New York City, known for its cultural diversity, has long been a melting pot of languages and backgrounds. However, until 2016, the city government communicated with New Yorkers in only 6 official languages, none of which represented indigenous African languages.
Recognizing this gap, advocacy groups, including African Communities Together (ACT), launched a language access campaign that successfully prompted the city government to add 4 new languages, including French and Arabic, to its list of official translations.
Despite these additions, challenges persisted for the African community in accessing vital city services. Maimouna Dieye, Programs Manager at African Communities Together, highlighted that French and Arabic, while included, posed difficulties as they are primarily languages of formal education. Many community members lacked the necessary educational background to navigate these languages effectively.
In response to the ongoing struggles, Afrilingual, a language cooperative, was established in August this year to address the language access needs of the rapidly growing African community. Aminata ChabiLeke, co-founder of Afrilingual, emphasized the increased demand, especially with the current migrant crisis. The cooperative collaborates with lawyers assisting African clients, particularly those from West Africa, in filing asylum cases and articulating their stories accurately.
Corina Bogaciu, a senior staff attorney on the Immigrants’ Rights team at TakeRoot Justice, emphasized the vital role skilled interpreters play in their work. She noted the importance of continuity in working with interpreters who become familiar with specific clients, citing instances where long-term collaboration has greatly benefited their clients' comfort and understanding.
Afrilingual currently offers translation and interpretation services in about 10 African languages, including Bambara, Wolof, French, and Arabic. By bridging linguistic gaps, Afrilingual plays a crucial role in ensuring that New York City's diverse African communities can access essential services and navigate legal processes effectively.