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For immigrants, an extra challenge in Gulf oil spill

The Vietnamese fishermen who provide the US with much of its seafood are getting locked out of cleanup efforts.

"I hadn’t really thought about the problem of outreach until I came here today and I think we need to address it — right away,” said Coast Guard Capt. Ed Stanton, the commander in charge of oil spill recovery operations along the Louisiana coast for the federal government.

BP has a 1-800 telephone service to make a claim, but language is still a problem, with translators often not immediately available.

There are 33 different categories of claims a person can make to file for lost income. So far the Vietnamese community has been unable to obtain a copy of the claims procedure documents and questionaire from BP. BP didn't not respond to requests for comments.

So the community is taking matters into their own hands. The Mary Queen of Vietnam Development Corporation, a community organization along with Reach Nola is training and certifying their own translators to assist people in the claims process with BP.

Certifying translators is also key because in a disaster there are several types of technical vocabulary — legal, medical and environmental — that need to be understood.

“To know is one thing,” said Vien, “but to articulate is another.” Take the word “dispersant." Father Vien translates it as, "The chemical that breaks up the oil so it will sink to the floor." One word has to become many. “It just can’t be word for word,” he said.

And then there are the words that are sometimes just letters, like EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). "We can say that but what does that mean?” Vien said.

To the EPA's credit, it hired a professional translator to attend the meeting. Yet the translator was unprepared for the level of language needed to inform the fishing community. Vien had to step in as the EPA’s translator struggled over phrases like “aerial monitoring.”

Everyone in the room was grateful, including the EPA official speaking in English. “I now have the world’s best translator,” he told the room, which burst into applause after Vien took over the microphone again. Vien half-kidded, “Remember to pay me for that.”