#NationalPoetryMonth 29/30

traducir no es comunicarse

— Raquel Salas Rivera

Today’s read: while they sleep (under the bed is another country) by Raquel Salas Rivera – Birds, LLC – 2019

Yesterday I did an hour+ of translation during a Zoom town hall for the families in my school. It has been hard to maintain focus and stay engaged during regular Zoom meetings but this one was a particular challenge as I navigated taking notes, monitoring the facials of the speakers and some of the audience while also praying hard to all the WiFi gods.

I have a clear memory of the first time I did a town hall translation at work. I only recently moved from New York to Oakland. I was getting a crash course on Bay Area Spanish and educational language (English and Spanish). I did fine for the first few rounds but then I had to translate the simplest word ever: backpack. I went with the Nuyo Spanish word I had always grown up with ‘maletin’ and the audience went dead silent. I knew I was lost and in some deep water in my first month at my job. A lady in the front row with the kindest voice whispered “mochilla” to me. I didn’t even blink and just repeated the sentence using mochilla. The town hall continued on and all was well.

I have gotten into the practice of apologizing for my Spanish at the start of almost all big translation meetings especially with families that I am just meeting. In fifteen years of doing translations I have only had one person who would consistently correct my big and small errors. The person would also come up to me after meetings and recount how many times I was wrong. This is just how life works. There is always one person like that but the reality is that I have had many more people appreciate that even my weak Spanish is a service they are grateful for.

There are times when poetry feels so much the same. The language is right there, the experience is common, but the grammar is a bit off or the diction is not quite right. There will be those who will jump and correct the misuse of a semicolon or the over eloquence of a word. This is how poetry business works. The need for precision, the reliance on ceremony, the call for the perfect translation tries to get in the way of communicating the story.

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