"It was Mimi Nguyen’s older sister Kim who first modelled the expectation that the children of newcomers should step in as the family’s translators.
"Their parents settled in East Vancouver, by a stretch of Kingsway that many other Vietnamese refugees have called home since the late-1970s. Growing up, Kim helped these families too, translating teacher’s notices so that parents could keep up with their kids’ school progress.
"Because Mimi was educated in Canada, it was common for her generational peers to translate for their families as soon as they learned English.
"Kim once helped their mother with an English question at just five years old, with the help of a cousin on the phone and a Vietnamese-English dictionary in front of her. The well-thumbed volume is still in the family’s possession.
"It wasn’t until Mimi entered her preteens that she took over helping her parents, translating at in-person appointments and interpreting documents like bank slips.
“'Sometimes it would take the whole community to translate bits and pieces of a document, calling one person and another to verify words,' she said. 'Nobody in our network was fluent enough to translate everything confidently, so oftentimes, people felt like they were shooting in the dark.'
"Nguyen is now 25, and with her sister living out of town, she is her parents’ primary translator. Because they do essential in-person work — her father at a warehouse, her mother at a food packaging facility — their understanding of their rights and public health messaging is vital to their safety.
Christopher Cheung. The Translator Kids. The Tycee, 30 April 2021.
Mimi Nguyen. Photo by Christopher Cheung.