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September 2006 Volunteer of the Month Jose Cardoza
Artwork courtesy of VLSP interpreter Jose Cardoza
“I love to do things people think are not possible” says Jose Cardoza, a Nicaraguan immigrant who has been living in the U.S. for the past thirteen years.
Jose is a Spanish/English interpreter for VLSP. He interprets for individual VLSP cases from beginning to end, enabling volunteer attorneys to work with Spanish speaking clients and helping them to understand complex legal issues. Jose is September’s volunteer of the month because of his commitment to his clients and his passion for volunteering.
After finishing architectural school and beginning a promising career in his home country of Nicaragua, Jose began losing his vision in his mid-thirties due to a condition called retina detachment. In 1993 he gave up his career and came to the U.S. in search of more advanced medical treatments for his eye affliction. “If I hadn’t come to the U.S., I would be completely blind right now,” he says. Although he is legally blind, Jose can still see and considers himself to be low-vision.
“I know what it’s like being new and not able to communicate,” he says. When he first arrived in San Francisco, Jose didn’t speak any English. Thanks to a pro bono attorney and volunteer interpreter, Jose was able to navigate the complicated legal issues that accompanied his immigration and was granted political asylum last year. “Volunteering is a way to return some of the help I got when I arrived.”
VLSP’s interpreter project provides support to all of VLSP’s other projects by matching interpreters with volunteer attorneys representing monolingual clients. “It amazes me,” Jose says, “we are living in the U.S. with so many civil rights and freedom, but there are many people who do not have access to that freedom or those rights.” The interpreter project helps to bridge the language gap that prevents many from navigating the American legal system.
Jose has always had a passion for art, music, and architecture. Now that he has lost much of his vision, painting “releases my energy, it keeps me going” he says. Despite the fact that he can no longer be an architect, Jose hasn’t lost his drive. “I try to break the myth of disability,” he says. “It’s never to late for big changes in your life.” Jose will begin classes for medical interpreting this fall and plans on traveling to Europe in between volunteering and working on his art.