November 5, 2017

Tailor Shop - Sastrería

"Tailor Shop - Sastrería," 9" x 12", watercolour on Arches 140 lb. cotton paper

One of the best parts about living in Southern California is the bilingual culture, at least on the part of those who grew up speaking a language besides English (more on that in a sec).

Spanish is particularly alive and well and knowing even a bit of it can open doors to vistas that the culture of California on the surface tends to ignore.

One of my kids is in a pilot "dual immersion" Spanish-English program at school, thanks to Prop 58 which just overturned Prop 227, a mingy measure passed in 1998 that required Californian schools to teach "overwhelmingly" in the language of the Anglos, with little transitional instruction for recent arrivals.

The school doesn't rank high enough for the Tiger Parents but we love it, not just because we happen to know Spanish but because communicating in another tongue, as babyish and uneasy as it can make you feel at the start, really does shift how you see things. It radically de-centres, I would say, and can shake up and confuse, for a moment anyway, who's privileged and who isn't.

On the days I wait in line for the bell with my little one, the chattiest parents, the most assured and confident - in their places of work ignored, as a rule, behind leaf blowers and feather dusters - are the Hispanophones.

Over the years I've done a fair amount of translation work. I came across this passage recently in the preface to a bilingual volume of Italian Renaissance poetry (I know, the stuff I read!). It's specifically about translation but I think it applies more broadly.

British and American publishers have reaped the financial benefits of successfully imposing English-language cultural values on a vast foreign readership, while producing cultures in the United Kingdom and the United States that are aggressively monolingual, unreceptive to foreign literatures, accustomed to fluent translations that invisibly inscribe foreign texts with British and American values and provide readers with the narcissistic experience of recognizing their own culture in the cultural other.

These days there's lots in the news about regions with distinct languages and cultures wanting to detach and go it alone. I both understand and, I admit, dislike the whole business, especially because it can't seem to happen without a lot of Kool-Aid drinking, also called nationalism. But I can't help think that one day even such middle powers as Spain, Italy, Belgium, Morocco, Turkey, etc., challenged now by various sub-regions, will respond in this same way, only direct their dissatisfaction at the ultra-homogenizing English world.

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