idea of placing everyone in the same “neutral language zone” enables participants to level the playing field and openly share their thoughts and opinions.

Some might say that Rosa and Indira were born into their profession, as they both grew up translating for their parents. Rosa told the story of their father, a prominent pastor in Westwood whose powerful messages resonated with his Spanish-speaking congregation during weekly services. However daily trips outside of his community or a visit to his daughters at school proved challenging as a non-English speaker. Rosa vividly recalled the sadness she felt for her father when he lost his ability to communicate with others.

Today, CLC has over 15 interpreters on staff, with the capability of providing interpretation services into more than 10 languages ranging from Burmese to Somali. Rosa and Indira described the community advocacy role their co-op whole-heartedly embraces, and the effect it has had on their interpreters. Many have taken on active roles in their local communities after working with CLC, and with direct buy-in to the co-op, the staff have started to adopt leadership roles both with CLC and within the communities in which they work.

The staff of Community Language Cooperative | Photo courtesy, Confluence.

For CLC, their interpreters – and the services they provide – are at the core of why they work in the community interpretation business. Rosa and Indira explained that CLC’s ultimate goal is to empower their communities. In a sense, they hope that by giving the power back to the people, they can one day put themselves out of business.

“Language is power, and without it you lose your voice,” Rosa said. “Our interpreters might hold the power in the beginning, but our end our goal is to ensure that this power is given back to the community, which is the essence of our Language Justice Model.”

ULC, who has worked with Indira and Rosa (and now CLC) for many years, notices a clear distinction between their co-op model and other traditional interpretation services. The staff at CLC makes a clear effort to engage with local community members, and ensure that all voices are heard. ULC recently worked with CLC for the grand opening of our Thriftway Pocket Park and futsal court in Westwood. Not only did they provide inclusive interpretation services during the event, their continued presence in the Westwood community continues to allow them to engage with the community in a unique and powerful way.

“When we talk about successful community engagement, it isn’t possible without communicating equally between residents and stakeholders, and in many cases there are multiple languages being represented. CLC does more than translate, they truly give people a voice in an environment where historically residents have only sat back and listened. You cannot work in a community without understanding it first and CLC is a vital community partner ensuring that residents are not just spoken to, but heard,” explains ULC’s Operations and Communications Director Christi Smith.

Indira, one of the three founders of CLC, pictured right | Photo Courtesy, Community Language Cooperative.
Indira, one of the three founders of CLC, pictured right | Photo Courtesy, Community Language Cooperative.

CLC’s passion for challenging the power structure created by language has made them noteworthy in their field.  Rosa and Indira now travel throughout Colorado providing community interpretation, translation, facilitation and training services. As their business continues to grow, Rosa and Indira hope to slowly transfer leadership roles directly into the hands of their interpreters.

In the future, they also plan to launch community organization efforts around issues including gentrification and displacement – an important topic in metro Denver today. We are very thankful for our many years of partnership with the Community Language Cooperative that have allowed ULC to make an even bigger impact in community! For more information you can visit their website here.