Latino Students Juggle Remote Learning and Translating for Families During Pandemic

By Angela Bonilla

December 2, 2020

The adaptation to online learning during the pandemic is extra challenging for families who speak little English.

Students across the nation have been adjusting to remote learning because of the coronavirus pandemic, but many of the 14 million Latino students in the US have the added responsibility of translating for their families at home.

Cristian Domínguez, 17, is a Cuban Mexican student who has been balancing his school work with the “new normal” of daily life. His classes are hybrid, a system that is online and also in-person, at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, a co-ed boarding school in Austin, Texas.

“The [teachers] send us a lot of work. I… sit in front of a computer for eight hours and then do school work for two hours,” Domínguez said. “It hurts my health, basically.” 

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With virtual classes, he has noticed that he feels more tired and his eyes hurt after looking at a computer screen all day. According to News Medical, the negative effects of looking at a screen all day include eye discomfort, headaches, difficulty focusing, and blurred vision.  

In addition to adjusting to remote learning, Domínguez has the additional task of being the translator for his mother, who does not speak English, to help her communicate with the school. Unlike his siblings, who attend the local public school and have resources for bilingual students and Spanish-speaking parents, Domínguez’s boarding school, unfortunately, does not have materials in Spanish for his mother.

Although Domínguez has siblings, he is the one considered “most trustworthy” for translating since he is the oldest. To this day, he remembers going with his mom to a car insurance company to translate for her when he was only 6.

He admits that he and his siblings have to remind their mom how different the private and public school systems are. “It’s an international school where we have students [as far as] Asia, but it lacks bilingual teachers so they don’t have anything in Spanish,” Domínguez said. 

Just like Domínguez, Víctor Espinosa, a 16-year-old Mexican student, is attending John B. Connally High School in Pflugerville, Texas, remotely, while also working part-time at a supermarket in Austin. 

For Espinosa, he has been translating for his parents since he was 4 years old. He remembers going with one of his parents to a car dealership to translate the paperwork for them.   

John B. Connally High School is part of the Pflugerville Independent School District, which provides students with technology needed to do school work, such as a computer. But tech gadgets isn’t all students need. Something as simple as Spanish school materials could go a long way, and some schools are lacking on that front.

Not all Latino students who translate for their families are home, some like Arely Valenzuela is are in college, she translates for her family from a distance.

The 22-year-old Mexican is currently a student at the University of Texas at Austin. Classes at the university are all online this semester.

With Valenzuela in Austin, her family is 577 miles away in El Paso. Her sister’s children are doing online school and when classes started, Valenzuela sent her sister a computer for the kids, who are 6 and 7 years old, to help them with school. 

Valenzuela has been mainly been helping her oldest sister with the technology the kids use, since her sister understands English, but has difficulty communicating with teachers. “It’s been mostly helping her with apps that the teachers assign for school and helping them with letters and emails that the [teachers] send and translating those,” Valenzuela said. 


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