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Spanish-Speaking Iowan Works As Interpreter For Presidential Hopefuls


Time now for Snapshots 2016 - a series of audio portraits of people we've met on the campaign trail. Today, NPR's Sarah McCammon introduces us to a Spanish-speaking Iowan who interprets for presidential hopefuls that want to reach Latino audiences. She caught up with him at a Bernie Sanders event in Des Moines.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Ernest Nino-Murcia sometimes finds it a challenge to get the tone right, so he comes prepared.

ERNEST NINO-MURCIA: So watching videos of Bernie and taking down the vocabulary and having translations ready - so kind of knowing what to expect and also being really good one your feet.


BERNIE SANDERS: What this campaign is about this bringing millions of people...

MCCAMMON: While senator Bernie Sanders campaigns at a Latino street fair in Des Moines, Nino-Murcia repeats his ideas in Spanish. He's speaking into a device that sends the interpretation to a handful of Spanish speakers wearing headsets in the crowd.


SANDERS: ...Jobs in this country...

NINO-MURCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

MCCAMMON: Nino-Murcia mostly works in courts and medical offices, but because he lives in the state that holds the nation's first presidential nominating contest, his job description has gradually expanded to include interpreting for political candidates, too. There are the Bernie rallies.

NINO-MURCIA: And Martin O'Malley, and I went on the radio with George Pataki. This time of the year, it's increasing.

MCCAMMON: Nino-Murcia came to the U.S. with his Colombian parents almost three decades ago, and he's made his home in Iowa.

NINO-MURCIA: I moved to the U.S. in the '80s. When I was 6 years old, landed here on a Saturday and was in my first day of first grade that next Monday without speaking any English basically those first three months until, one day, I suddenly burst forth with English.

MCCAMMON: Being bilingual has given Nino-Murcia a career, but it hasn't always been something he's embraced.

NINO-MURCIA: I felt awkward about having this otherness to me that separated me from my schoolmates, and so I think I just wanted to be a normal kid. And speaking Spanish and eating different food and stuff was not something that I really appreciated at the time although I love it now.

MCCAMMON: He went on to graduate from Brown University and start his own interpretation business. So in this year, where the rhetoric on the campaign trail has hit a fever pitch on immigration, I ask him, what does he make of it?

NINO-MURCIA: Some merit to some of the arguments on the right as far as, you can't have an open border as a practical matter. But at the same time, do you deport 11 million people? That's not really practical either. And so it's hard. Either side is going to have to accept some hard truths about their position and find some common ground.

MCCAMMON: Amidst the rancor of this campaign, Nino-Murcia says he hopes to hear more respectful rhetoric, whether it's spoken in English or Spanish. Sarah McCammon, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.