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Sue Bush
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Diversity Reigns At Neighborhood Expo

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Sunday, December 04, 2005

2005 "Peacemaker of the Year" Youlin Shi was honored at a Dec. 3 Neighborhood Expo.
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North Adams – Youlin Shi was named the 2005 Peacemaker of the Year during a Dec. 3 Neighborhood Expo sponsored by the Northern Berkshire Neighbors/Northern Berkshire Community Coalition and held at the St. Anthony’s parish hall.

Shi was selected for the award by members of the Martin Luther King Committee. Mayor John Barrett III presented Shi with the award during an early afternoon ceremony. State Rep. Daniel E. Bosley D-North Adams attended the presentation.

Barrett noted that diversity has always been a part of the city’s culture. His grandparents were among the immigrant population during the early 1900s, he said.

“We welcome people from all walks of life,” Barrett said during the award presentation.

Shi came to the city about 10 years ago when her husband Kailai Huang accepted a teaching position at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Eager to become involved with her new community, Shi offered to teach tai chi to senior citizens in exchange for lessons in the English language. Tai chi classes were first held at the Mary Spitzer Center and were moved to the St. John’s parish center to accommodate a growing class size. Shi’s teachings have expanded beyond the city’s borders and she teaches tai chi at the Williamstown and Florida senior centers.

Shi is known as an excellent cook and frequently prepares Chinese foods for community events. She is skilled in Chinese calligraphy. She has volunteered at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, past Neighborhood Expo events, and has been involved with the Women’s House of Peace since the initiative began.

Shi recently organized a community trip to China. Deborah Coyne and Marge Cohan were among the women who traveled as part of “Youlin’s Friendship Trip to China” and visited cities including Shanghai, Beijing, and Xian.

“It was a life-changing experience,” said Cohan.

“It was just unbelievable,” said Coyne.

Celebrating the Latino Culture

Cafe Latino employee Kayla Paulin prepared catfish tacos as part of a Neighborhood Expo luncheon. The lunch featured Latino foods.
The area’s Latino culture was the focus of this year’s expo. Afternoon activities included learning Latin dance steps and listening to Latin music. A noontime meal featured numerous Latin foods, including dishes prepared by the city-based Café Latino.

Over 100 individuals attended the day-long event. Two morning community conversation sessions launched the expo; author Joe Manning led one discussion focused on identifying the area’s “invisible people,” while Angela Thomas and Mark Rondeau served as facilitators for a “Latino Heritage: People and Culture” session.

The Latino session was well attended, said Thomas, who came to the United States from Cali, Columbia in 1993.

“We had a lot of people from Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Columbia; it really shows that the [Latino] community is growing,” Thomas said.

Thomas arrived in the city with no English language skills. She credits her husband, Erik Thomas, who she met through a job, with teaching her the English language. Thomas is affiliated with the Pittsfield-based New American Citizen Coalition and has served as an ESL tutor at the Brayton Elementary School. She is a 1996 graduate of a Charles H. McCann Technical High School post-secondary education medical assistant program and earned medical interpretation certification in 2000.

Language is a barrier for many Latino residents, Thomas said.

Advocate for Medical Interpreter Services

Thomas said that she believes the North Adams Regional Hospital needs a trained medical interpreter who can assist the Latino population.

City resident Angela Thomas advocated for medical interpreter services to assist the area's Spanish-speaking population.

“The schools have done so much for the [Latino] students, but one place that is still lacking is the hospital,” she said. “More needs to be done there.”

Thomas said that she has served as a medical interpreter for Spanish-speaking people. Interpreters are often sought during medical emergencies “at the last minute,” she said, and in some cases, the translations are done over the telephone. Telephone translations may not be as effective or as accurate as on-site translations, she said.

Family members may be used to translate symptoms and information from one language to another, and that may mean a parent relying on an English-speaking child to communicate with a doctor, Thomas said. The experience can be frightening for some youth, who may be being asked to communicate information about serious medical matters between doctor and patient. The situation may also be dangerous; a parent may downplay a specific symptom to avoid frightening a child who may be translating to a doctor.

The experience can be even more difficult in situations of mental illness, Thomas said.

Medical interpretation is a specialized communication skill, and requires appropriate training, Thomas said.

“Just because a person is bilingual doesn’t mean that the person is trained in medical interpretation,” she said.

Physician appointments, visits to physical therapists, eye doctor appointments, and medical tests are all examples of situations that could benefit from a medical interpreter, Thomas said.

There are times when a doctor may require information about cultural remedies as well as language translation, she said.

“The Spanish culture uses a lot of home remedies and these things need to be clarified when someone goes to the doctor,” she said. “Even people who understand and speak English fairly well may want an interpreter in certain situations. When my friend had her baby, her English was ok, but she brought me with her. She said ‘Angela, come with me, be my interpreter. I am going to be having a baby and I don’t want to be thinking about having the right words to say to the doctor.’”

Elsie Mitchell is a native of Puerto Rico who lives with her husband and children in the Northern Berkshires. She said that she believes the area medical community should include certified medical interpretation services as part of medical care.

“My mother moved here about three years ago and she doesn’t speak English at all,” Mitchell said. “I have to go with her to all her doctor appointments. It can be hard to explain things.”

Mitchell said she is not trained in medical interpretation and has no particular knowledge of medical conditions or terms. Trying to translate medical information can be difficult, she said.

"This Has Been very Good"

Elsie Mitchell and her daughter, 15-year-old Gisselle Melendez were among those who attended the expo.
The expo provided a wonderful venue for socialization and information sharing, Mitchell said.

“This has been very good,” she said of the day’s agenda. “I loved it. It was so good to see so many Spanish people getting together.”

NBCC events organizer Kathy Keeser, who is also an organizer of Northern Berkshire Neighbors events, said that the expo offered a solid starting point for future discussions and initiatives.

“I think things have gone great,” Keeser said. “We hope that we can follow up on the sessions. One of the coolest things about the Latino session is that so many people were able to meet each other. So many people did not realize that the Latino culture is growing here.”

The Northern Berkshire Neighbors and the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition may be reached at 413-663-7588.

Information about medical interpretation may be acquired by e-mailing Angela Thomas at address.

Susan Bush may be reached at or 802-823-9367.

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