The challenge of translating López Obrador into sign language

Mexico City, Jun 10 (EFE) .- They may not remember her, but all Mexicans have ever seen Laura. Bottom right, in a box on his screens, he translates President Andrés Manuel López Obrador every morning into sign language, who does not always make it easy for him.

"Deaf people have to understand that he has a very particular way of speaking, slower, slower, more colloquial. We have to transmit it," interpreter Laura Álvarez explains to Efe for the National Day of Mexican Sign Language, celebrated this Thursday.

When the sun still does not appear through the windows of the National Palace, the Presidency's team of interpreters hurries the last minutes before dawn to put on makeup.

At seven o'clock, after the meeting with his cabinet, the earliest president in the recent history of Mexico submits to questions from the press in his so-called "morning", an event with audiences typical of a sporting event.

There are about two million deaf people in Mexico, who would not understand the president if it were not for the work of Laura and her team.

This is historical, so much the conferences of a president of every day like that there is an interpreter, thinks while his companion Vanessa translates it in signs.


The sign language interpretation of "la mañanera" is cooked in a small room adjacent to the press conference venue. To get there, you have to go through a large disused kitchen of the National Palace.

The team is enough with a chroma consisting of a green canvas on the wall -something frayed by the passage of time-, two spotlights, a camera and a monitor, where they see and listen to the president to translate what he says.

"Perhaps the biggest challenge is that we have to be here at 6:30 in the morning," jokes this 32-year-old soft-spoken woman.

Interpretation is prohibited for more than 20 minutes at a time, but this is a short time for a slow-talking president whose press conferences exceed two hours.

So Laura and another colleague take turns "the morning". While one rests on a sofa, the other gestures in front of the camera.

"It is a highly gestural language, very visual and bodily. Many people believe that the hands are what matters most, but it is the gestures and the faces," he explains. There are even those who have come to think that they made fun of the president with their gestures.


Laura has worked with many politicians, but the same day that López Obrador took office she knew that something was going to be different. "The way of communicating we were used to is an abysmal change," he says.

"It was a challenge to communicate to deaf people that the president uses many traditional sayings, sayings and words for which there is no sign and you have to see the meaning of what you want to say," he adds.

During his inauguration speech, for example, the sixty-year-old López Obrador recovered from the trunk of memories the expression "I'm tired, goose", a colloquialism that would amount to something like "accepting a challenge."

Some expected to see the interpreter imitate a duck, but this was not the case because sign language interprets these words.

The same occurs with the slogans that the president repeats ad nauseam, such as "my chest is not a cellar" (I don't keep secrets), "this rooster wants corn" (he needs a bribe) or "outside the law, nothing; above the law no one ".

"They are concepts that are not common" and sometimes Laura and her colleagues have to Google them. Despite everything, Laura has never been blocked.

"No, his expression is very clear. It is more difficult for us other officials who speak too fast," he reveals without pointing to anyone.


She was only eight years old when the future interpreter for the president learned signs to communicate with a deaf friend from school, in Tláhuac, in the south of Mexico City.

Now he does not hide his pride in taking the president's message to the deaf community, a "very demanding" group that raised its voice when last year during a tour of the president, some supposed interpreters made serious errors in the translation.

The outrage is understandable, as they have traditionally been forgotten.

"This is a career that in other places is recognized as a bachelor's degree, but in Mexico there is a lack of interest for it to be formalized," laments Laura.

For her and her colleagues "la mañanera" also serves as a platform to make this invisible language known.


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