Meet a Bridge Translator: Melisa Garcia aka “Mel the Poet”

https://www.meedan.com/kickstarter

Help us boost underrepresented voices in the US elections. We’re translating social media from Spanish, Arabic and other languages! Meedan is partnering with Global Voices and Public Radio International to translate social media during the Presidential Debates and other key elections events.

You can support our work in our Kickstarter, with just 5 days left!


We met Melisa Garcia on Twitter in September 2015, as Guatemala made headlines around the world when their President resigned amidst a corruption scandal. Melisa had been watching social media in Spanish, with hashtags like #guatehacehistory (Guatemala Makes History), #OPMSinInmunidad (No Immunity for Otto Pérez Molina) and #GuateDaElEjemplo (Guatemala Gives the Examples) surfacing in response to the news.

She’s joined us in our translation pilots during the primary debates, when we were watching different language responses online.Those debate translations ultimately helped us realize the importance of translating social media responses to the US Elections.

It’s the most multilingual US election ever, and it’s vital that we surface more voices in the news.

We sat down with Melisa to talk more about her experience with Bridge:

An: You’re a poet, a translator and an academic. What got you interested in social media translation?

Melisa: From what I remember, in September, I kept wondering what kind of accessibility could be created through Twitter for different groups. I also was thinking about that in reflection with my own work. In poetry, translation is a really big thing. Language becomes translateable in that way. It creates a unity.

I had been on Twitter for a while, and I had started Tweeting little poems in Spanish and English.

When I learned about Bridge via Twitter, it just made total sense as a way of being able to translate someone’s Tweet live in whatever situation and share what they’re experiencing. That could be some sort of demonstration, something political or not political, or a social gathering. It’s important to have that accessibility from English to Spanish and Spanish to English.

How did you think about translation during the events in Guatemala in September?

My dad was sending me Tweets that were being featured in Prensa Libre [a leading Guatemalan newspaper]. I reflected back on how this would be perceived for a first generation Guatemalan in the US like myself. Such a political moment for Guatemala, as far as bringing down the President and the re-election and understanding what that meant for this generation — I was seeing this being reshaped through social media.

I was attracted to what words were being used. Some of them were retweets as well. People were taking the article and giving their really short disclosure of what they thought. There were some live videos too. It reminds me of how social media has created a notion of nationalism in a more international level. You don’t need to be in Guatemala to feel Guatemalteco [Guatemalan], to feel attached to that part of the world.

Twitter, Facebook, all these social media are all important to me because I’ve never been to those countries. I get to learn through these spaces.

I was able to understand it not just from one media source, but from actual citizens on the streets. I get to read their community. I translate to bring a wider scope of importance to issues that would otherwise have not been known, and also to showcase the news. I’m obsessed with the news.

We worked together to translate a lot of social media during the primary debates in the US. How was that experience for you?

Being involved in that way brought a social awareness that I never thought could exist. I was sitting in the comfort of my house, I was watching on TV, and I had my laptop out, taking people’s ideas and commentary and exercising a right to political participation. It brought a social media awareness that I don’t think I had exercised. It also spoke a lot to the duality of languages, how one word will mean one thing and one will mean another and get lost in translation.

I hope that first there will be a wider understanding of the elections project, and also a wider range of languages that could allow the project to venture out into the different news sources and situations that are going on.

I’ve always been really aware of what’s going on around the world. But I want to cross over constantly and understand people’s perspectives, not just language but race, heritage, nationality, gender. This project allows me to practice that desire to cross over.


Help us boost underrepresented voices in the US elections. We’re translating social media from Spanish, Arabic and other languages! Meedan is partnering with Global Voices and Public Radio International to translate social media during the Presidential Debates and other key elections events.

You can support our work in our Kickstarter, with just 5 days left!

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