Case Study

Approach in Action

Production of an audio story about Kitchen Spanish (Spanish spoken in restaurant kitchens in the US) that avoids dubbing over interview clips in Spanish and allows bilingual characters in the story to express themselves in both languages, with both the intended audience and the people appearing in the story in mind.

CLIENT: Racist Sandwich podcast
MATERIAL: A reported story about “Kitchen Spanish” (audio)
INTENDED AUDIENCE: Racist Sandwich listeners (assumed to be majority English-dominant) as well as those who appear in the story (both Spanish- and English-dominant and bilingual)
SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS: A desire for the story’s format to reflect its content, i.e. both show and be a space where Spanish and Spanish speakers can shirk their minoritized status in US society
TEAM: Emily Hunsberger of Tertulia and Stephanie Kuo of Racist Sandwich

In 2021, I wrote an article for the podcast industry newsletter Bello Collective about two successful bilingual podcasts. In the article, I refer to the wisdom of one of my multilingual audio heroes, Martina Castro:

During the “Late Night Provocations” session at the 2017 Third Coast Festival, Martina Castro, one of the co-founders of Radio Ambulante and the CEO of Adonde Media, challenged the podcast industry to think long and hard about which language(s) they use to tell their stories. Do the people in a story speak a non-English language? How do you handle that? You could dub over their voices with a translation, or better yet, you could hire a bilingual producer, suggests Castro, and make another version of the story that’s not only about the people in it, but for them, too. But the ideal scenario, she says, is when you can conceive of a story from the beginning in two languages. “Elegimos la historia que vamos a contar, cómo la vamos a contar, y para quién es, en el momento en que elegimos el idioma en que va a existir,” Castro insists. (“We choose the story we tell, how we tell it, and who it is for, the moment we choose the language in which it will exist.”)

Martina Castro’s bilingual talk begins at 7:05

When I first heard this talk in 2017, I had already started producing my own Spanish-language podcast, Tertulia, but it still had a huge impact on me. My curiosity had also been piqued by this NPR article about different reporters’ approaches to using Spanish interview clips on air.

Fast forward to 2018, when the podcast Racist Sandwich accepted my pitch to produce an audio story about Kitchen Spanish, a sort of practical patois used among English-dominant gringos and Spanish-dominant Latinos that work side-by-side in restaurant kitchens.

For this piece, I interviewed staff (in English and Spanish) from restaurants in Grand Rapids, Michigan. When I submitted my rough cut to Stephanie Kuo, the producer for Racist Sandwich, she expressed concern about one long interview clip in Spanish. (I’ve included snippets from our email exchange below, with Stephanie’s permission.)

I love the section with Asuncion — but it is a lot of Spanish being spoken at once and we have to assume that a lot of our listeners aren’t going to be able to follow. So, we’ll need to incorporate an English overlay. Would you be able to track a paraphrase?
With Martina Castro’s words in my head and inspired by the NPR reporters’ strategies, I wanted to avoid an overlay without alienating listeners that don’t understand Spanish. Furthermore, I had already included some paraphrasing of what the interviewee said before and in between the interview clips, so I had to find a way to avoid being redundant. I sent Stephanie three potential options, while being clear about how I felt about an English overdub eclipsing the natural dynamic captured in the interview clip:
  • Leave the paraphrasing as is but trim the clips in Spanish down into shorter sound bites
  • Space out the clips in Spanish into shorter chunks with shorter paraphrasing in between
  • Eliminate the introductory paraphrasing and overlay paraphrasing (this one feels disappointing to me because there were so many fun moments in my interview with Asunción, more so than in any of the other interviews, such as when she would hesitate and laugh, or when she lowered her voice to say “chingue su madre”…)
In the end, we agreed to avoid dubbing over the interview clips, and Stephanie gave me the green light to try one of my suggested options.
I agree that I want to keep and prop up the important moments in your talk with Asuncion. I think what we can do is go with option 2.
Listen to relevant sections of the final episode here:
Hosts’ preface to listeners about language:
Play Video

Spotlight on Asunción

Play Video

First spotlight on Óscar

Play Video

Second spotlight on Óscar

Play Video
Listen to the complete episode here: