It is a Tuesday at the Johnson City Public Library around 5:45 p.m. Callie Longo, 24, is preparing for members to show up for a discussion group that she leads every week.
The conversation group usually spends half of the two-hour period speaking in English and the other in Spanish. Longo began the group as an alternative for people who wish to continue learning and speaking Spanish but do not have the time, or the money, to enroll in courses.
“I noticed when you’re in school, it is really easy to keep up the language skills,” said Longo. “But once you get into the adult world, there is not really anything available unless you’re consistently engaged in conversation.”
A mother and her child are waiting for their two-year checkup at East Tennessee State University’s pediatric clinic when José Zepeda and a resident pediatrician enter the room.
“How’s our little girl?” said the doctor.
“¿Cómo está la niña?” said Zepeda.
“Muy bien!” said the mother of the child in question.
“She is very well,” said Zepeda to the doctor, glancing at the little girl with a smile.
The mother does not speak English and the doctor does not speak Spanish, but the seemingly endless questionnaire of things like, “How many servings of fruits and vegetables does she eat per day?” goes over with ease.
“There is an art to interpreting,” said Zepeda, a certified medical interpreter at ETSU Pediatrics. “My job is to help two people who cannot communicate with each other come together and be able to care for this child. That is why I love doing this.”
It’s a humid Sunday morning. The streets of Johnson City are unusually busy for this time of the day. A local marathon is taking place and police officers are directing traffic at each intersection. Exhausted-looking participants jog by a parking lot on the fringe of ETSU’s campus where a group of people have begun to gather. One by one, cars exit the stagnant line of traffic, pass through the shadow of the looming Mini Dome and make their way to the parking lot.
One of the last people to arrive steps out of her SUV and removes her bicycle from the back. As she does this, several other riders carve wide arcs around the parking lot, warming up for the ride while they wait. The woman, sporting a white windbreaker, blue shades and full riding gear, strolls up to the main group of riders, which has now gathered near the back of the parking lot. She greets the others with a familiar smile. After a minute or two of friendly conversation, the riders mount their bikes and she is off with a quick wave.