Written by: Amal Abdulrahman
For eight years, I was the interpreter for my father while he was sick. At the age of 14, I was more his interpreter than his daughter. I found it hard to be around kids my age who were busy worrying about final projects or exams because I had other major issues to worry about. I worried about how I would tell my father that another part of his leg would be amputated or whether he was going to survive another surgery. Sometimes I would spare my father bad news despite the doctor’s orders. I would decide whether or not to tell the nurse if my father had eaten that day based on the pain the IV would cause him.
You see, the best thing about someone else being an interpreter for your parents is that you, as their child, do not know what is going on and what is going to happen next. You can go to sleep at night unafraid of tomorrow because your parents have assured you that things will be fine. But when you are the interpreter and you know things are not looking good, then you just feel hopeless.
When I was feeling hopeless, I turned to my art homework. I loved to do draw and sketch while at the hospital because it helped me deal with my feelings. My art also allowed me to bond with my father. He would talk to me as I drew and offer advice on my technique. And he was always asking when a piece would be finished. We had lost so much in our relationship because I had to be the adult in the hospital. My art let us to go back to being daughter and father.
Though my father has passed away, I can’t help but see how other immigrant kids are forced to be both child and adult, both a means for and a barrier to their parent’s health care. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, a product of generations of activism led by people of color, was created to tear down the barriers my father and I faced. But those barriers still exist, one of many examples of how our health care system continues to fail my community.
Today I have hope for health care reform. But I am afraid that we won’t look critically enough at how people of color receive unequal treatment. I often wonder, will health care reform really include all of us? Will it address discrimination based on language, culture, income, geography, and race that create barriers to health care for people of color?
I have been working with Washington CAN! to expand access to interpretation services for limited English speakers in Washington State. Now that we have momentum for federal health care reform, I want to fight for national policies that eliminate barriers in access to care for all immigrant communities and people of color. I don’t want any more children to be afraid of what tomorrow brings.