So, it was Interpreter Appreciation Day two days ago, which is supposedly “extremely problematic.” There are some deaf people arguing that the day should not exist. According to varying accounts, it is because (1) interpreters do not actually make sacrifices; (2) interpreters are the ones who should thank deaf people for their existence, not the other way around; (3) there are some unprofessional, unqualified interpreters who are undeserving of appreciation; (4) interpreters represent oppressive, at worst, and paternalistic, at best, forces in our daily lives; and, finally, (5) the day, because of the aforementioned reasons, triggers some deaf people.
I admittedly would not have known any of this if I had not logged onto Twitter last night.
But. I. Could. Not. Help. It.
I think that the contention is fascinating and merits serious attention because it is symptomatic of a culture of resentment that is becoming more popular. Quite simply, I think we should be careful what we wish for. Here are FIVE reasons why the Interpreter Appreciation Day is something that we should continue to celebrate:
(1) Psychological benefits of appreciation. For the sake of self-interest, it is useful to be thankful because appreciation increases happiness. A study performed by Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, for instance, found that when participants went out of their way to thank somebody who had never been properly appreciated, their happiness score went up for an entire month.
(Now that I think about it, Muslims often respond to inquiries with “Alhamdulillah”, signifying gratitude for the simple things. Jews tend to go around the dinner table to tell each other for what, and for whom, we are thankful during Sabbath. Is this what elders mean by wisdom residing in tradition?)
In any case, if we want happy deaf people, we could do worse than to keep interpreter appreciation day.
(2) Interpersonal benefits of appreciation. Showing appreciation makes others like us better, develops camaraderie, and makes it more likely that our goals will be achieved. And, no, I don’t need a link for that because this is common sense. (I have $20 right now saying parents and coaches are nodding their heads in agreement.)
In short, giving thanks improves team performance. Of course, deaf people can refrain from appreciating interpreters. Just as long as we do not complain when interpreters end up performing as if it were thankless, faceless, nameless labor because they are, you know, human beings, and we then end up not getting more of what we want during the appointment/event/situation because of a rapport that never was.
(3) Power per se is not problematic. Appreciation days are not reserved for the powerless. In fact, we have it for the powerful and about just anybody else imaginable for the aforementioned psychological and interpersonal benefits. To name a few: boss appreciation day, secretary appreciation day, system administrators appreciation day, tourist appreciation day, ‘We Love Our Emperor’ day, etc.
Quite simply, we show gratitude to foster healthy relationships, often regardless of power dynamics, because ‘control’ is sometimes a necessary evil. No matter whether we are the parent or the child; the president or the citizen; the professor or the student; or the coach or the player, it is smart to show appreciation for one another.
While there are tiresome interpreters who are power-thirsty and have no business interpreting, it is quite a stretch to call interpreters as a whole ‘paternalistic’ or ‘oppressive.’ Do they not provide access to complete and accurate information to the best of their ability? Is the mere existence of a majority language that is not sign language, and the practical facilitation of communication between languages, in and of itself, evidence of paternalism and oppression? If so, what is the alternate here for deaf people, outside of teaching everybody in the United States ASL and prohibiting all other languages? For interpreters, other than refusing to do the jobs that we want, and need, them to perform?
In truth, interpreters do not ‘depend’ on our oppression. Rather, they are solutions to the discrimination that we often experience by giving us similar rights and opportunities as everyone else. To this end, it is head-scratching, let alone counter-productive, for us to bite the hands that provide us access in public life and accuse them of perpetuating that oppression, but yet, we persist. This is less a commentary on the logic of deaf people and the ethics of interpreters, however, and more an indictment of the sensational culture in which we live. It is a strange world where taking offense is a profitable enterprise, and where we, quite often, send women and men to the public gallows for performing the very duties and responsibilities that we ask them to.
At the end of the day, deaf people have the agency to skip bad interpreters during Interpreter Appreciation Day. Observing the event does not require that we recognize each and every interpreter, or that we pretend as if all interpreters are ‘good’. If anybody happens to be triggered because of a bad memory, that is definitely regrettable. But this is not reason enough to negate the event. Otherwise, we would be without Mother’s Day and Teacher Appreciation Day for similar reasons.
(4) Interpreters are under-appreciated. Contrary to public claims on social media, deaf people get far more “public attention” than interpreters. Even though there are specific instances during which (unprofessional) interpreters intentionally divert attention away from the deaf individual, fact of the matter is that this is the inevitable nature of interpreting.
As a deaf person, when I use an ASL interpreter, I often feel more connected with the interpreter than the hearing individual, by virtue of sharing language and communication values and norms, and tend to evaluate my judgment of the hearing individual, rightly or not, based on the performance of the interpreter who is the conduit of information. Do we really want to hold interpreters responsible for being thrust in this unenviable position of control and power when it is the other way around?
Furthermore, we have Nyle DiMarco, Deaf Gain, Gallaudet University, Claudia Gordon, Lost River Vacations, The ASL App, NAD, Marlee Matlin, Deaf Awareness Month, Curtis Pride, Deaf Studies, Discovering Deaf Worlds, Savvy ASL, the Maryland Governor’s Office of the Deaf & Hard Hearing, etc.
And what about the interpreters? Uh. There’s the RID. Jack Jason. Uh. Lydia Callis. Interpreting Studies programs. That interpreter at the Mandela memorial service. Well, wait.
(5) Special interpreters are worthy. If we point out bad interpreters, we ought to recognize the corollary, which is that good interpreters exist too. It is not as if interpreters are less charitable than secretaries/systems administrators/tourists/emperors and never sacrifice time, money, and energy. Interpreter Appreciation Day is a special opportunity to recognize interpreters who go beyond what is required of them.
Speaking for myself, if not for several interpreters who moved their personal schedules around to interpret for me at nights after a dismal experience with my university-assigned interpreters, for instance, it is likely that I would not have my Ph.D. right now.
If not for some interpreters who, yes, sacrificed weekends off from work and a night’s worth of sleep (the ultimate sacrifice in my book) to interpret for the birth of our children, I would have had a limited understanding of the miracle of childbirth and the awe-inspiring strength of my wife.
If not for two interpreters who volunteered to take care of time-consuming arrangements at the Comedy Cellar and took their preparation seriously last February, my friends and I would have had no idea the extent to which Moshe Kasher is fucking hilarious and brilliant.
Each of you know who you are. I may be two days late, but thank you.