Hidalgo County to begin translating meetings

EDINBURG — Hidalgo County commissioners are in the process of providing translation services to Spanish-speaking residents who routinely attend their meetings.

Members of La Union del Pueblo, a nonprofit group that advocates for people living in colonias, have been asking commissioners to provide the service for months, said Martha Sanchez, a community organizing coordinator for LUPE.

“We’re really happy,” she said Thursday about the initiative. “We’re still not where we wanted to be, but definitely we’re making advances, and I’m glad that the county is listening to the petitions of the people.”

LUPE members can be spotted sitting at the front of the weekly meetings for the Hidalgo County Drainage District and commissioners court on any given Tuesday, weighing-in on a variety of issues that affect rural residents, but especially drainage.

“Because drainage affects the people in the colonias — especially right now,” Sanchez said, highlighting the recent rain. “There’s a lot of people underwater right now.”

The members almost always sign up to give public comments during the drainage district meetings and remain there for the duration of the meeting.

“We feel really bad when people go there, and they don’t understand what’s going on,” Sanchez said. “They feel like outsiders and not included and discriminated.”

Hidalgo County Executive Officer Valde Guerra said the translation services are part of an effort to include all residents in the democratic governing process. The county began printing the agendas for both meetings in Spanish this week and also offers a Spanish-translation tool on its website.

“We’re making every effort to get to every constituent out there,” Guerra said.

When Lupe members speak at the podium for a timed three-minute spot, Sanchez and other volunteers eat up some of their time translating their remarks to English. But after months of asking for the service without a response, LUPE members changed their approach and stopped translating the remarks.

“The OWLS right away asked for a translation in English, and Mr. Valde right away translated for them,” Sanchez said, referring to members of the Objective Watchers of the Legal System, a local watchdog group that can also be spotted at almost every meeting. “We figured why do they get translated and we’ve been asking for months.”

The new service will be provided through a headset with the aid of a certified interpreter, Guerra said. Details about how exactly it will work are still being ironed out. Two vendors are scheduled to give a demonstration to the county’s purchasing department to help them figure out how many headsets will be needed and to review the technology. A cost has yet to be determined.

“We’re looking forward for that final step,” Sanchez said, “We applaud that effort. We’re a very bilingual area, where we really speak both languages, and we live both cultures.”

Guerra aims to have the new service in place by the end of October.