Translations, TV show connect a city's Hispanic community

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — When Sioux Falls resident Alex Ramirez sees a news story or city announcement — be it about road closures or a building collapse — he makes a copy, translates the text into Spanish and posts it on Facebook for free.

He and a friend also bought TV air time recently and produce the only community-oriented Spanish-language show in South Dakota's biggest city, where Latinos make up about 5 percent of the population.

At first, his goal was to inform non-English speakers and connect them to organizations and government services. But with the hostile immigration rhetoric of President-elect Donald Trump causing some to feel unwelcome in the U.S., Ramirez says his work also is about unity.

"It is very important that we stick together," said the 49-year-old, who legally emigrated from Mexico when he was 17, "and if for some reason we can't find support from other people, we have to find it among ourselves and do business with each other and help each other in our community."

Yeshua Prestan, a Colombian native who moved to the U.S. as a refugee and is now a citizen, barely understands English and is visually impaired. He sometimes asks his children to read him the Facebook posts — which recently have detailed a planned listening session with Sioux Falls' mayor, the weather forecast and road closures following the collapse of a three-story building downtown.

"That's information that I couldn't access, not even in English, because I can't read," Prestan said in Spanish.

It used to be a challenge for him to find useful, reliable information because he can't watch TV and the information offered by some print outlets is "very basic" or about topics that he is "sincerely not interested in," he said.

Some cities, including Minneapolis, use a Google service to provide an approximate translation of their website's content. In Sioux Falls, an executive order requires the use of a certified translation service if content has to be produced in a language other than English. If a resident needs urgent assistance with language translation, the city can get an interpreter via phone, assistant city attorney Ryan Sage said in a statement, and if it's "for a meeting or appointment at a future time or date," an in-person interpreter is provided in most cases.

The 30-minute TV show, which airs Friday nights, has featured segments with a Spanish-speaking physician who addressed the consequences of poorly treated diabetes and a police officer who — in Spanish — gave viewers tips about how to interact with officers if a language barrier exists.

Ten episodes have aired since October, all with subtitles in English to make it accessible for Hispanics who don't speak Spanish and subtitles in Spanish when interviewees speak English.

Ramirez and his friend, Raul Guajardo, maxed out their credit cards to buy air time for a year. But they also received a $6,000 grant from the regional health care system Avera Health, whose vice president of public relations, Lindsey Meyers, said was done to help improve "access and information for underserved audiences."

That money was used to partially repay themselves, buy needed equipment and pay two anchors. Guajardo is an anchor, but unpaid.

Ramirez is a native of Mexico's western state of Michoacan. He still remembers his first days at a high school in Berkeley, California, where he didn't understand a word his teachers and classmates were saying. These days, he owns a multimedia services company and sits on the boards of multiple organizations.

Ramirez hopes the TV show and Facebook page will help better expose the Sioux Falls area to the diversity of Latinos. Prestan noted that many falsely assume they are all Mexicans and, in his experience, treat people poorly if they hear Spanish being spoken.

"It is as if one were from another planet or another galaxy, and then they think that we've come here to steal from them," he said.

With Trump soon taking office, many Latinos are worried about the future because many don't fully understand how the federal government operates and how immigration laws are enforced, Ramirez said. He sees his projects, which also reach parts of Iowa and Minnesota, as a way to keep people connected and stem their fears.

"We talk to them about the community and how the community works, and we make them feel a little better because we let them know that not just because he is going to be the president, he is going to change the way we do things here in our community," he said.


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