“porque vas a mexico?”
“por trabajo con no mas muertes a grupo beta”
“oh good. how old are you?”
“you must get the young thing all of the time. I thought you were 14! but then you spoke and i figured you must be older..”
(this conversation occurred standing next to a group of about 20 people being deported into Nogales, Sonora)
“what were you doing in Mexico?”
“working at grupo beta.”
“is it safe for you over there?!”
“yep. I’m fine.”
“well be careful.”
oh and also: “any drugs or arms? weapons?”
“alright, cause you know that if you turn around they’ll put stuff on you.”
I can’t decide if men in perceived positions of power hitting on young women bothers me more, or if it’s when they question my safety. I know my limitations as a 5’2 female with large breasts, thanks man.
also perturbing was the conversation I had at grupo beta (mexican government run shelter for repatriated migrants) where a guy asked me if it was legal for border patrol to kill someone for crossing the border. I told him absolutely not and he said that he thought so, but wasn’t sure because he was chased around by an agent in the desert who kept yelling “I’m going to kill you, you motherfucker! you know I can!”
on the bright side, I can hold an hour long conversation about migration law in spanish!
Meeting with NISGUA seemed like a fitting way to start our travel seminar. We were going to meet a former Border Studies student, from Oberlin nonetheless, and see how she was moving forward after college. It was also going to be a look into how one can use their privilege of US citizenship in a potentially productive manner in another country. This was an exciting way to begin after already spending a lot of time questioning my passport privilege and wondering if it is possible to do solidarity work in countries other than my own.
This first platíca was in english, so it took a little while before it hit me: spanish. I would need much better spanish to work with NISGUA. What help could I be if I couldn’t even effectively communicate with the people I was trying to work with? This feeling of dread was solidified in our next meeting with HIJOS as I struggled to understand what was happening around me. Afterwards, getting someone to review the points of what had just been talked about felt wrong. I thought back to readings that we had done for Katie’s class that spoke of the importance of hearing people’s experiences first hand. Was getting a translation comparable to hearing the HIJOS members speak? Was this first hand or second hand communication?
This theme of language continued to manifest itself in different ways throughout my time in Guatemala and Mexico. I continued to wonder how much I was missing. I worried that the people we were meeting with could tell that I could not fully understand what they were saying to me; that every time we met eyes they could not see interest and focus, but fear. When people from home asked me in emails about the people that we met, I felt almost guilty telling them about conversations, much of which had been recapped for me. I felt like I was co-opting the experiences of the students who had translated or summarized for me, as if only hearing was enough to make it my own, and that experiencing a person without their words was not. The question still stood: did it still count as a first hand experience if someone had to translate it for or explain it to me? This was complicated by the fact that in some of the communities that we visited, some members did not speak spanish, but indigenous dialects that were translated into spanish by others, and that for some reason, I did not question if this was getting a second hand experience. I only did so with english.
Now, back in the United States, I am thinking more about the role that language plays as I navigate sharing my travel experiences with others. I have questioned whether or not, even if my spanish were stronger and I had gathered the majority of our platícas on my own, it be truly accurate to now convey that story to others who had not been there in english. Through this thought process, I have begun to see that my discomfort is not with having people translate things that I do not understand for me, but with the english language, one that is so associated with the power relations we have been studying. The real question is not of translation but of what an effective and appropriate way is to share the stories of people effected by issues of power and oppression in a language that presidential candidate Rick Santorum said Puerto Ricans need to learn if they want statehood.
In both spanish and english, I have heard stories from individuals in the migrant shelters we have spent time in, from women deported to Nogales, from the many activists and community leaders we spoke with, and from people that I have worked with here in Tucson. And I have not quite known what to do with them. I now think back, once again, to a pre-travel seminar reading that spoke of the importance of speaking with someone rather than for them. I still am not sure how to do this, particularly when that someone is not there to speak for themselves. Especially when I am not speaking their language. I hope to spend my last month in Tucson learning how to share these stories of the people that I have met in a way that is appropriate, effective, and in solidarity with their work. Even if it means I need some help doing so.
hi im bad at blogging
Ciudad de Guatemala
Caracol Morelia (caracol 2 de los zapatistas)
La Cuidad de Oaxaca
now I’m back, 5 more weeks, then back to the other worlds in my life. weird.
Kony is terrible. How dare he go out and do something that ultimately ended in the very public nervous breakdown of a rich white man. Doesn’t he know how rich and white he is? How could he do this to Jason Russell? #Kony2012