Promotores, worker protection standards, and research translation

By Claire Carson, REU intern 2012


On my first day as a research translation trainee, I showed up at 8:30 sharp, armed with laptop, notebook, and only a vague idea of what research translation actually entailed. Judging by the website’s description, it was simply communicating research results. I envisioned sorting through stacks of journal articles and condensing them into neat, concise brochures for the general public. So far, it’s been much more of an adventure than that.

Fast forward a few weeks and I’m seated at a table in a simple, barracks-style building. Twenty or so bunk beds sit pushed up against the walls of the building– it’s Sunday afternoon, so the workers are out playing soccer in the intense heat, despite having to work in pino, or Christmas trees, every other day of the week. “I have a sister in California, but I don’t see her while I’m here, since it’s so far and so expensive. I go back to Mexico in the winter, but I spend most of the year, eleven months, working here,” explains the one man who chose to stay behind. We had stopped by to recruit this man and his fellow workers for our project to interview farm workers about the effectiveness of the regulations that are supposed to protect workers from pesticide exposure.

This research translation project is literal translation– summarizing the EPA’s pesticide regulations in easily-understood Spanish. Toxic Free NC, the non-profit I’m interning with this summer, will condense the farm worker interviews into a public comment on the EPA’s proposed changes to its pesticide regulations, the Worker Protection Standard. In addition to translating languages, we consider our audience, farm workers from Mexico with limited education. We have to adjust the vocabulary to include farm slang, such as nursería instead of semillero for nursery, and find clear, simple, and easily-understood phrases for “Worker Protection Standard” and “Restricted Entry Interval” in Spanish. So far, this project has been incredibly eye-opening. Despite living in North Carolina for the first 18 years of my life, I never once saw or talked to a migrant worker like the man at the Christmas tree farm. Just from interviewing farm workers, I’ve gained a broader view of pivotal issues in this nation, particularly our agricultural system and immigration laws.

Watch the documentary video below for an example of previous work done by Toxic Free NC.


My second research translation project falls closer to my expectations. I’m preparing a report and literature review on promotores de salud, community health workers used by healthcare providers to reach populations with limited access to healthcare. The idea behind promotores is that training a respected community member on relevant health topics, such as prenatal care or cancer screening, gives the community culturally-appropriate, accessible, and accurate health information in a language they can understand. Currently, promotores work almost exclusively in the health field, and Toxic Free NC would like to adopt the model for its current outreach work.

While research translation involves its fair share of sorting through journal articles on promotores, I really did have no idea what I was in for that first week in June. After narrowly avoiding a dog attack, tasting Mexican foods, killing squash bugs, and interacting with the migrant workers I didn’t even know existed in my home state, I can safely say that this is a summer like none other. I’ve emerged with new knowledge, increased research skills, and most importantly, a deep respect for the workers who harvest our food.