DA Brooke Jenkins speaks at Ping Yuen, Chinatown
DA Brooke Jenkins speaks at Ping Yuen public housing’s second annual summer block party in Chinatown. Photo by Yujie Zhou. Taken July 23, 2022.

At a celebratory Chinatown event on Saturday, newly installed DA Brooke Jenkins promised her largely monolingual Chinese audience to “bring all the bandits who attacked Asians and our community to justice.” 

At least, that’s what her interpreter said. 

That translator has been confirmed as mayoral staffer Mason Lee, who was photographed on the dais along with the speakers.

In actuality, Jenkins’ speech did not contain any direct references to the Chinese community, instead focusing on more general matters. “Our office is dedicated to keeping everyone in San Francisco safe,” she said at the Saturday event. “No longer will we just allow people to walk around feeling like they’re going to be targeted because of who they are.” 

This broad statement was translated into the above remark about rounding up bandits who prey on Asians. The translator veered from Jenkins’ broad, innocuous speech at least three times.

Translated

Cantonese

Original

speech

I am your newly appointed District

Attorney, Brooke Jenkins, and I just

want to say hello.

 

I look forward to meeting as many of

you as I can. But I want you to know

that, from this point forward, our

office is dedicated to keeping

everyone in San Francisco safe. No

longer will we just allow people to

walk around feeling like they’re going

to be targeted because of who they

are. We’re going to work hard to

continue to reform what’s necessary

in the system, but to do it responsibly,

so that it doesn’t come at the expense

of our safety.

 

Please feel free to reach

out to my office and let them know if

there’s something that we can be doing

better. But from this point forward, our

number one priority is keeping

everyone in this city safe.

Since she took office, her top priority

has been making sure our community

is safe.

 

She also wants everybody to

understand that she will bring all the

bandits who attacked our Asians and

attacked our community to justice.

 

She hopes that everyone will continue

to be safe.

Original

speech

I am your newly appointed District

Attorney, Brooke Jenkins, and I just

want to say hello.

 

I look forward to meeting as many of

you as I can. But I want you to know

that, from this point forward, our

office is dedicated to keeping

everyone in San Francisco safe. No

longer will we just allow people to

walk around feeling like they’re going

to be targeted because of who they

are. We’re going to work hard to

continue to reform what’s necessary

in the system, but to do it responsibly,

so that it doesn’t come at the expense

of our safety.

 

Please feel free to reach

out to my office and let them know if

there’s something that we can be doing

better. But from this point forward, our

number one priority is keeping

everyone in this city safe.

Translated

Cantonese

Since she took office, her top priority

has been making sure our community

is safe.

 

She also wants everybody to

understand that she will bring all the

bandits who attacked our Asians and

attacked our community to justice.

 

She hopes that everyone will continue

to be safe.

Chart by Will Jarrett. Translation from Cantonese to English by Yujie Zhou. Original translation into Cantonese by Mason Lee: 由她上任以来,亦是第一个最重要的事件就是确保我们社区的安全。也是希望大家明白,她将会对所有攻击我们亚裔和攻击我们的社区的匪徒绳之以法。希望大家会继续安全下去。

Jenkins made her brief remarks at the second annual block party of the Ping Yuen Public Housing complex in Chinatown. The event, a “Unity Block Party” aimed at “bringing Chinese & Black Residents together to promote race harmony and community,” drew a cadre of top elected officials in the city, including Mayor London Breed and Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Connie Chan. 

The vast majority of the audience was composed of monolingual elderly Chinese residents, a demographic that fears anti-Asian attacks in a community where residents have been disturbed by safety issues for a long time. Only a few Blacks attended. 

The DA and the mayor were among the few speakers at the event to have translators. Instead, Police Chief Bill Scott and City Attorney David Chiu spoke to the crowd in English, offering good wishes and fond memories of Chinatown.

Lee’s interpretation for Breed, who spoke for nine minutes, largely hewed to the line of what the mayor said. That was sharply different when Jenkins took the podium, though Lee interpreted for both of them.

Mission Local is told that Lee translates for politicians other than Breed as a courtesy, and does so extemporaneously. Jenkins does not appear to have shared a script beforehand, and does not likely know how her remarks were translated.

Mayoral staffer Mason Lee, the man standing at the back left of the dais, interpreted for both the mayor and the DA in Chinatown. Photo by Yujie Zhou. Taken July 23, 2022.

While the DA didn’t say any word that had faintest connection to criminals or lawbreakers, the translator inserted the word “匪徒.” This can be translated as “bandits” or even “gangsters.” The use of such strong language was jarring, considering the celebratory tone of Jenkins’ actual speech, which fit the festive mood of the event.

Again, while Jenkins said “our office is dedicated to keeping everyone in San Francisco safe,” the translator deployed the phrase “绳之以法.” This could be translated as “bringing to justice” people who attacked Asians. The translator notably promised the new DA would bring “all” (“所有”) the attackers to justice. Separate and apart from what “justice” might mean, this language departs notably from the wording used in Jekins’ actual speech.

The sauced-up translation didn’t trigger any special reaction from the audience. Many may not have paid much attention to the DA’s speech, instead focusing on the crowds of onlookers, or the dancers’ brightly colored dresses. Still, for monolingual senior citizens, the 30 seconds of Cantonese translation offered a chance to learn about Jenkins and her platform before she runs in November.

Veteran politicos said that Chinese translators veering off script for monolingual audiences — with both the audience and the non-Chinese politician being none the wiser — is not uncommon. Jenkins’ continued reliance on the mayor and her staff was also questioned.

“It’s important to bring your own translator to the event,” Mission Local was told. “Sometimes translators like to rile people up, they’re doing a rah-rah. And you’re at their mercy.” 

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REPORTER. Yujie Zhou is our newest reporter and came on as an intern after graduating from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. She is a full-time staff reporter as part of the Report for America program that helps put young journalists in newsrooms. Before falling in love with the Mission, Yujie covered New York City, studied politics through the “street clashes” in Hong Kong, and earned a wine-tasting certificate in two days. She’s proud to be a bilingual journalist. Follow her on Twitter @Yujie_ZZ.

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  1. So in other words your new DA is as big of a piece of crap as your old DA was… Words and intent of them do matter. Her translator clearly embellished, if not outright lied. I’m sure the new DA was unaware of this..🙄

  2. The event was held to celebrate tenants rights and to improve the relationships between Asians and African-American communities, and you chose to focus on the nuance of translation, instead of the important messages? It was not a verbatim translation but it echoes the sentiments of many in the community,
    such as S.Kwong’s comment on another article – that some felt ignored when they complained about discrimination and racists attacks when the perpetrators happened to be “black and brown” people, and it’s only about white supremacist (Allison Collins equated Asians to white supremacists. Ni***rs.), which made the event’s goal more significant. And your reporter’s observation of how the audience were focusing on pretty dresses instead of listening is demeaning. Your reporter can read these people’s mind? How did she know for sure that they weren’t listening while looking around? This seems like an attack on the new DA in line with your politics which is your prerogative as with other media but please don’t do it at the expense of the community. (By the way I don’t care who is the DA.)

    Typos@ my previous message. I don’t see what’s wrong with using different handles and accounts.

  3. This article should emphasize the importance of having professional interpreters, whatever the occasion. Just because a person is bilingual that doesn’t qualify him/her to interpret, specially for a DA. I am an interpreter myself, and by the way, this is interpreting, not translating (oral/written) and I am appalled at the hint that interpreters like to rile audiences up and that people are at our “mercy”. A professional interpreter should be non biased and never add, embellish or summarize let alone invent what the speaker is saying. Good job catching it even though I wish the article focused more on the fact that this person is not a professional interpreter and less on the profession itself.

    1. Laia — 

      Clearly we missed the significance professional interpreters place between the terms “interpreter” and “translator.” We’ll keep that in mind in the future. The purpose of this article was by no means to denigrate the profession of interpreting, and the day job of the translator was prominently noted.

      Yours,

      JE

      1. See, Joe. Laia is “appalled” at precisely what I pointed out to you below. There you boast. Here you grovel. Nice improvement.

        1. Tenzin — 

          I replied respectfully to a respectful comment that pointed out and explained a legit situation. Others might want to try that.

          I am not obligated to get into a back-and-forth with every bad-faith troll who writes condescending comments on this site.

          You have wasted too much of my time. Please take your business elsewhere.

          JE

  4. I realize the Jenkins isn’t responsible directly for what the extemporaneous translator said. But I’m deeply concerned about her constant innuendos that always imply criticism of the former DA she so enthusiastically helped oust. He was democratically elected and was doing pretty much what he said he would do. All three items highlighted in the above story have a dig to Chesta Boudin. Jenkins should tell us what she plans to do instead of attacking a program that was actually reducing crime – rehabilitation rather than incarceration when appropriate. I am a 19-year chaplain in the San Francisco Police Department (LAPD&SDPD before) and I liked what he was doing. Throwing more people in prisons too often hardens petty criminals and enlarges gangs. It’s not a deterrent, it doesn’t reduce crime, and is not a deterrent but rides on the greed of special interests.

  5. What’s the point of this article? Are you trying to say a translator misinterpreted DA’s speech with an ill intention? The tone of the article smelled strange. I wonder if it is a trap for the new DA out of jealousy from Boudin’s camp.

    1. Far fetched interpretation. The difference between what the speaker said and how it was changed by the Mayor’s translator is stark and, if I may, speaks for itself.

  6. I think it’s quite clear from how both Chinatown and SF as a whole voted that citizens are on board with “bringing bandits to justice” instead of being focused on how the justice system is inconveniencing them at the expense of law-abiding citizens as was the case under the former clown of a DA Chesa Boudin

  7. Thank you for this reporting. The interpreter taking creating license here is neither responsible nor professional. This person needs to not be hired again.

  8. Good reporting! Thanks for it.

    The key takeaway from this is that, because the crowd didn’t get upset, what the Chinese community wants is to see those bandits brought to justice.

    Let’s not use this as another chance to boost the Boudin “criminals are your friends” philosophy.

    1. “Let’s not use this as another chance to boost the Boudin “criminals are your friends” philosophy.”

      Indeed, Nancy. Or worse, the “criminals are the real victims” line.

      But I fear the “war on Jenkins” is only just starting.

    2. Nancy Yu, it’s too bad Chesa Boudin didn’t have a translator up there saying things that this one did for Jenkins. It seems like you’re saying that elected officials (or their translators) should just tell people what the crowd wants to hear, regardless of what can or cannot actually be accomplished by their office.

      1. Ultimately elected officials are accountable to the voters and so, yes, they should listen to the voters and be responsive to them and tell them that they hear them.

        I do not need a politician to think for me. I need him or her to listen to me.

  9. Cantonese relies on the cultural context within which you learned it. Not as “black and white” as Joe has stated. The simplified Chinese is a nice touch.

  10. Thank you so much for reporting it to us! It’s important for us to know that how the visible minority community could have been lied to through translation. Please keep up the good work Yujie!

  11. I am certain the DA knew the way it is translated because if she is out there, she wanted their support. So do not blame it on the translator. They wouldn’t hire someone who wouldn’t get her political message across anyway they could. I just pity the Chinese for being lied to.

  12. This is excellent reporting. Thank you Yujie Zhou for enlightening what was said. As a bilingual journalist you should be paid more for your translation skills. We need you to attend more events like this. Great job.

  13. This is why we need bilingual reporters to keep public officials honest. Kudos to Yujie Zhou who faithfully tells us what happened. And that’s why I support Mission local – not afraid to tell the truth.

  14. “It’s important to bring your own translator to the event,” Mission Local was told. “Sometimes translators like to rile people up, they’re doing a rah-rah. And you’re at their mercy.” Ah yes…like a reader at the mercy of a reporter who translates a live historical event into print without citing her sources.

      1. “Veteran politicos said” your editorial slant is established? “Mission Local was told [by said unnamed veteran politicos or by who knows whom, really]” that this persuasive writing sample’s point is reinforced? Joe, you’re historically bad at accepting or acknowledging plainly true criticism regarding flaws in your collective content. You frequently double-down and tarnish your editorial cred when it’s “all there in black and white.” It’s good to have your employees’ backs, generally, but not overly so when you supervise the news, are a police sergeant, etc. Love, Sir or Madam

        1. Sir or madam — 

          We’ve put all of the language materials there for everyone to peruse. It is, literally, there in black and white.

          I’m sorry you feel I’m “historically bad” at accepting “true criticism.” Perhaps you and I have different understandings about the terms “historical” and “true.”

          Best,

          JE

  15. Wow to Mission Local !!

    What a find.

    Girl, you, and I hate to say it …

    Remind me of Rose Pak at this point when she wrote for Chron or Asian Weekly or something only you are a much better writer.

    Joe and Lydia are assembling and smartly deploying an amazing array of talent here.

    To catch the nuances in the Mayor’s interpreter …

    The political exertions of Real Estate money.

    Now, how does Boudin use that ??

    Go Old People !!

    h.

  16. Such a fraudulent swindle all around.

    Nice to see Mission Local’s Cantonese speaking journalists double checking the gate ethically conflicted keepers to the San Francisco’s Cantonese political island.