Participants Blog hosted by Center for Conflict Studies at MIIS

Author: Vanessa Espina Romo (Page 1 of 2)


After having a Session on Interpretation and Translation, it occurs to me that I do not normally come across research or any discussion about the challenges interpreters face while interpreting or translating for parties that are in conflict with one another. It was a very interesting session to hear about translation and interpretation and what the skills sets are for this arena. Also, I now know the key differences between Translation and Interpretation.

  • Translation: written to written forms
  • Sight Translation: written form to oral form
  • Transcription and Conference Translation: oral form to written form
  • Interpretation: oral to oral forms
  • In addition, the modes include consecutive, simultaneous, and whispered.

I remember when I did Translation and Interpretation work, I did not really think much of this work nor did I feel there were any challenges. In fact the translation and interpretation work was an addition to the nonprofit work I was doing at the time (domestic violence, trafficking, housing, immigration, government services, and healthcare). I guess the work I was doing seemed natural to me and I was translating/interpreting between two languages I grew up with-Spanish and English. I realized that it also seemed natural doing this kind of work in California since it feels like many Californians tend to speak both Spanish and English. In addition, I am of the same ethnic and racial background as those who spoke Spanish. I never saw any challenges because I am a Latina who has binational ties between Mexico and the United States. I understand the cultural differences between both nations as well as understand the cultural differences and similarities of Latinos from other Latin American countries. I guess you can say that although interpretation and translation work is very important, it just seemed like part of the deal for any job and something to be expected. The nonprofits I worked for did not have specific people translating or interpreting nor did they have background in interpretation and translation.  Rather, the employees, who already had knowledge of a language (whichever it may be), were told to automatically translate and interpret to English. We were asked to do such tasks during interviews, events, meetings, written materials, etc.

It was during this session when our group was doing a role play that I realized the challenges and issues that could arise.  I never thought how complex and yet intricate this work can be. I never thought about how one needs to know what the context of the meetings or discussions would be about. I never thought that interpreters/translators needed to pay attention to who they are interpreting and translating for. The individual can be a myriad of things. I never thought that a interpreter/translator may have problems with interpreting/translating certain things, such as vulgar words.  What I did realize was that interpreters/translators sometimes have a difficult time doing their jobs when dealing with such difficult topics as war, rape, murders, domestic violence, and among other things. While watching the role play occur, I saw that not only this is a real problem but that I was curious to know more about how interpreters were handling such situations, especially in international institutions such as the European Union and the United Nations.

Unfortunately, this was a short session and I wish we had more time. I was very interested and I wish I was able to ask them questions when I had the chance.


Religion-positive or negative

This session was an interesting session. Professor Bock was passionate and accepting of other people’s views.  Professor Bock was discussing with our group the negative and positive aspects of religion in Peacebuilding. As a practicing Catholic, I personally feel that religion can be used in a positive way in many aspects-personal, romantic, educational, etc. I am aware that Pope Francis has been a positive role model and has such an impact on the global stage. In addition, the Catholic Diocese of Los Angeles has also done wonderful things to help the community, such as immigration, cultural events, homeless services, and more. When Professor Bock started the session with the exercise about what the positive or negative roles religion play in conflicts, I realized that it was easy to discuss the negative aspects, but not the positive. I realized that with my group it was also easy to discuss the negative aspects, but not the positive. When we discussed as a class, many of us were able to discuss the negative aspects while the positives were relatively unknown  cases that seemed like good examples or we came up with Desmond Tutu being a prime example.  I realized that, as a society, we tend to remember the bad, but never the good. We tend to believe in bad things, but never the good. Society needs to learn to be better to one another and to see more of the good than the bad.  I also cannot understand why people kill, cause harm, or terrorize in the name of religion. We already have problems with what we have in society. These religious conflicts compound existing problems. With that, I see the importance of religious leaders. Religious leaders need to remind their communities that extreme religious beliefs with violence are not the answer to any problem or a sound reason in any conflict. Dialogue is a better option. In addition, religious leaders can help  create positive impacts, which will help individuals like me to remember good examples.


Flowing to Peace

The session with Professor Jeff Langholz was fantastic. It was fantastic and very informative to listen to the conflict rap. The professor was pretty good! This entire presentation was engaging and it really helped me understand the water crisis as well as the positive future in green technology. Personally, I have never studied environmental issues before. I believe that his class was very informative and useful. I believe this session was a great introduction into understanding the environmental issues that impact our society. I learned that there are three pillars to sustainability: people, planet, and prosperity. The elements may be the three C’s (communities, conservation and commerce) or the three E’s (equity, ecology, and economies). In addition, I did not know California hired Water Patrol agents. That alone helps me truly understand that there is a water crisis-resrouce wise and economic wise. It was incredible to learn that it would cost $1 trillion to fix the U.S. piping system. I also did not understand until now that the water is expensive for an economic reason as well. It was a shock to know that water is the fastest rising utility. It is unbelievable that companies are so greedy to hike up the cost of water, a resource we all need.

I also learned about different water systems-Graywater and Blackwater.  Apparently, Graywater is water that was used for laundry, showers, and bathtubs. Blackwater is water that was used for toilets and kitchen sinks. It is incredible that there is technology to clean up water in order to reuse it again. However, I am not sure if I am willing to drink the water. Again, I am not familiar with environmental issues, but this truly was presented as an exciting field to explore. I realize that this green technology can be useful for countries in Latin America. Latin America is beautiful and a perfect region to try different green technologies. However, I wonder if Latin America will miss an opportunity to continue trying out this field.  I can only see benefits in creating jobs for the region. In addition, I also find it frustrating that the Trump administration is willing to miss an opportunity because the were more interested in maintaining the status quo by siding with the usual utility sectors where they have a horrible impact on the environment.

I found this session amazing and I wish his class was longer.


The session on Gender, Feminism, and the UN, with Professor Sugata Moorti, was absolutely fascinating. Starting off with the session talking about how everyone identifies their gender was something I never personally think about. In addition, it was also an interesting discussion on products that cater to certain genders. I am aware that there are many online campaigns taking a stand against gendered products, especially when products for women are more expensive than products for men. Growing up, I never really had to think about my gender because my family did not really care what our sex or gender is. Each family member did his/her own thing. Growing up, my cousins and I played with toys typically associated with girls as well as toys typically associated with boys. In my family, everyone is treated equally. Everyone played sports and video games. For the girls in my family, we were never told we could not do things because we were girls or that it was not the “girly thing” to do. In addition, as young girls, we were encouraged to pursue our interests and dreams.  This class exercise and discussion reminded me that not everyone had the kind of upbringing I had. I also realized during this exercise/discussion that even within the Latino community my upbringing is surprising to many. Even though Latino communities are changing, these communities are moving slow like molasses. I hope that for the future of Latin America there will be a big push in gender equality.

The statement Professor Sujata Moorti said that “what one looks like on the outside does not necessarily reflect that individual on the inside” reminded me about how people have different identities. Our identities range from race, ethnicity, religion, political affiliations, education, sexuality, community identity, and more.  I normally do not think about it because I have been lucky enough to never have my sexuality questioned.  It was surprising to me when Sujata Moorti said that there are more than the traditional two sexes (female and male); that there are five sexes. There are also, if I quoted her correctly, 63 genders. I do not have words on what to say about this other than that this is incredible to know. I had no idea. In my family, everyone identifies by the standard sexes and standard genders. Like me, my family would be confused and curious to know more.

Since I have never studied feminism, learning about the history of feminism was interesting. I did not know about the 4 waves of feminism. The first wave of feminism occurred during the 19th century. The second wave of feminism occurred during the 20th century. The Third wave of feminism corned during the 1980s-2000s. The Fourth wave of feminism (if one believes that this is the fourth wave) is occurring right now. Lastly, it was also important to learn about women’s rights in terms of development. There are development programs that focus on women’s health, poverty, economic empowerment, and rights. In addition, the United Nations created the Millennium Development Goals to help tackle issues that affect disenfranchised communities.

Overall, Professor Sujata Moorti was incredible and her session was very informative.


Rancho Cielo

The visit to Rancho Cielo was incredible.  For those who do not know, Rancho Cielo is a nonprofit organization that offers education/vocational services to underserved, “at-risk” youth.  I have to say it was incredible to see what the organization has done. The programs are in either the Construction Academy and Drummond Culinary Academy.  This nonprofit seems more promising in helping at-risk youth than what any probation camp or juvenile detention center can do to help them.  According to Rancho Cielo, the cost of Rancho Cielo is about $10,000 per year.* In addition, about 80% of their students stay out of trouble and about 85% continue to be employed.* Rancho Cielo also stated incarceration is about $100,000 and about 40% of the youth stay out of trouble.* It was also interesting to hear about the transitional housing opportunity they have for the youth; about 22 can live at the ranch. The youth need to apply and state why they want to live at the ranch. I believe this nonprofit has figured out a way to help “at-risk” youth rather than punish them.  When I was interning with the Learning Rights Law Center, I remember visiting different juvenile detention centers and probation camps. The centers and camps were intense and it seemed depressing to see young kids locked up and supervised in an intense manner. I have never seen this type of set up before. So, it was nice to know that Rancho Cielo was an alternative to helping the youth change their life and avoid incarceration in the future.  I hope that there are other ranches out there for “at-risk” youth. I think this alternative is worth pursuing.



*Rancho Cielo.


One of my favorite sessions from this program was listening to and talking to Willie Stokes. He is truly inspirational to listen to and I believe he can make a difference for youth in other communities.  It was insane and yet fascinating to listen to his life story. It seems selfish of me to think that I had a tough life. After listening to him, I realized that there are others around the world with tougher lives and yet they go on to do incredible work and try to make a difference in this world. Willie Stokes inspires me to try to do just that-change the world in a more positive way no matter how. Personally, I cannot relate to how he was raised, but I understand how life throws curve balls and creates barriers in our lives. However, Willie showed that we all can change and can do better things in life; it just takes time and self realization in order to get there. It was also great to hear from someone who was able to tell us about prison life from a personal perspective as well as a first hand perspective into the gang life. I also appreciate how Wille Stokes was able to humanize those who have been or are in prison. I also appreciate that he was able to show that gangs were no different from corporations or other powerful entities. People need to wake up and see that violence is never the answer. Willie Stokes’ story only confirms to me that, as a society, we need to push our legislators/leaders to see these individuals as human beings and that there needs to be major reform to help improve our communities, especially low income communities. I can not wait to talk to him and see if he can help change the minds of youth from joining gangs in Southern California.

Prisons: good or bad

I know talking about prisons can be controversial but the visits to the prisons on August 1, 2017, were very interesting. The field trip to Salinas Valley State Prison (SVSP) and the Correctional Training Facility (CTF) were experiences I will never forget. Currently, the United States is the leader in incarcerating people with 2.2 million individuals in prisons or in jails (The Sentencing Project).*  Prisons are meant to lock away those who commit heinous crimes yet the United States’ prison population has increased is due to the change in sentencing (The Sentencing Project).*.  It is unfortunate and terrible that people are being locked up for this.

This is not the first time I have been to a prison in California. I have been to the California Medical Facility and California State Prison Solano for social justice courses when I was an undergrad at the University of California-Davis. In addition, I have wrote a white paper about the criminal justice system in America and discussing the privatization of prisons. While visiting SVSP and CTF, it reminded me of visiting those prisons. While visiting these, prisons I felt the same way I did when I visited those other prisons as an undergrad. I felt I was visiting some kind of zoo, but I was also  aware that there are some bad people in these prisons. I felt conflicted about how these individuals should be treated considering what I have heard about the records of a number of these individuals have.  I realized that I have gotten used to the prison environment and how tense it can be. It was great to be reminded during the group debrief about the tense environment and the political platforms about prisons.  What was interesting about the visits was the conversation with the prisoners and listening to their life stories, especially their point of views of prison life and how they got stuck into this Prison Industrial Complex system. It was also interesting to speak to Latino correctional officers and their views about the prison system. In the past, I remember the correctional officers were mostly white and, now, the demographics have changed.

Overall, I appreciated the experiences and I believe it will help me continue broadening my perspectives on issues such as this.



*The Sentencing Project.Fact Sheet: Trends in U.S. Corrections.

Cannot forget Environmental Conflicts

Normally, when I think about conflicts I usually think about religious, ethnic/racial, interstate, intrastate with foreign involvement, ideological, territorial, and economic. I tend to forget about environmental conflicts or resource conflicts.  This type of conflict is also important because it contributes to mass migration, global warming, and trafficking of all kinds (human, animal, and weapons). Listening to Professor Richard Matthew discuss environmental violence was intense.  He kept painting a bleak picture but it was information we needed to hear. It is not just resource scarce conflicts such as drought areas or lack of fertile land for farming that create massive problems but also certain resources creating problems as well such as the diamond or ruby trade.  I remember reading  from the UNEP report “From Conflict to Peacebuilding: The Role of Natural Resources and the Environment” about 18 conflicts/internal unrests that was caused by natural resources. The following resources are some of the resources that are the cause of these conflicts: timber, opium, diamonds, gold, oil, cocoa, coffee, rubber, and copper. From the readings and the lecture, I have realized that these conflicts will become more and more frequent and will eventually involve all the powerful nations at some point, which will definitely put weaker nations at a disadvantage and create bigger catastrophes for themselves. One thing that stuck with me from the lecture was the fact that the 8 richest individuals in the world have 0.2% of the global wealth and that the bottom 50% of the population constitute that same amount of global wealth (0.2%) as well.  Knowing that the wealthy and powerful continue to control the worlds resources is a scary thought.

Veterans for Peace

I really appreciated listening to Phillip Butler talk about his life, service, and activism, especially his enthusiasm for the Veterans for Peace organization and being President of Chapter 46 for Veterans for Peace.  I am actually familiar with the Veterans for Peace, because I worked with the MIIS Veterans Student Club for my Organizational Sustainability (OS) project. My OS group and I attended an event that Veterans for Peace and MIIS Veterans Student Club hosted on the MIIS campus. The event was a Q&A with former U.S Representative Sam Farr. We asked questions regarding the Peace Corps and his experience in Colombia, his political career, and political activism under the Trump Era. When Phillip Butler came to talk about Veterans for Peace, it was great to learn more about Phillip Butler’s life and why he joined the military. It was also incredible to learn how being in the military changed his perspective on war and how he became an agent for peace.  During the Vietnam War, he became a POW for 2,855 days. Knowing his experience only goes to show how veterans like him can make great agents for peace because these soldiers know the real cost of war and why peace is necessary.

In addition to learning more about Phillip Butler, I learned more about Veterans for Peace being an international organization and that they allowed nonveterans to join the organization. It was also important to hear from the other two veterans who were present during the Veterans for Peace presentation and why they joined the military. Lastly, it was powerful to listen to one of the veteran’s (Justin Loza) “Bernie or Bust” poem. I also appreciate that the Veterans for Peace protest against wars and asked for a task force addressing torture.

What I learned is that I have greater respect to veterans who challenge the system and question the reasons for war. It also occurred to me that people join the military for many reasons even though I still do not understand why given the issues surrounding Veteran treatment and homelessness. For me, I have always been conflicted about the United States military. First, I do not support war no matter what. Second, my father served in the United States Army as a Latino immigrant and I never got to know him.

Overall, I hope that Veterans for Peace can continue the great work and attempt to try to change the military machine and culture.


Prior to watching the movie Parzania, I was aware that religious conflicts exist in India, but I was not  aware of the extent of how divided religious communities are in India. For those not familiar with the film, Parzania is a movie based on a true story of a young Parsi boy named Azhar Mody who disappeared during the 2002 Gujarat riots. It was not until watching and discussing the movie Parzania that I realized that conflicts are much more complicated as well as hostile. In addition, I learned from class that religious riots have plagued Indian society for many years. It begs the question why communities still continue to fight even after all the bloodshed and pain.  Parzania showed the family’s pain and suffering during the Gujarat riots. All I could think was how unimaginable and unbearable the pain must have been to witness and experience such chaos.

After watching the movie Parzania, I have become more familiar with religious conflicts in India. However, I have yet to understand how a peacebuilder can bring rival religious groups together in order to create peace or hope that the communities can learn to at least tolerate one another.  Parzania reminded me of the controversy around another film called “My Name is Khan”. The movie addresses  the issues of being muslim in America. “My Name is Khan” is about Rizwan Khan, a muslim adult with autism, who experiences racism in the United States after 9-11. The movie shows Rizwan’s journey to meet the President of the United States in order to tell him that “He is not a terrorist.” Even though this film does not discuss religious conflicts in India, it was the reception of this film that I first learned about the religious conflicts that exist in India. When the filmed was released in India back in 2010, I remember reading news articles about how there were protests around this film. There were many Indians who disliked the main actor, Shah Rukh Khan, for being muslim but loved him for being Indian. I then learned that there was a deep division between Muslim Indians and Hindu Indians. Personally, I have a hard time understanding why anyone would hate another because of their religion, but, from what I understand, the religious conflicts have existed for many years and unfortunately continue to this day. From watching the Parzania film, I did not know that the Gujarat riots were planned.

In addition, to the films, these movies also reminded me of two different experiences: one when I was in Nigeria and the other is a personal experience of being Catholic in the United States. First, when I was in Nigeria working on a medical nonprofit project, I was aware that there was a divide between the Muslims and Christians. However, I did not realize the animosity between both groups. While in Nigeria, it was impossible to have a discussion about religion. Anyone who was Christian or Muslim would automatically refer to the other religion as “evil” and that would be the end of discussion.  I also learned from individuals living in Nigeria that the violence between both communities is only getting worse and that there will never be peace between Muslims and Christians.  Second, being Catholic in the United States can be complicated to say the least. I have had “personal conflicts” with Christians treating me poorly because I am Catholic. It also can be tiresome whenever I am in a group setting and so many Christians start insulting Catholics and the Catholic Church. Even though I did not experience any physical violence, I realize that religious conflicts can easily exist in the United States like anywhere else in the world. Also, sometimes I wonder why anyone would want to follow any religion, because it almost seems better to be an atheist or agnostic.

Overall, the film Parzania was an eye opener and important to show. I just hope religion can one day stop being the reason for such misery.

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