I’m not a native speaker of English, so as a translator I was obliged to describe my English as “native level” on my résumé and get paid less for it accordingly. I was hired because I could pass for an American, and paid as if I couldn’t.

We do not talk of “native writers,” we talk of native speakers. Perhaps this is to be expected, as speaking is how we’re judged on our Otherness. Native-ness in speaking depends on the speaker’s proximity and time spent with other native speakers, while reading and writing can be learned outside of the natives’ space. The Other can be a reader and a writer, but never a speaker. That is the key distinction between “native speaker” and “native-level speaker”: the latter is an Other who blends well but never completely. My translation clients were not penalizing me for my English but for my Otherness.

A well-known translator of Korean literature (and native speaker of English) once derided ethnic Korean translators like me, saying Koreans should not be translating into English. Interestingly, I could invert that same argument—non-native speakers of Korean should not translate, as they do not understand the source material well enough to do it justice—but I’m above that kind of self-serving posturing. If one has to say it, it probably isn’t true. Also: racist, much?

I will say this. Racism is not a good attitude for a translator to have. Do find something else to preoccupy yourself.