On 26 March 2020, Mohammed Hossein, a Bangladeshi-born resident of Lavapiés, contracted COVID-19 and died in his home after attempting to contact the healthcare services by telephone for six days. He didn’t speak fluent Spanish. His death, which could have been avoided, reflects the need for interpreters-mediators in the healthcare system and in all administrative bodies. Since then, the assertion that everyone has the right to express themselves in their own language has been backed by Hossein’s friends and migrant and social organisations. In fact, since March 2020 these migrant organisations have been covering this need and confronting the passivity of the Authorities, making up for shortfalls in the health system with work that offers 24-hour telephone assistance to resolve doubts and provides support in processes of illness or to monitor medical treatments.
The crisis brought on by the pandemic continues to highlight the need to urgently drive forward a programme of interpreters-mediators equipped with enough resources and the capacity to operate constantly and effectively in languages such as Bengali, Wolof, Urdu, Arabic, Bambara, Tagalog and Chinese in all spheres of society, where necessary. This situation must be resolved immediately, and there must be public recognition for and appreciation of the selfless work of these collectives, which is key to mitigating the effects of COVID-19 on migrant communities such as the Bangladeshi and Senegalese communities, among others, not just in the Lavapiés neighbourhood but across the whole Community of Madrid area. The collectives involved in the Interpreters to Heal. Interpreters NOW campaign to draw attention to the problem — Asociación Valiente Bangla (Brave Bangla Association), Red Interlavapiés (the Interlavapiés Network) and Red Solidaria de Acogida (Refuge Solidarity Network), along with the set of associations that make up the Museo Situado (Situated Museum) network and Oxfam Intermón — pay homage, via this activity, to all those citizens putting their bodies on the line to confront the virus with specific actions of solidarity.
The action also includes a presentation of the book Lengua o muerte (Language or Death), written by Argentinian poet and activist Dani Zelko, in collaboration with Hossain’s family and friends, published in May 2020, and already translated into a number of languages and turned into an audiobook. The art project that took shape in the said book has contributed to this urgent situation and the goals of the campaign being disseminated inside and outside the Spanish State. The activity features participation from Alejandra Gatti, a researcher from Argentina, Hanan Dalouh Amghar, Constanza Cisneros Sánchez, Mustapha Bendoukali, Pablo Adrián Sainz Rodriguez, and Dani Zelko (online participation).
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