With Independence Day and the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the US entry in WW1 on Bastille Day (even though it really happened in April), it seems that July 2017 was an important month for American national sentiment. Having recently paid my second visit to Ellis Island, I was particularly struck by the role translation and interpretation played in literally building the nation.
Click on the first circle on the left of this album to discover how.
From 1892 to 1954, all migrants coming to the United States would arrive at Ellis Island. Many of them did not speak any English, hence the need for everything to be translated.
Some migrants underwent a series of legal and health examinations of the island. The result of these consultations established whether the migrant was fit for entry in the US or had to take the next boat back to his country of origin. Interpreters played an important part in the screening process.
Certified to speak three languages (Italian, Germand and Croatian), Fiorello H. La Guardia was an interpreter on Ellis Island from 1907 to 1910. His salary helped him pay his way through law scool. In 1916, he ran successfully for Congress and from 1934 to 1946 he served as mayor of NYC. In this photo of Ellis Island interpreters, ca. 1907, La Guardia stands in the last row (see arrow)
As the immigrants settled in the new country, translation was needed to integrate them into civil life and help them adhere to the national feeling. Many translated contents encouraged migrants to learn English, in order to be part of the community.
Thanks to translation, immigrants in the US could understand the politics of their new country and participate in it. This played a huge part in shaping them as Americans.
Minnesota targeted foreign-speaking voters in a series of instructions distributed between 1928 and 1936.
The war effort was the opportunity to consolidate patriotic sentiment while nourrishing the link with old Europe. For immigrants, to proudly work or enroll under the American flag also meant defending their country of origin.
No wonder these posters were translated in all languages!
While Americans often consider themselves rather monolingual compared to Europeans, a close look at the genesis of the country proves the contrary. And to this day, it is fairly ordinary to find signs in both Spanish and English and ads translated into Spanish all over America. In Korea Towns and China Towns, street and shop names are displayed in English as well as the respective languages of the neighborhoods. As a French citizen and a translator-copywriter, I cannot help but draw a parallel with the European construction. To paraphrase Umberto Eco, “translation is the language of Europe” (and it has always been so).
All the photos and facts displayed in this gallery come from the excellent exhibition of Ellis Island. More info on their official page.