Essay
Losing Oneself in Translation

Losing Oneself in Translation

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Tanya Huntington

My English-speaking version has one biography. My Hispanic self has another. Sometimes they coincide, and sometimes they diverge in an existence we find more braided than blended together: something along the lines of a quantum vital experience that encompasses different realities. The Hispanic studied Latin American literature. The Anglo studied theater. The Hispanic writes essays, literary criticism, short stories that are frankly flawed, and scripts for radio and television. She teaches classes and workshops, she gives readings and presentations. The Anglo, who interferes less and less as the years go by here in Mexico, hunkers down at home to write poetry and spends the afternoons speaking English to her sons. Sometimes, she takes over the magazine column. They collaborate on translations in order to pay the bills. Both of them possess the restless soul of the immigrant.

In reality, my Anglo identity has never been hegemonic. When I was born, my father worked as a high school teacher on a reservation of the Lakota nation called Eagle Butte, thus peeling away the label of “cowboy” handed down via the family tree. A few years later, my parents participated in the great wave of immigration that departed during the second half of the 20th century from rural areas to join the urban sprawl. As a first-generation city slicker, it fell to me to suffer the slings and arrows of all the cliques that had already secured a foothold within my new surroundings. According to them, I didn’t amount to anything more than a measly social climber from the provinces. Hence, it also fell to me to befriend other recent immigrants who hailed from more distant places: Egypt, Cambodia, El Salvador, Nigeria, etcetera.

My Hispanic identity, that Other who lives inside me and wrote the original version of this text, was also born on the reservation where my father taught Spanish, among other subjects (he also coached wrestling). My earliest memories of the language I now speak every day come from a textbook he used curiously entitled Hasta la vista, in which the fictitious and folkloric Pepe and Lupe sustained dialogues spattered with topsy-turvy punctuation that split the second person between and Usted. Like any child, my main interest in Spanish consisted first and foremost of being able to compose certain insults ex professo in order to apply them against the bullying hordes at school without their knowledge: my favorite was “cabeza de cochino“, dealt from behind the mask of a smile.

Not long ago, my father told me that at some point during our years on the reservation, he tried to raise enough money to take his Sioux students on a school trip to visit the great Tenochtitlán. He didn’t succeed, but he did take advantage of the occasion to show them postcards of the fabulous mural-bearing architecture on the National Autonomous University campus. He also taught them that they would be able to retain the indigenous names of the two volcanoes that reign over the Valley of Mexico more easily if they were re-baptized in their minds as Purple Caterpillar and Extra Sea Water. My father never imagined at the time that two decades later, his Anglo daughter and his Hispanic daughter would settle down there together, under the shadow of those two volcanoes, where the Anglo cooks without chili, does the math, and paints the canvases. She practices swimming and plays croquet. She enjoys watching baseball. She gets sick sometimes. The Hispanic greets people with a kiss, takes charge of body language and verbal communications with her beloved husband (who doesn’t speak English), drives like a chilanga native of Mexico City, and recklessly throws herself headlong into any challenge. She enjoys excellent health. She still swears like a sailor. She drinks tequila and lives without fear.

Text composed for the Transmedia Borders project of the British Council

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