This Entrepreneur Found Her Voice While Giving Voice to Others

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Photo by Tatiana Peña
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By Christina Fernández-Morrow, Hola Iowa

On Vanessa Marcano-Kelly’s first day at her first job out of college she was tasked with interpreting for a client during a meeting with an Iowa legislator. “She was telling her husband’s story of wage theft, and I knew how important it was. If I messed up, these people’s stories were not going to be heard; the legislator won’t know how much her family struggled because of this injustice.” Marcano-Kelly realized that helping others express themselves in their own words was a passion she’d held since the days of translating for her parents as a girl. “I love being a way to help people express themselves even if they don’t speak the language. I’m like a tool they’re using to get their words out.” She also understood the precision and care required to make sure she was accurate. 

Her business, Caracas Language Solutions, named for the place of her birth, had humble beginnings. “I was used to interpreting in churches with no amplified sound, basically trying to whisper to a group of people, hopeful they could hear what I was interpreting.” During an event she saw a man interpreting with equipment and reached out to him on LinkedIn. She told him she wanted to be an interpreter and was seeking advice. After their conversation, Marcano-Kelly was surer than ever that she wanted to pursue this career.

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That contact became her mentor, encouraging her to take a court interpretation course, which Marcano-Kelly did. Soon after passing that exam, she enrolled in the interpretation program at Des Moines Area Community College. “I work with him a lot and it’s a very valuable relationship.” Her mentor not only shares best practices from within the industry, but when the pandemic moved everything to a digital platform and opened doors for more interpretation options, he helped Marcano-Kelly adapt her business. “He took the time to figure out all the technical things I needed to know to use Zoom and showed me how to do it.” 

The pandemic was a game changer. “Even though it was an unfortunate event, it expanded virtual interpretation, especially through platforms like Zoom. They really got it right.” Zoom channels eliminated barriers, like bulky equipment that limited how many people could listen, and made interpretation happen in real time. The lack of a lag cut out interruptions between the dominant and interpreted language.

Building an interpretation business comes with challenges. “Interpreters get a bad rap. People say so-and-so is bilingual, they can do it.” But, without training and developing skills, this can lead to negative experiences. “They can overstep ethical boundaries. They think they’re helping by adding information that maybe a patient or defendant didn’t say, and it can cause trouble and destroys trust.” Marcano-Kelly’s credentials differentiated her as a professional and created her reputation for being precise and not interfering with the job at hand. It helped her create a network of support that has led to referrals. “I’m so thankful to the community. I get emails and ask how they heard about me, and it’s someone I met or someone who saw me interpreting at an event. I’m always so humbled by that.” Clients happy with her work have been a source of opportunity, too. “This client I had during the pandemic was so happy with the way I worked that she referred me to Notre Dame. It was so amazing. It was like a UN event, and we were connecting with people in Argentina, Geneva and across other countries and I was like, is this real life? It was really cool.”

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Photo by Tatiana Peña/Hola Iowa

Even outside her business, Marcano-Kelly is no stranger to interacting with people across the globe. Her family went back and forth between Florida and Caracas to escape the economic collapse of Venezuela. By the time Marcano-Kelly was ready to start college and had secured a student VISA, the money her family had saved no longer held any value. She moved to Kentucky where one of her brothers had put himself through college, but the tuition was still too high. Eventually Marcano-Kelly found herself at South Dakota State University where the tuition was more affordable. That brought her to the Midwest, one step closer to her job in Iowa that unleashed her passion and led to her business. Along the way, her family was separated, one brother in Vienna, another in Minnesota, and her mother travels between the three of them. Her father, a surgeon in Venezuela was the only business owner in her life, but he died in 2000, before Marcano-Kelly could learn the ins and outs of being an entrepreneur. “I wondered how to get the information I needed about taxes, bookkeeping, and accounting,” recalls Marcano-Kelly. She did a lot of research on the Internet, used Legal Zoom and relied on the contacts she had made as a participant of Latina Leadership Initiative of Greater Des Moines and the New Leaders Council. She attended free workshops on topics like accounting and business plans at the Evelyn K. Davis Center. “I was really paranoid, I didn’t want to mess things up with taxes, but honestly the process of starting a business in Iowa wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, or as expensive for incorporating the name and things like that.”

Asking for help was critical to building her business. “Definitely find a mentor,” she advises. “Someone who has a mentality of abundance and doesn’t see you as a competitor but as someone who can help advance the industry.” Some of the people Marcano-Kelly looks up to have different occupations but she sees them as examples of tenacity with a heart for helping others. “Have a tie to your community. That’s been really helpful to me, especially in Iowa. It’s been my experience that people here like to support local and they like to see that you’re involved.”

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JEFAS Magazine is a collaboration of writers, photographers, social media managers, editors, translators, and designers from across Illinois, Iowa and the Midwest – all of whom are Latinx. It is the first magazine created by the Latinx community, for the Latinx community that focuses on how they are boosting the economy, giving back, and filling the gap between what is needed and what is available in the state. 

To see the locations where you can find the magazine visit @JEFASMagazine on Instagram and TikTok

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You can find the digital magazine here:

https://holaamericanews.com/jefas-latinas-in-business-magazine-may-2024/

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