Translation as Bridge to the Other: Trump’s Promise to the LGBTQ Community

Bradley Warren Davis offers us an essential reflection on our world. His new translation of Benito Pastoriza Iyodo's 12 de junio appears here with the author's original, and consent.

 

“The past is never the past. It is always present. And you better reckon with it in your life and in your daily experience, or it will get you. It will get you really bad.”     ---Bruce Springsteen (Springsteen, n.d.)

 

Translation bridges the divide between languages, literatures, cultures and ideas. It can lead to appreciation of great literature; open readers to new points of view; and create better understanding of other countries, cultures, religions and socio-political issues. While publishing houses, journals, magazines and self-publishing platforms may provide the delivery mode and capital to support this bridge, its structural integrity and aesthetic value emanate from the original literary work and its translation. When left to his or her own devices, a translator can choose who and what to translate. For me the three essential criteria are passion, responsibility and artistry. When a work, anthology, story or poem contains these three elements, I am all the more eager to take on the challenge of building a literary bridge that will produce an experience for the English-language readers that parallels that of persons reading the work in its original language.

This essay will address the criteria for selecting works for translation into English; how reader perceptions of the work and its translation can change according to evolving societal and political attitudes; and how new poetry of confrontational truth presents challenges in translation and rigorous demands on the breadth of the English lexicon. The first of two poems, published in 2002, will be explored as it might be interpreted in 2002, 2013 and today. Along the way, appropriate cultural, social and political observations will inform the discussion of the translation of the second poem, written in June 2016, shortly after the massacre of 49 individuals in the Pulse nightclub. The enduring question is whether the current lack of interest in “the other” (things, ideas, gender and sexual identities, beliefs, customs, countries, religions and systems) will affect the bridges built by translators.

 

Selecting a Work for Translation: Passion, Responsibility and Artistry

The underpinnings of my ideal choice of work for translation can be encapsulated by one of the responses in an interview of Benito Pastoriza Iyodo, Spanish-language writer of poetry, fiction and essays who lives in the United States. The interview, published in fall 2016 in Coastlines magazine by the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), asked the alumnus/author about the role of artists. Pastoriza Iyodo replied:

“The artist [writer] should create to show the sublime, the grotesque, the real and the unreal of life, questioning everything so that later the readers or spectators can decide how all of this takes shape in their own lives. Within this context, writers play many roles. On one hand they are the chroniclers of our time. But a good writer, through responsible literature, is the conscience of the people. Then there is the question of language. A writer has an intrinsic duty to update the language, to enrich it, to change it, to help it to evolve - to adapt to new times. To create neologisms. To create new syntaxes. To bring it up-to-date with other universal languages. Also writers should be the flashing beacon of bright, red lights to warn us when we are about to fall into an abyss. And why not. At times the writer also has to denounce wrongs without falling into a literature of pamphleteering. Literature must expose racism, homophobia, inequity, discrimination, wickedness, injustice, poverty and all of the human evil that we have collectively created.”

In my view, as writers carry out these roles, it is the responsibility of every translator to hold fast to a parallel course, reflecting the portrayal of content, context, syntax and neologism, linguistic growth and denunciations as per the original work. These challenges drive my choice of what to translate. In many cases works selected require an updating of the English lexicon, proposing and piloting the reincorporation of arcane, forgotten, or borrowed words, modifications of street language and neologisms as befits the situation.

With this framework in mind, I set out in 2015 to begin translating Cartas a la sombra de tu piel = Letters to the Shadow of your Skin by Benito Pastoriza Iyodo. The book, written in the late 90s through the start of the new millennium was published in 2002. As the author sets out in the UCSB interview:

“... In this book I set out to narrate a love story between two men who battle all those opposed to their love. They fight so that their relationship will grow and become fruitful. ... The final section is the defense of this love, to integrate it into a society that continually rejects them. Many writers have produced literature with a homoerotic focus, but I am more interested in working with the homoaffective aspect of love. At the same time I was attracted to the idea of elaborating a certain poetic activism in favor of gay rights. I wanted to expose the universal reader to a love without sexual boundaries where love was simply love.”

Seven poems from the collection were published in bilingual form by Exchanges Literary Journal of the University of Iowa. One poem, “Atrincherados / Entrenched” demonstrates how the gay couple had had to defend their love against the overt and covert hate coming from many quarters of society. In 2002 the prevailing attitude toward homosexuals bore out this testimony and gave each word the power, hurt, anger and degradation contained in every verse. By 2013, official polls showed a general acceptance and tolerance for the LGBTQ community and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same sex marriage. Young gays, millennials and others could then read this poem as a remembrance to be archived in the annals of history. But since the 2016 presidential campaign and its aftermath, fears of returning to these days of tacitly sanctioned discrimination have reappeared, allowing the work and its translation to be even more impactful. We can see that this poem is not a simple chronicle of the past: the past is always present and the present colors the translation and the readers’ interpretation of the work.

The poem, in Spanish and English, conveys the palpable fear that the couple felt for their lives, with allusions to Lorca and Wilde, universally-known writers persecuted for their homosexuality, which directly or indirectly led to their death. While the fear of mortal attack had diminished in recent years, current events have pointed out the persistent homophobic attitude that still exists across broad swaths of our nation. Below is the English translation of the poem, which can be read in Spanish in the Exchanges Literary Journal.

 

Entrenched

Here in this trench

buried in the deepest

social hole,

we have defended our love.

here besieged by the hate

by the anger, by the homophobia

by the insults, the sarcasm

the shouts of “faggots!”

the slashed tires,

here we don’t rent to homosexuals,

he’s a good person, but he’s gay,

they are fabulous and they love each other

but they’re queers,

here we have defended our love

in this trench for 18 years,

18 year loving each other purely

because we love each other,

not because it is approved by society,

the church, the school, the family,

the social order.

Entrenched because we have seen

brothers murdered

because Lorca was murdered

because Wilde was murdered,

and perhaps we will also be

murdered

because this book of love

that I write for you

may be the sentence

of death for our bodies,

but we continue entrenched

entrenched

entrenched until death

because this act of love

is much bigger

than our destiny

It is very likely that readers’ interpretation of this poem and the depth of meaning it holds for them has evolved, from chronicle of a reality in the recent past to a clarion call announcing a continuing and present danger being aggressively promoted. Benito Pastoriza Iyodo’s new poem titled “12 de junio / 12th of June” uses the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida as the point of departure to detail the anger, emotion and real challenges facing the LGBTQ community. And it all starts with Donald J. Trump’s promise to that community.

 

Background: Donald J. Trump’s Promise to the LGBTQ Community

Whatever his personal ideology regarding the LGBTQ population in the United States, Donald Trump’s statements during his acceptance speech in Cleveland, Ohio do not assuage the oppressive nature of the Republican platform or the past anti-gay actions of his running mate, Michael Pence. The fact that the Republican presidential candidate stated strongly that as president he would protect America’s LGBTQ community from “the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology” does not improve the current status of our community.

This limited promise of protection, with RNC delegates chanting “Help is on the way” in the background, is no protection to the LGBTQ community at all. It is an affront to them for various reasons. All Americans should be protected from terrorist attacks, foreign or domestic.

The massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida was not a terrorist act to support a foreign ideology. But even if it had been, why should the community be happy or satisfied with a promise of protection from a hateful foreign ideology when the community feels the violence and oppression of a hateful domestic ideology that is only perpetuated by the official Republican platform, by existing and pending discriminatory legislation at the state and local levels and the lack of legislative will to extend to the LGBTQ community those civil rights already afforded to other minorities in our pluralistic society. With continued promises of nominating strict-constructionist judges to the U.S. Supreme Court, we cannot afford to sit on our laurels while our newly-found rights run the risk of being eroded.

I am no political pundit or policy wonk, but I know how words can be used to unify, divide, distract and seduce the public in a populist movement. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, the law and order candidate touts the massacre at the Pulse nightclub as a terrorist attack, without knowing (or ignoring) the complicated facts behind the case or the evidence being uncovered by journalistic and law enforcement investigations. These investigations show a very plausible scenario of a closeted homosexual attacking his own community out of self-loathing, envy, and anger about not being able to accept himself in the face of the dogma of his family, religion and society.

Rather than getting distracted by the details of myriad interviews and investigations, it is important to note that Omar Mateen’s actions created the perfect storm, bringing the important issues of terrorism, gun control and homophobia to the fore. The LGBTQ community cannot allow the third element of this tidal wave – the violence and oppression of hate – to be obscured by talk of protection from Islamic extremism and gun control.

Our executive, legislative and judicial leaders need to take appropriate steps to afford the LGBTQ community the same rights and protections afforded to others. We are a pluralistic society. Where the absence of protections allows discrimination, the void should be filled with new laws. Where existing or pending laws would discriminate, they should be challenged and repealed or declared unconstitutional. Where discretion allows for profiling or negative differential treatment, there needs to be a group of concerned citizens watching.

And even as LGBTQ rights are expanded, there are still those who are dismayed. They long for the good old days and may comply with the letter of the law while their hateful behavior, words and attitudes reflect their true opinions as they go through the motions. My husband, my partner of 34 years, and I got married in New York City in 2013. Some friends and even members of our families asked us why we had to get married and why we could not just stay as domestic partners. They saw the legal advantages, but could not get over the fact of us being married. Ever since, the change in their attitudes toward us has affected the frequency and quality of our interactions with them.

The LGBTQ community is often perceived as a hedonistic, homoerotic party community, but it is important to understand that while we are not a carbon copy of the heterosexual community, we deal with similar challenges, aspire to having loving relationships, successful careers and fruitful social and cultural interactions. We celebrate the joy of family and community. For me, the world needs to know more about the homo-affective relationships that are cultivated within the LGBTQ community in spite of the judgments made by others: how we have been brave in keeping love alive and thriving in our communities. The LGBTQ community does not need a savior or a hero. We do not need a father figure to rescue us. We do not need a paternalistic political party to come to our defense. We have a well-documented tradition of defending ourselves, of fighting for our rights. And we unite, across party lines, to stand up for our own rights to fully engage in the civil, legal and social fabric of American life, free to love and be loved like all citizens of this great nation.

Benito Pastoriza Iyodo has written works that reflect this reality and fear. For “12 de junio” he used the massacre at the Pulse nightclub as a window on the continuing challenge of combatting the hatred faced by the LGBTQ community. These ongoing fears are augmented by what may come out of the 2016 presidential election, the potential change in: the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court, official governmental policies and reprisals that may be forthcoming from emboldened homophobic groups. Pastoriza Iyodo presents the poem as a dirge as the mothers of the fallen watch and wait, recognizing the rampant hatred that led up to the tragedy. Here, the translation challenge is to create the same hypnotic tempo for the reader while searching for pejoratives in English that parallel the hateful, angry, despising slang of the Spanish original. Trying to capture the compassion of the broken-hearted, grieving mothers and the murderous hatred of others is difficult. The author denounces the homophobia, inequity, discrimination, wickedness and injustice in the treatment of the gay community. This is not the struggle of a gay couple in defense of their love. This is a call to arms to preserve the other, the one who is different in world view, culture, gender identity or sexual orientation. (The poem is presented in Spanish and English at the end of this essay.)

Translation is truly the bridge between peoples, languages, literature, and ways of thinking. Walls separate, bridges allow for sharing, learning and growth. Civilization and culture are built upon the word. We must make sure that as we move into what may be an era of impending isolationism, rejection and fear that translators will continue to construct bridges to the other.

 

 

12 de junio / 12th of June

 

12 de junio

los brazos caídos de las madres

los brazos vacíos de las madres

tantos cuerpos sin vida en la morgue

tantos celulares sonando en la frialdad

de la morgue

tantos nombres sin nombrar

de hermanos hermanas amigos

primos esposas esposos y amantes

que en el desapego de aquella

primera ingrata noche desgraciada

yacían solos solísimos sobre planchas

estériles heladas

cuatro a cuatro los camiones blancos

se llevaban los cadáveres

cuatro a cuatro los hombres

depositaban los cuerpos sobre las mesas

que con etiquetas inmutables

anunciaban su anonimato

y afuera

en la oscuridad de la noche

en la penumbra de la noche

en la desesperación de la noche

las madres aguardaban

las madres esperaban

las madres perdidas en la locura

las madres ahogadas en los sollozos

esperaban aguardaban

con los brazos caídos

con los brazos vacíos

en el desconsuelo

en la impotencia

porque sabían porque presentían

que sus hijos sus hijas

ahora estaban solos

impotentemente solos

abrigados tan solo

por la muerte

el odio

el terrible y asesino odio

que sus hijos habían

escuchado en la iglesia

en la mezquita en la sinagoga

el maldito odio que les tenían

por ser gais por no conformarse

a las normas establecidas por los siglos

ahora se había vuelto monarca

emperador odio de odios

el endemoniado odio

que salía de las bocas

de los que supuestamente los querían

padres tíos hombres machos machotes

amenazándoles gritándoles exigiéndoles

no seas marica no seas maricón coño

no seas joto no seas pato

no seas puto plumífero pájaro

mira que te parto el vivir

que te mato ahora mismo

que prefiero verte muerto

que de maricón

y las hermanas de la morgue

sufrieron también el vituperio

maldita no seas bollera

no seas cachapera camionera

macha machona marimacha

panadera tortillera

prefiero verte de puta que de pata

ojalá que te violen en el callejón

para que se te quite lo de macha

por qué no te moriste en el útero

de tu madre condenada

el odio perverso

el odio que te entierra vivo

odio perpetuado por la sociedad

por los gobiernos por las instituciones

aquí no se alquila a homosexuales

y menos a las lesbianas cachaperas

aquí no se emplea a homosexuales

y los transexuales que se mueran

aquí no se atiende a homosexuales

y los bisexuales que se achicharren

en las pailas de los infiernos

te voy a hacer la vida un imposible

maricón de mierda joto de mierda

cómo te atreves a pensarte igual a mí

te mato te asesino te elimino te extermino

por eso las madres

las dolorosas

las abatidas

las desgarradas en dolor

vienen con los brazos caídos

vienen con los brazos vacíos

porque en la morgue

está el anonimato está el olvido

está el resultado vergonzoso del odio

allí yacen sus hijos sus hijas

que una y mil veces fueron

pisoteados burlados violados

y finalmente asesinados

destruidos para siempre

por ese odio

por el maldito y perverso odio

que solo se alimenta de la sangre

de los inocentes de la tierra

 

 

 

12th of June

the limp arms of the mothers (crestfallen, drooping)

the empty arms of the mothers

so many lifeless bodies in the morgue

so many cell phones ringing in the iciness

of the morgue

so many names unnamed

of brothers sisters friends

cousins wives husbands lovers

who in the indifference of that

first ungrateful disgraceful night

lie alone very alone on sterile

frozen slabs

four by four the white trucks

carried the cadavers off

four by four the men

deposited the bodies on the tables

with immutable tags that

announced their anonymity

and outside

in the darkness of the night

in the penumbra of the night

in the desperation of the night

the mothers kept watch

the mothers waited

the mothers lost in the madness

the mothers drowned in their sobbing

waited kept watch

with their limp arms

with their empty arms

in their distress

in their impotence

because they knew because they sensed

that their sons their daughters

were alone now

powerlessly alone

cloaked only

by death

the hate

the terrible and murderous hate

that their children had

heard in the church

in the mosque in the synagogue

the accursed hate others had for them

for being gay for not conforming

to the norms established through the centuries

had once again become the monarch

emperor hate of hates

the fiendish hate

that issued from the mouths

of those who supposedly loved them

fathers uncles men machos very machos

threatening them screaming at them demanding of them

don’t be a nellie don’t be a faggot damn it

don’t be a queer don’t be a bugger

don’t be a fruit a homo a cocksucker

look I’ll kick the life outta you

I’ll kill you right now

I prefer seeing you dead

than as a faggot

and the sisters in the morgue

also suffered condemnation

damn you don’t be a dyke

don’t be a lesbo a trucker

a butch diesel dyke bull dagger

kiki lezzie

I prefer to see you as a prostitute than a queer

If only they would rape you in an alley

to get you over being so butch

damn you why didn’t you die

in your mother’s uterus

the perverse hate

the hate that buries you alive

hate perpetuated by society

by governments by institutions

here we don’t rent to homosexuals

and even less to butch lesbians

here we don’t hire homosexuals

and the transsexuals should just all die

here we don’t serve homosexuals

and the bisexuals can burn to a crisp

in the fires of hell

I’m going to make your life impossible

you shitty faggot you filthy queer

how dare you think yourself my equal

I’ll kill you murder you eliminate you exterminate you

for this the mothers

our ladies of sorrow

dispirited

racked with pain

come with their limp arms

come with their empty arms

because in the morgue

dwells the anonymity the oblivion

the shameful result of hate

there lie their sons their daughters

that a thousand and one times were

trampled mocked raped

and finally murdered

destroyed forever

by that hate

by the damned and perverse hate

that only feeds on the blood

of the innocents of the earth

 

--------

Bradley Warren Davis’s translations of literature, essays and interviews have appeared in literary publications, magazines and anthologies including Arte en Luz y Literatura, Visible, Literal, and the anthology Poetic Voices Without Borders II. He also wrote the introductions and English translations for the bilingual editions of books by Benito Pastoriza Iyodo: Cuestión de hombres (short stories) as well as Elegías de septiembre and Prostíbulo de la palabra (poetry). His essay “Translation of Poetry from Spanish into English: Theory, Strategies and Other Considerations” was included in the anthology La traducción en los Estados Unidos: teoría y práctica.

 

To read the interview addressed in this piece: http://ucsbalum.com/Coastlines/2016/fall/webextra_iyodo