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Language & Immigration | Language Intersection Insights with Jaime Alberto Ortiz Zavala

Updated: Oct 5, 2022

JNCL-NCLIS Highlights: Language at the Intersection

About the Episode:

JNCL-NCLIS is proud to introduce the eighth episode of our Language at the Intersection Highlights series. In this episode, we are joined by Jaime Alberto Ortiz Zavala to talk about the intersection of language and immigration. Jaime Alberto Ortiz Zavala is a paralegal for Kids in Need of Defense, (KIND).

The transcript for the episode can be found below.



Amanda Seewald (00:09):

Hello, and welcome to the "JNCL-NCLIS Language at the Intersection Insights" Interview Series, where we talk with professionals from many fields to hear their perspectives on how multilingualism moves our world. The Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Language and International Studies proudly presents this series with generous sponsorship support from Vista Higher Learning.

I'm Amanda Seewald, current president of the Joint National Committee for Languages and National Council for Language and International Studies, JNCL-NCLIS. And today we introduce you to Jaime Alberto Ortiz Zavala, a paralegal for Kids in Need of Defense, KIND, who will help us explore the intersection of language, social justice, and immigration, and how multilingualism moves his world.

Jaime Alberto Ortiz Zavala (01:04):

Hi everyone. My name is Jaime Alberto Ortiz Zavala. I'm a paralegal at KIND, and my language intersection is language, and social justice, and immigration.

Amanda Seewald (01:14):

Perfect. So my first question to you, Jaime, is how do you use multiple languages in your life and in your work?

Jaime Alberto Ortiz Zavala (01:22):

I am an immigrant. I use two languages, Spanish and English, through my all day, speaking with family, with friends in Spanish, but also in English in my work. But I also speak Spanish in my work with my clients. So it's part of my life. I absolutely need it to do my job, to do my work. And I also need it for my personal life. It's something indispensable for me.

Amanda Seewald (01:50):

Tell me Jaime, how would your life be different without being bilingual?

Jaime Alberto Ortiz Zavala (01:55):

It would be totally different because I couldn't do my work, helping immigrant people, helping unaccompanied minors at KIND. It would be totally different because I couldn't have the friends I have that just know to speak my first language, Spanish. So it would be completely different.

Amanda Seewald (02:18):

Perfect. And since we're talking about it, and I think a lot of people won't know, would you please tell us kind of in your own words, what KIND does and what your role is there?

Jaime Alberto Ortiz Zavala (02:28):

Well the organization I work for is KIND, which stands for Kids in Need of Defense. We help unaccompanied minors, unaccompanied immigrant children. We envision a world in which no kid is in immigration court proceedings without legal representation. That's our main goal. We also provide several social services and advocacy for our kids. As a bilingual person who speaks Spanish and English, it's something that I love to do because some of the kids that we represent are facing the same barriers that I faced when I moved to the US. So it's very rewarding for me to help empower our kids.

Amanda Seewald (03:16):

And, you know, since you're talking about your story, I'm not sure how comfortable you are sharing. I mean, you, you came here two years ago, that must have been a really challenging time to come here. But if you want to say anything about your story and how it relates to, you know, coming to a country where you don't speak the language, or how much of a difference it made when you met people who could speak to you in Spanish.

Jaime Alberto Ortiz Zavala (03:36):

Totally, Amanda. Well, I studied law in Mexico. I'm a lawyer in Mexico. And when I was studying, I had the opportunity to came to the US and see how the immigrant community have to face, has to face several barriers, not only language, but economic, social. That moved me to start my immigration work, to want to help the immigrant community. So when I finished law school in Mexico, I decided to come to the US. And since then I have been working in the legal field to help the immigrant community. And as I started to help the immigrant community, I knew that I was not the only one who had faced those barriers.

Amanda Seewald (04:30):

Absolutely. That's so, it's so poignant and it's so important that your story really collides with the things that you're doing. It must be so rewarding for you every day. I, you know, I was thinking a little bit about this intersection of social justice and immigration and language. And I think people, you know, know that immigrants speak other languages, but what stands out for me are the details that KIND pays attention to. And from a broader perspective, how do you feel that multilingualism and people who are multilingual, are so important to the process that you help serve immigrants with, specifically children? And maybe talk a little bit about why that intersection is so important and why finding people who are multilingual, having more people who are multilingual is important to KIND's work.

Jaime Alberto Ortiz Zavala (05:25):

As I said before, we have a clear mission, an objective, and to make that true, we need people who can speak several languages, not just Spanish, for kids who are coming from Central America, Mexico. But also some Central America native language we need, and we have fortunately several people who can speak other languages for kids who come from other parts of the world. So in spite of for work, not only interpreters, not only paralegals or attorneys who can speak the language, but also the service providers, the government, the agencies, it's vital for all the process.

Amanda Seewald (06:15):

That's spot on what we're trying to get people to understand, right? And so, you know, when you look at, you studied law, right? You've studied law in Mexico, you studied it in Spanish. Then you came here and now of course, you're doing it all in English, which is incredible and I'm, you know, amazed by you. But also when you think about this, you know, that in the United States, multilingualism has not been traditionally considered an asset and certainly has not been supported well in our educational system. Whereas, you know, in most other countries learning another language, whether it's English or another language is encouraged or included as a part of education from, you know, day one. One of the things that we want to do is we want to make sure that people understand, cause we're all advocates right, we wanna make sure that people understand how every single field like you just described, having that connection to language and being proficient in other language will help you be an engineer, will help you be a service provider, will help you be in government, will help you in law, and in, you know, in anything that you do. If you were talking to students, if you were telling students who were studying anything, science, whatever, what would you say to them about the importance of being multilingual?

Jaime Alberto Ortiz Zavala (07:24):

Okay. I want to start my argument saying that we, immigrants, are not aliens as the government calls us, as the law calls us. We are not aliens. We are humans. And as humans, we have rights and not any kind of rights, but human rights. And one of them is the right to express ourselves, to have our own language, access to our language, to our culture and the, or of this culture, it's the language. And since we have that right, it must be guaranteed. It must be granted by the US government because we are not aliens. We are people. We are humans. With that multilingualism, we can empower our community. We can get the best for the entire community, not just for a certain groups of people. And that's what I think.

Amanda Seewald (08:28):

That's extremely important. You know what I think that's exactly the area that I'd like to hear you speak on in Spanish a little bit. So go right ahead and talk about that human right of language and expression. Go right ahead.

Jaime Alberto Ortiz Zavala (09:27):

Gracias. Primero que nada, nosotros los inmigrantes no somos aliens como nos llama la ley, como nos llama el gobierno? Nosotros somos personas, somos humanos y como humanos tenemos derechos, pero no cualquier tipo de derechos. Tenemos derechos humanos y uno de esos derechos humanos que tenemos es el derecho a expresarnos en nuestro idioma, el derecho a expresar nuestra cultura y como parte de esa cultura, el derecho a nuestro lenguaje, nuestra lengua, nuestro idioma. Y es algo que debe ser garantizado y otorgado, garantizado y otorgado por el gobierno de los Estados Unidos. No es algo que nos puedan quitar, porque es inherente a nosotros como seres humanos que somos.

Amanda Seewald (09:27):

Fantastic. Thank you so much, Jaime. And so just a couple of other little things, I'm so curious, and you're just such a, it's such a wonderful story, and it's so important for our attendees to hear about KIND and about you, and about your connection to KIND. Do you have any example, like of a story that like an anecdote about sort of, whatever you feel that would be, that you could tell that would help people see how important connection to language is in this area?

Jaime Alberto Ortiz Zavala (09:55):

I have a story of one of my kids who is from a native community in one of the countries of Central America. And he speaks Spanish but it is not his main language. So he kind of gets some trouble speaking and understanding Spanish, but he was like, "oh no, you can talk to me in Spanish." But then I offered him that we can provide an interpreter for him and in his mother language. And once we get the interpreter he felt more, he felt like very comfortable. He was like, "oh, thank you, Jaime for understanding that, even though I speak Spanish, it is not my main language. And I feel like now I can tell you exactly what I need." Not only for Spanish, but many other languages that we need the multilingualism.

Amanda Seewald (10:52):

So if you were wanting to tell legislators why they should support language education for all, what would you say?

Jaime Alberto Ortiz Zavala (11:01):

Supporting language education is important because you have the key to power in your community. You have the key to provide people with the tools to be more helpful, to be included, be supported, be supportive with the community in general, not just to certain parts of the community. We are a community, a society as a whole, so language education is very important for them to empower, support, and to let everyone have the same opportunities as the rest of the community.

Amanda Seewald (11:43):

Fantastic. That's perfect. That's great. I so appreciate it. So before we stop, I just want to know, is there anything else that you want to share? You can either share it in English or in Spanish, about KIND, or about you, or about language or anything else that you want to say?

Jaime Alberto Ortiz Zavala (12:00):

I will say it in English because probably more people can understand me that way. If you will love, will like to support the unaccompanied minors, we will love you to join KIND. We need more people every day because there's many kids who are arriving to the US. So we will appreciate if you can join the KIND team, if you can join as a volunteer, we have the door open for you. You are more than welcome to help us. Thank you.

Amanda Seewald (12:33):

That is fantastic. That's great. And you know, of course I can certainly attest to the fact that it's a life changing experience. I feel very grateful for the opportunity that has been given to me as an educator, as a parent myself and as someone who's multilingual to be able to work with such a very important organization. So, you know, Jaime, I'm just so interested in everything that you're sharing about, you know, your work. And just one other thing that I want to ask you is when you look back on your story so far, and it can be a very specific, you know, piece about immigration, it can be about language, it can be about identity, whatever you want to say. But I'd just like you to talk a little bit about what social justice means to you, especially with your work at KIND.

Jaime Alberto Ortiz Zavala (13:19):

For me, social justice is, first of all, identify that there's groups of people like the immigrant community that have some vulnerabilities in regards to the whole community that are in a special space of vulnerability. And by recognizing that, to help to improve the situation of such communities like the immigrant community, help them to be included in the society as a whole. So for me, that's that social justice. Identifying and including, and help and support.

Amanda Seewald (14:08):

That concludes today's featured story from our "Language at the Intersection Insights" Interview Series. For more information about the advocacy work of the Joint National Committee for Languages and National Council for Languages and International Studies, please visit To learn more about this interview series, hear stories from other professionals, and explore how language moves our world, visit Thank you to our interviewees for sharing their stories, thank you to our series sponsors Vista Higher Learning, and thank you all for listening.

This series is made possible by a generous sponsorship from Vista Higher Learning. To learn more, please visit

_____________________________ About JNCL-NCLIS: Established in 1972, the Joint National Committee for Languages (JNCL) and the National Council for Languages and International Studies (NCLIS) unites a national network of leading organizations and businesses comprised of over 300,000 language professionals to advocate for equitable language learning opportunities. Our mission is to ensure that Americans have the opportunity to learn English and at least one other language. Contact:

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