First bilingual Hinds Co. tax clerk makes difference
By Shanderia K. Posey
As the first bilingual employee of the Hinds County Tax Collector’s office, Cynthia Aguirre is doing much more than helping residents get car tags. She’s actually eliminating undue stress Spanish-speaking customers have when conducting business in the office.
Aguirre, 32, of Jackson was hired as a tax collector clerk about three months ago, but even before then, she was assisting people as an interpreter when they had to visit the office.
“I know a lot of people that come here and don’t speak English,” Aguirre said. “I know there are a lot of Hispanics. They need their trucks, especially for work because they use trucks and trailers and vans, and I’ve come with a couple to help them interpret.”
In the past year she seemed to help more and more people conduct business at the tax collector’s office and decided to apply for a job there. When she first started working, she found herself helping Spanish-speaking customers about every other day. Now she finds herself assisting them daily.
“At first, they really didn’t know that I was Mexican. I don’t know if they just can’t see it or maybe they were just used to people talking to them in English but as soon as I helped the first person, I believe there was a couple behind them on the line and that couple waited for me,” she said.
Aguirre explained that in Hispanic and Latino communities most people know each other in Mississippi. Census figures show that Hispanics and Latinos made up 1.6 percent of Hinds County’s 243,729 population in 2014. Aguirre attributes word-of-mouth for more people realizing the tax collector’s office now has an employee fluent in Spanish to assist customers.
“I noticed that as soon as they walk in the door, they’re already looking (for me),” she said.
The entire office is benefiting from having Aguirre as a co-worker. They get her assistance to overcome the language barrier.
Hinds County Tax Collector Eddie Fair said before Aguirre started working, employees had to guess what some Spanish-speaking customers needed.
“The biggest problem was relating (information) back to them,” Fair said. “It’s really great to have her here. Some (customers) will wait to get to her. She’s nothing short of a wonderful person, and she has a great personality with everybody.”
Some issues, such as needing a new car sticker, are easier for any clerk to handle, according to Aguirre. But when Spanish-speaking customers need to discuss matters such as homestead, land, lots, real estate or titles, things can get complicated.
On any given day now, Aguirre receives lots of “thank-yous” from those grateful for her assistance. They typically want to know if they can see her when they come back for future business. Some also want to know if they can see her directly instead of waiting in line, but they do have to wait.
“They’re very appreciative and always happy that they have someone who can help them,” Aguirre said.
Born and raised in Laredo, Texas, Aguirre has been in Mississippi for the past five years and in the metro area for the past three. Though she’s Mexican, she was raised to only speak English until an incident happened with her grandmother. Aguirre was about 4 at the time when she felt like she was going to vomit but couldn’t relay that to her grandmother who didn’t speak English. Her grandmother thought the child was going to faint. In the end, Aguirre did vomit, but the scare caused her grandmother to insist that she learn Spanish.
Even without that incident, Aguirre said that eventually she probably would have learned Spanish simply because of how close Laredo is to Mexico – literally about 5 minutes away – and because in Laredo most people speak both English and Spanish.
Helping others interpret is just as much a part of her personal life as it is her professional life. At previous jobs at Saks Fifth Avenue and a dental office, she used her skills to help at those businesses. In her personal life, she has several friends who don’t speak English at all, and they regularly call on her. She’s even traveled to New Orleans where the Mexican Consulate is located to help some people get passports.
As for making history in the tax collector’s office, she said, “I’m honored. I’m glad I can make a difference and help out.”
Shanderia K. Posey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.