By Brianna Clarke-Arias
I have experienced translation as a fundamental phenomenon in my communication. I feel colonization living in my words.
“Translation is the art of bridging cultures. It’s about interpreting the essence of a text, transporting its rhythms and becoming intimate with its meaning… Translation, however, doesn’t only occur across languages: mentally putting any idea into words is an act of translation; so is composing a symphony, doing business in the global market, understanding the roots of terrorism. No citizen, especially today, can exist in isolation—that is, untranslated.”— By Ilán Stavans, Professor of Latin American and Latino Culture, Amherst College; Robert Croll ’16; and Cedric Duquene ’15. Excerpt from “Interpreting Terras Irradient,” Amherst Magazine, Spring 2015.
To translate is to become new. Translation is conversion; it does not exist as it did before and its message is in the sounds broken down into new ones. I translate literally, converting my words for my grandpa on the phone just like the speaker does to my voice, but it is also an unavoidable act. I translate emotions to thoughts to sounds. I shave off parts of feelings to make them words, but I make them larger through that act of sharing. I do not know if it is intentional how similar a community is to communication, I know that sharing is whittling the shape of my lips, my accent collected from the English of my parents and the Spanish of my grandparents, and making new meaning of my words the more they are received, unpacked, recognized.
I noticed this recently, in my last year of Spanish class, that there was something so rough in my thoughts and tense in my arms when I could not force out my words. My English words do not exist in another language, I have run them through so many filters, I have strained them, stained them, packed them with meaning. The sting of S in my sorrys, the grounding edge of R growling in my throat instead of rolling on my tongue like my mother. My big words, my small ones: melancholic, coffee cup, alienation, car door. I have grown up.
I have forgotten the sway of Spanish. I hear my grandmother crying, the bend of the stairs beneath my bare feet, Elena! The EXCLAIMING AT PARTIES! THE SLAM OF DOMINOES! MY GRANDFATHER’S BIG BELLY LAUGH! The curve between my grandmother’s neck and shoulder where I slept, cosita, mi linda… My dry cheeks when she moved away. The soft skin of her hand, the thumbs that peel apples and wash them in lemon juice, where she stood by the stove. Her pots and spoons in the cupboard, dented with use, the faint scent of spices cooked into the metal, as if she has just cooked sancocho, mangú, baked the sweetness into the air to greet me as I enter the house. The empty kitchen.
The image of my house, of its walls, its stairs, the railing, the curve of my mattress around my body as it holds me while I sleep. I trace the dirt of my bedroom wall where I put up my feet in impatience as a child in tears because one day poetry would run out. The wood and metal and drywall hold me up, they are visible to me through this quiet consciousness in the absence of language.
I was inspired by the quote I found about the unavoidable act of translation because it distilled an experience I have had trouble communicating. I did horribly in Spanish class in school, but I have always lived with Spanish. I found my school environment to be a sterile study of a living language. However, I struggle to hold the rolling fluidity of Spanish and the blunt instrument of English in my mouth at once. I find this has less to do with the languages themselves than who speaks each in the continents of America.
Brianna Clarke-Arias is a poet and essayist who primarily explores history as a legacy of power through her writing. Most of her works act as personal genealogies of imperialism as a Dominican-American. As an adult, she wants to build national labor unions to protect Black rights, women’s rights, and immigrant rights. Brianna has gotten five bee stings in her left hand and does not want you to feel guilty for your anger but to listen to it.