Meet Edison Peña’s Translator! (interview!)

All of you remember how excited I was about the Chilean Miner, Edison Peña appearing on David Letterman, right? Remember the hilarious video I shared with you and the charming female translator we fell in love with? Well, I managed to find her and had the distinct pleasure of interviewing her for!

Cassandra was hired to translate for Edison Peña by the David Letterman Show through Geneva Worldwide, a company in New York that provides interpreters, translators and other language services. They kindly put me in touch, and Cassandra generously agreed to answer a few questions. I was surprised to find out that interpreting is just one of many things Cassandra does. I think you’ll find her as interesting, amazing, clever, and fun as I did. Here is the interview below.

Cassandra interpreting for Edison Peña.
Hello, Cassandra! Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. After seeing your appearance on David Letterman as the translator for Chilean miner Edison Peña, the internet has been buzzing with the question, “Who is that translator?” … Everyone loved you and I’m so pleased to speak with you. Please, tell us a little about yourself.

Cassandra: Hola, everybody! ¿Qué tal? Mucho gusto y muchas gracias, Sra. López. First of all, Congratulations for creating este espacio de reflexión on having one foot on each side of the cosmic cultural canyon! I think we all do in one way or another, even if we don’t know it.

Pues, la pura verdad es que estoy un poco chiveada pero, bueno, here goes. Soy Cassandra, a sculptor by trade who freelances as an interpreter for Indigenous Peoples in United Nations negotiations on the environment and human rights. I have also been known to sell roses at the farmers’ market and teach English to Otomi mariachis at dawn.

I am currently building my dentist a yacht. So forgive the unabashed self-promotion but if you have work for me, definitely holler. No job too small. Según el sapo, la pedrada. I can travel at the drop of a hat and have my own translating equipment.

Además if you wanna see me out of UN drag, verify that women do, in fact, weld, commission a major monument or personal altar or just check out my sculptures, pica la salsa aquí: OJO: Bronze statues ain’t chilaquiles. So piensa en what a small used car costs. Now, we know that you speak Spanish since we saw you translate for Edison Peña. How did you come to learn Spanish? Are there any other languages you speak? Have you always loved language?

Cassandra: Aprendí a medio-masticar español cotorreando en las calles de Tenochtitlan. When I was 19, I went to México with three words: hola, amigo, and adios which, when you think about it, sort of covers the span of el convivir. I wanted to read Neruda without translation and hunt down l@s niet@s de Siquieros. For twelve years, I basked in México’s phenomenal legacy of la plástica concientizadora.

Por otro lado, I am the sheepish runt of a long line of linguists. I can chew the fat in French and Portuguese, too. I adore the crazy salad of speaking several languages all at once because it makes the colors in your paintbox shimmer infinitely.

Creo que slang is the cutting edge of language, the wiry green potato shoots of parlance. Homemade slang allows you to playfully skate the idiom and plasmar tu realidad mágica in your own terms. I especially love el huapango del albur.

Asímismo considero que la alegría es el secreto de la resistencia – joy is the secret of resistance -y contar un buen chiste que ilumina una sonrisa o un knee-slapping carcajada es unos de los mejores regalos que se puede brindar. I also have a special fondness for translating prayers.

Perhaps this sounds nerdy but etymology actually excites me. Digging for the twists and turns of meaning is like foraging for sassafras in the swamp. It gets you muddy, makes you bow in reverence to the Earth and, ultimately, heals you.

Para mi, consciousness of origins goes hand and hand with la vida’s invitation to Signify. There is nothing more deadening than the flight from significance and the copout of being innocuous As Le Chic says, “Don’t be a drag, participate.” Daring to give a damn is where it is at. What is the best thing about being a translator/interpreter?

Cassandra: The best thing about being an interpreter is bringing people together and helping the voiceless have a voice. Ya sabes, ¡la traducción de la liberación! What is the most challenging thing about being a translator/interpreter?

Cassandra: Whether at the UN or at the grassroots, getting caught in the crossfire can be dangerous and draining. Sometimes I really wanna hold up a sign that says “Don’t shoot me, I’m only the piano player!” Are there any Spanish accents/dialects you like best?

Cassandra: I enjoy working with Indigenous Peoples because the poetry of their cosmovisión moves me. How did you feel appearing on David Letterman? Is this your most exciting moment as a translator/interpreter so far or have there been others?

Cassandra: Truth is bright lights don’t float my boat. What turns me on as an interpreter is when people feel each other. Memorable moments include sitting on a dock on a bay watching dolphins play in the turquoise waves while helping an Inuit and a Kuna compare notes on kayaks and canoes. Another special chat was between a German geneticist and a Zapotec curandero on the effects of consuming GMO corn. (They both agreed it hinders digestion and depresses you aka te empacha y te debilita el espíritu.) I also treasure the time I translated for Berito KuwarU’wa in front of the International Court of Justice. So many readers and friends of have said to me both publicly and privately that they adore you. Did you realize how many people were charmed by your performance on David Letterman, or were you shocked at the response?

Cassandra: I am thrilled that Edison rocked the house. The man has been there and come back. (Goya and Dante ain’t got nothing on this dude.) One can only be dazzled by his wonderfulness and luminous afán to live life to the hilt. So, frankly, I didn’t give a thought to myself. But the other day at the Laundromat, I heard Carol King sing “Show the world all the love in your heart!” and realized that is certainly my aspiration.
The way you and Edison Peña interacted, you seemed like old friends! After working closely with a client, do you often have the opportunity to stay in touch? If not, do you ever feel a little sad to have made friends and then have to say goodbye?

Cassandra: Pues, I am very blessed to interpret for people that I care about and believe in so I almost never conceive of them as a “client” and almost always stay friends for life. Cassandra, thank you again for taking the time to speak with me. It is a real pleasure and I know my readers would also like to extend their thanks and good wishes to you. Buena suerte in everything you do!

Cassandra: Thank you! ¡Pórtense mal y cuídense bien!


  1. Great interview! I think anyone who saw that interview loved her (Cassandra) as much as they did him (Edison Peña). Although I would usually say that the interpreter’s job is to remain in the background, but she did such a great job of helping him shine that I can’t help but really admire her!

  2. Tracy, this interview brightened my day! I, too, found her to be as interesting as the Chilean miner himself. So when I read you had interviewed her, I couldn’t resist coming over to read the interview. She sounds so interesting and smart! What a great spirit! Thank you for a really nice peak into Cassandra’s life.

  3. Tracy, what a delight was to read this interview! I found myself smiling while reading Cassandra’s words, what an extraordinary person! her free spirit inspired me, thanks for sharing!

  4. Excelente, Tracy! Congrats! Ever since you told me you got her, I’ve been dying to read this interview, but I have to say that I was absolutely blown away by her responses. Then again, the way she came across during Letterman, you’d have to know that she has an extremely extroverted personality!

    Sounds like she’s lead a super interesting life. Love how she answered your question about appearing on Letterman! Pero lo que más me gustó was her use of Spanglish!! It flows perfectly and she obviously masters both languages.

    Well done, Tracy!

  5. Wow Tracy! You rock!! I’ve been thinking about this interview all day. Cassandra seems like the type of person who has embraced life, soaking up everything it can possible offer her. It’s amazing how her ability to communicate in different languages has enabled her to have a full and fascinating life. Thank you for sharing her story with us.

  6. Way to go Tracy! That’s so cool that you got to interview her. What an inspirational story. I aspire to be more like her! She illustrates perfectly the kind of joy possible from following your heart. Maybe she can put you in touch with one of the miners next? Buena suerte!

  7. I now have a crush on Cassandra and Ms. López–both gutsy women who know their Spanglish.

    For real, this interview is a treasure and now I want to know more about Cassandra and her poetic life.

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