Elynor Whitaker, ’12 B.A. Spanish

By Marya Jones Barlow

In 2012, at the age of 71, Elynor Whitaker graduated summa cum laude from CSUCI with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and a minor in English.

Today, at 78, she’s still a woman on the move. She’s a semi-retired federal and state court interpreter with two grown children, two grandkids, two “mischievous” cats, and a busy schedule filled with travel, friends, exercise, gardening, church, and volunteer activities.

Despite already having a successful three-decade career as a court interpreter, Whitaker says her passion for learning and linguistics compelled her to finish her degree at an age when many of her peers were enjoying retirement.

“To me it was natural. What better way to enrich and deepen my knowledge of both languages than through these studies?” she said.

Whitaker discovered her calling as an interpreter early. When she was nine, her family moved to New York City for her father’s job as consul general for Guatemala.

Elynor Whitaker“I became my mother’s interpreter in varied situations,” she said. “I used to translate letters for my friends; and when I had children of my own, I would do sight translations into Spanish of children’s books because there were no Spanish books for children at that time. These experiences have made me feel like the ‘Peddler of Words’ — to invoke a loose translation of Isabel Allende’s short story, ‘La vendedora de palabras.’”

Whitaker grew up in Guatemala, the United States and Mexico, developing fluency in English and Spanish. As she pursued an associate degree in medical transcription in Delaware, she spent three years as an exchange student with an American family. She ended up living with the family for 10 years. During that time, she also met her late husband of 36 years, Ernie, “the love of my life.”

The couple married in 1973 and, with their two kids, Mark and Marisol, moved to California in 1980 for Ernie’s longtime job as Oxnard’s Affordable Housing Manager. Elynor re-entered the workforce in 1983, utilizing her bilingual skills as a certified court interpreter.

Her return to college at age 65 was a case of “serendipity,” she says. While taking courses at Ventura College to fulfill continuing education requirements for court interpreters, a counselor suggested she complete her degree. She transferred to CSUCI in 2006.

“Because I continued working at least part-time, I only took two classes per semester, so it took me another six years to graduate with my bachelor’s degree,” she said. “Better late than never, right? I was in no hurry, since I was doing this for myself.”

She almost dropped out in 2009, when her husband lost his battle with cancer.

“I didn’t feel much like going to school,” she said. “Notwithstanding, my mother’s saying, loosely translated as, ‘I am now on this horse and what’s important is for it not to throw me’ — an allusion to perseverance — seemed to haunt me. So, I returned to CSUCI in January 2010.”

Whitaker says she enjoyed the small classes, where she had professors’ individualized attention. She praises Spanish Professors Sandra Kornuc, Antonio Jiménez-Jiménez and Stephen Clark, English Professors Andrea Marzell and Mary Adler for enriching her translation and writing skills, and Chicana/o Studies Professor José Alamillo deepening her knowledge of the Aztec and Chicana/o cultures.

Other highlights included two study abroad trips to Spain (Madrid and Málaga), tutoring students in Spanish, and serving as an interpreter at events involving former braceros and former CSUCI president Richard Rush.

“I believe we all have gifts that we may use for the benefit of our community,” she said.

Whitaker regularly uses her “language gift” to volunteer at her church, interpreting sermons and leading bilingual workshops on jam-making, canning and crocheting.

Though her children beat her to earn their college degrees (Marisol from University of California, Davis in 2005 and Mark from Brooks Institute of Photography in 2007), Whitaker is also proud to boast the distinction of being a first-generation college graduate at 71.

“I believe in perseverance,” she said. “‘El que persevera, triunfa (‘He who perseveres, triumphs’),’ was one of my mother’s favorite sayings.”

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© Spring 2019 / Volume 23 /Number 01 / Bi-annual

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