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Guatemalan Maya Center volunteers break down language barriers for U.S. Census

Posted at 12:04 PM, Apr 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-24 00:54:40-04

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — There’s a population of Guatemalans in Palm Beach County who primarily speak an indigenous Mayan language. This makes it difficult for key information to reach those communities, like information about the U.S. Census.


A group of teenage girls volunteering for the Guatemalan Maya Center in Lake Worth are breaking down those language barriers.

Lorena Felipe Sebastian is a junior in high school. She speaks three languages: English, Spanish, and an indigenous Mayan language from her parent’s native country of Guatemala.

"I translate important information to our indigenous Mayan language to help out the community to be more aware of what’s going around them," said Sebastian.

Sebastian and her friend, Ramona Francisco Pedro, volunteer at the Guatemalan Maya Center, which is a community resource for Hispanic families in Lake Worth.

"They look at our Facebook because we have our Mayan speakers on Facebook and they see, they are more confident cause it’s in their Mayan language. So they prefer hearing it better and they get the information more to them," said Sebastian.

Sebastian and Pedro publish videos on YouTube and post to Facebook speaking in Kanjobal. Their most recent posts are all about the census.

"We had talked about everything about the census and everything that they need to know about it," said Sebastian.

The girls said most who speak Kanjobal have false impressions about the census.

"Their, like, information, they don’t want it to be revealed," said Sebastian.

Through their social media reach, the teenagers are educating the community on why participating in the census is so important. And in return, Sebastian said she gets to practice public speaking.

"Back then I was, like, scared to talk in front of a camera. I’m not really that shy now, but it’s, like, going away. It helps me more," said Sebastian.