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Bridging Two Worlds
SESP senior Lucila Pulido's Latino upbringing has given her valuable insights into the world of child translators.

Lucila Pulido

Photo by Andrew Campbell
School has ended for 13-year-old Fernando, but his long day is far from over. The tall, lanky Latino boy who lives on Chicago’s Northwest Side must now head over to his part-time job, attend soccer practice, help his little brother with homework and then accompany his mother to the grocery store to translate for her.

Lucila Pulido, a senior in the School of Education and Social Policy, has befriended young Fernando, and it’s little wonder. They share a similar family background, namely that of someone helping a Spanish-speaking parent adjust to life in the United States. “I see myself in him, especially through his innocence — this genuine feeling of wanting to help out,” says Pulido.

In spring 2001 Pulido met Fernando through a Northwestern research study focusing on Latino children and their roles as translators and interpreters within their families. The study looked at the crucial contributions of immigrants’ children in easing the assimilation process for their parents.

Initially Pulido was an intern for Marjorie Orellana, assistant professor of education. But now she is co-author with Orellana of an academic paper on the study, which is currently under journal review.

Pulido’s own childhood, similar to those of the children she studied, included paying bills, filling out assistance eligibility forms, sitting in on interviews at the welfare office and taking care of phone calls. “Lucy is an insider in the phenomenon of children translators,” says Orellana. “She’s been an important member of my team because of her own insights into the children’s lives and experiences.”

Pulido and her younger sister were born on Chicago’s South Side and raised by a mother who emigrated from San Luis Potosí, Mexico, in 1968. “I don’t remember the responsibilities as being hard,” says Pulido. “Translating was something I did because it needed to be done. But as I watched these kids [during the research], I realized just how important we are for our families.

“I was, and still am, able to communicate between two worlds,” Pulido adds. “I’ve always been conscious of my culture and very proud of it.”

Still, her family role occasioned some awkwardness. “Sometimes I had to translate intense, adult conversations, like women’s health issues for my mother, when I was still a kid,” she recalls. “I had to find ways to describe these problems so the doctor could understand exactly what my mother needed.”

Pulido excelled at her South Side high school, and her English teacher persuaded her to apply to Northwestern. Pulido believes her personal statement, inspired by Mexican American author Sandra Cisneros’ unique writing style and portrayal of Latino life, was the key to acceptance. Pulido wrote a tale about a little girl who describes her close friendship with “mylucyfriend.” Like Cisneros, Pulido used her experiences as a Mexican American to highlight the significant role her heritage played in motivating her to excel. The girl in the story admires how “she could do anything, that Lucy.” In the end, the little girl discovers that she is actually Lucy and that she can indeed do anything.

During Pulido’s first year at Northwestern, the essay won third place in a writing contest sponsored by the University’s Hispanic/Latino Student Services. The honor came at a time when she needed a reminder of her abilities. “When I came here, I felt extremely discouraged,” says Pulido. “I saw this very wealthy school with a lot of rich, prepared kids. I felt like I didn’t belong.”

But Alianza, a Latino student group, eased the way. And in spring 2000 Pulido and other students founded Mezcla, a Latino arts group. She’s also been active in pushing for a Latino studies minor.

“We’re here to receive a top education, and we should be offered these kinds of programs,” says Pulido, currently the president of her sorority and academic vice president of Alianza. “With the increase in this country’s Latino population, people need to be aware of the issues and the culture.”

Currently Latinos comprise approximately 5 percent of the undergraduate population; this year’s freshman class includes the largest-ever number of Latinos, 117 students.

Pulido had originally intended to teach at inner-city high schools after Northwestern, but the research project has nudged her toward graduate school. “It would do a lot for our community for more Latinos to receive higher education,” she says.

No doubt the odds are in her favor. After all, she’s “mylucyfriend” — the girl who can do anything.

— Christina Ko (J03)

 

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