Art and Documentary Photography - Loading IMG_4822-01.jpeg

Families walking through the halls of the Immigration courtrooms in Arlington, VA. 2018

The number of kids that are being prosecuted is rising dramatically, most of them had to face the judge without a parent and their ages are approximately  between 10-15 years old.

Being an Interpreter
carlos bernate
Jan 30, 2019
Location: Richmond, VA

    Last year in June I got the call to help as an interpreter, I wasn’t prepared for that.  However, my English skills where a little better after being here for more than a year so it was easier to just throw myself into this and support in any way I could.  Everything started when I was at the sanctuary in the First UU Church working on the story of Abbie Arevalo and I decided to live there for a couple of months so I could support her while documenting her new life at the church. Thus, that first month Abbie and her family where still on edge because of the trauma that a decision like this left on a human being so for us as a resilient and close community we took turns to be able to cover 24/7 the security downstairs at the basement where Abbie is staying, upstairs the church and some other organizations set up a little team to cover all doors but was mostly white people that barely speak Spanish so Abbie wanted people from her community that she could speak in her language and trust more.

On those two months that I lived there I had to work closely with Alina Kilpatrick, who is now my boss, and an immigration Lawyer who focuses her work mostly on Asylum cases like Abbie.  After a while of doing that, I was an interpreter with a few weeks of experience. However, I got lucky because I have amazing friends in the community that are truly language justice interpreters with years of experience. They trained me, showed me the basics, and tested me so I could understand that I’m not just interpreting words, but also interpreting feelings, memories, stories and so much more with every conversation between Alina and her clients. I have to understand that this is a serious responsibility for me and the trust that the community is giving me by taking care of their every word I translate. We call this language justice interpretation and I still have a hell of a road to learn what that means.

Some days I just have to suck up the feelings that I take with me so normally a couple of wine bottles or vodka shots are enough to handle my depression but after a while this leaves a crack in my soul.  I’m just broken inside with all the weight I take every day so now I had to put those feelings into words in a piece of paper or in a laptop, so I don’t lose my mind.  In addition, being an interpreter shows me that when I have a camera in front of my face I had some kind of protection because to be able to tell those traumatic stories most people need to disconnect their feelings a little or that’s what most old documentary photographers that I admire would say when they got asked how they manage to tell these stories for so long. In this capacity I am an interpreter and not a photographer, so now it’s just my naked soul in every interview, appointment or call. It’s not like I didn’t put my soul on every project before, it’s just that this time I realize how much a camera can separate you from the reality you are documenting.

Out there in the community there is so little information about the failure of the immigration system that even lawyers sometimes don’t really understand the huge mess that this is. Some lawyers take advantage of this mess to scam families and take all their money and those families end up hiding or most of the time getting deported just because of bad representation. Furthermore, the media normally doesn’t go there either so It’s hard to find something to read that is focusing on what is going on in courts or how is the life of an immigrant in the U.S. In mainstream media, the representation is usually more about their travel into the U.S. or their deportation but not too much about the whole process in the middle of that. Of course, that right now are some amazing documentary photographers focusing on Sanctuary or just telling their own stories and they are truly representing us as immigrants not just the stereotypical mostly white savior type of piece that you can see every day coming out.

This is why it is so important for me to keep working as an interpreter so I can truly understand this mess and let more people know how bad it is. Most of all to let my people know so they can be prepared with tools to protect themselves. Even if this mean taking a huge load. This is part of me, that is who I am and who I chose to be. Hasta la Victoria siempre!!!

Carlos Bernate

I'm a Colombian documentary photographer whose work is dedicated to my community. The stories that I attempt to represent are my desire to document, since they deal with themes related to human rights, Identity and social issues; this in order to exteriorize the bond and the empathy that I always try to establish with those who are photographed and in this way deliver a part of myself in each story seeking to understand and recognize my own story through others.
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