Tell us a little about yourself (Name, hearing status, where are you from, training experience)
My name is Rodney LeBon. I am Haitian-American and hearing. Third and only boy of my parents’ four kids. My only familial connection directly I have to the deaf community is my Hard of Hearing aunt on my dad’s side that was raised oral. She was not allowed to sign or go to go to the school for the Deaf in Haiti because of my grandmother’s view of deafness. I have a few other family members that sign conversationally. Two cousins that were on their journeys to becoming interpreters, one that was studying in Venezuela, but both had to stop for familial reasons. Another cousin of mine just married a CODA. My nephew’s Aunt is Deaf too. Unfortunately, none of us communicate with each other often.
My formal interpreter training began in 2011 in Charlotte, NC when I was 16. Later in 2015 I transferred to Gallaudet University and completed my classes in 2017, becoming one of the two black men to graduate from the undergraduate interpreting program that year. My classmate and I also became certified together in July 2018. Currently, I serve as Vice-Chair for ITOC.
What inspired you to become an interpreter?
I’m a first-generation American to parents who immigrated to the United States from Haiti in the ’80s. My home life was Haitian Creole, French in religious spaces, Spanish while with my family that immigrated from Venezuela, and some English sprinkled in when I was in school and with my siblings. Being a language broker was part of my everyday being and it sparked my interest in multilingualism in children, especially when I was a child. I like meeting kids who were like me. At nine years old one of my classmates was a CODA. I did not know what communication looked like for her and her family so I asked her to teach me and for the entire year of third grade, she educated me. I would hang out with her and her mother at times after school and when she wasn’t there my parents gave permission to go to the library and study sign language on my own. It became pretty popular amongst my sisters and I that we would fingerspell and sign with each other. I continually met Deaf and DeafBlind people during my adolescence that at the age of 16, as I started college, I decided to formally take ASL with one of my sisters. It was that first day of class that I decided I wanted to use this language daily. I
merged my experience growing up being a language broker along with ASL to become an Interpreter.
What was your first official interpreting experience?
One of my first interpreting experiences was at a Renaissance festival. That was the day I learned about
double entendres and learned I hated them as an interpreter. Never been back to a Renaissance festival
space since because the thought of it just stresses me out.
Do you have a preference as to what settings you like to work in most, or desire to work in, in
the future? (e.g. Medical, Performance, Legal, etc.)
I LOVE working with music and concerts, especially with people of my age group. High energy spaces where people are dancing and “vibing” really make me feel like myself and free so I try to scoop up those opportunities as often as I can. Drag Shows give me the most joy especially if someone is playing a song by City Girls or Megan Thee Stallion. It’s really funny because I’m an introvert so probably at first glance you’d never know it’s what I like to do.
Is there a golden rule to maintain longevity in this profession? What is it?
Be yourself. Frankly, that meant for me to stop aspiring to become like the interpreters in my community that had 20 or 30 years of experience. Of course, I respect their work, but I realized that much of the work they did was not what I aspired to do. I’m not even 25 years old yet so there are different ventures that I aspire to do that align more with my age group and my community. That is when I learned I needed to carve my own path in the profession to make sure I am happy and preserve my energy rather than pursuing a goal that was not naturally mine.
What advice or words of encouragement do you have for students or people who are interested in becoming an interpreter?
Mainly for students of color: Don’t lose yourself in the process. My biggest regret of going through an ITP is letting white professors and peers mold me to be good in their spaces so when coming out of it I didn’t know how to be in my own space. It is important to learn how to navigate all of the spaces to conquer the art of code-switching, especially if you don’t have the peers or faculty to guide you the best you can. If you need to, create a community of support because there are always people out there willing to have your back. Be involved in the local Deaf communities of color AND hearing communities, especially if you’re living in a place that is different than your own. Learn the regional dialect and slang. I always feel like I’m playing catch up, but I love the process of reconnecting with myself.
How would you suggest that the interpreter preparation process become more inclusive of individuals that are a part of an underrepresented population?
I’ve experienced quite a few microaggressive comments from my white professors in the interpreting programs I’ve been in. Once a professor made me repeat my entire sentence because I said the word “ain’t”. She said it was not a word. Another professor once told our class that he did not see the color of our skin, and then proceeded to point to each student, starting with the students of color, saying ” I don’t see you as (insert race), I only see you as human.” No matter what the intent was I felt at both times I was told to get rid of my identity, or they were intentionally choosing to dismiss who I was. It made me feel alone and without a community to connect to and after graduation that is exactly what happened. The communities of color that saw me as a potential cultural fit for their spaces often were disappointed at the beginning of my career when I would turn down their invitation because I did not even know how to be present as an interpreter for people that look like me.
So my advice to Interpreter Educators is to stop teaching your students to only aspire to assimilate White Standard English and culture without also letting them know that the way they are and their language used from within their community is just as valuable. Give them practice without tokenizing them, or it is stereotypical racial language sources to interpret. Let us feel human in a classroom that we already feel alone in. You can’t always be everything your students need but at least have the resources and tools available and present for them and other students of various underrepresented groups.
If applicable, as an interpreter or aspiring interpreter, what would you like to share with the outside community as it pertains to being a part of a marginalized community in the profession of interpreting?
There are good challenges and bad when navigating the field as a member of multiple marginalized communities. It often means sometimes to your consumers you are their first interpreter they’ve had from a marginalized community, and for me, it’s either their first black interpreter or first black male interpreter. I often feel an obligation to be in spaces I don’t think are the best fit. Because of my skin, people think I share the same history as my Black American peers so they expect me to know things that I don’t. So February is often a tough time of the year for me accepting work when it pertains to Black History Month. Another Example would be June which is Pride Month, Caribbean Heritage Month, and a heavy concert season. It’s easy to get pulled around and tempted to do everything. Burnout is real, but so are body pains. I’m not the first or last interpreter of a marginalized community to say I hate seeing interpreters in spaces that they are not supposed to be in but at the same time, we have to set limits early and maintain our energy. It’s really easy to say yes to everything.