BOULDER, CO – NOVEMBER 20: Marina LaGrave poses for a portrait outside the Boulder Public Library on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, in Boulder, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)
BOULDER, CO – NOVEMBER 20: Marina LaGrave poses for a portrait outside the Boulder Public Library on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, in Boulder, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

For Marina LaGrave, translation is about much more than providing language access. It’s also a means of building community.

“Translating is the best profession because you find a way into people’s work and hearts and minds,” she said.

Growing up in Venezuela as the daughter of a linguist and a Navy admiral, LaGrave at a young age learned to appreciate language and culture. Her family spent a lot of time traveling, and LaGrave soaked in all she could.

She moved to Boulder in 1995, but it took some time for her to fully integrate into the community. Now that she has, she’s busy. Really, busy would be an understatement.

LaGrave works with students at Boulder’s Columbine Elementary, and she is CEO of the University of Colorado Boulder’s CLACE Latin American Center for Arts, Science and Education, which develops bilingual programs for children and families and improves access to education.

LaGrave also is a United Nations language specialist and a cross-cultural communication consultant. She used to work as chief translator at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and she’s helped translate projects such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report under the Obama administration.

She’s spent her life working to bridge cultural gaps between language and community and promote education, particularly science and math.

As a cross-cultural expert, she understands nuance. In terms of city policy or law, science or math, LaGrave knows that translation goes beyond just communicating the words. It’s about interpreting the in-between and sharing what something might mean for a population or how it could make them feel. It’s about making sense of what a machine translation cannot.

“Language is a right. Cultures are defined by language, not the other way around,” she said.

And by sharing culture and finding meaning in words, she’s able to activate community. When she thinks of the Latinx community, LaGrave thinks of resiliency and hope. She believes it’s a lesson more could learn from.

“We all are resilient. There’s not a human being that’s not resilient. But the Latinx community brings so much resiliency and so much hope. We need to tap into that resiliency because they are survivors,” she said.

In addition to her numerous other roles over the years, LaGrave has worked as a victims advocate with the Boulder Police Department and helped with translation and communications to residents for the city’s Ponderosa Mobile Home Park project, in which Boulder purchased the community with plans to redevelop it into a neighborhood of affordable, fixed foundation homes.

“She is a fascinating community member and has done great work helping us connect with the Latino population,” Boulder spokesperson Sarah Huntley said of LaGrave.

LaGrave said she’s grateful to see the city take meaningful action on equity and diversity and engage with and listen to stakeholders.

But there is still work to be done.

“I think that the two-way road is finally open,” she said. “We still have (a) long ways to go. Equity is a new term.”