The language dilemma

June 13:

It has been such a long time since I have blogged… My excuse is a good one.  I have spent the last few months writing a book and enjoying it.  So I’ve been a stranger to the blog, but then a reminder came….  

A few days ago I spoke with a UC student named Lacey (Hi Lacey!).  She found my project and contacted me.  When we talked, she said one of her favorite things was following the blog to hear how I’m traversing things in the country.  I thought, I better get back to this!!  

So here I am, back again!  Friday, June 13th we visited Chuacruz.  Chuacruz is above Sololá, and is one of the towns around the lake most effected by the 36 year internal conflict.  There, many men – fathers, uncles, and brothers were killed or disappeared.  The women here are just something else.  They are strong and beautiful.  The story that I heard about them is that they banded together one day and walked to Panajachel to meet Jane.  Jane, the founder of The Maya Traditions Foundations, began the organization to work with Maya backstrap weavers, assisting them with improving the quality of their work so that they could sell them through the Fair Trade market.  She didn’t start this work with the Chuacruz community, but somehow they found out about her and they were motivated to meet with her and find a way to work with her.  It tells you a little about the spirit of the community! 

Today in Chuacruz, where we work with three wonderful young ladies: Mirna, Carmen, and Ana Maria.    I’ve been in the US for a month, so this is the first time that I have seen them in their community.  I thought that they’d have their translations finished by now, but that wasn’t the case.  The day was dedicated to this. Carmen and I talked while they worked.  In the back of my mind, I thought, “There has to be a better way.”  I’m worried that if they continue to do translations for the next month, they will loose interest in the project or just become too tired of what seems to be a tedious task.  Yes, we do this in research, but we know that translations and being close to the data is very important.  They will come to learn this, as we saw with the last group, but at the same time, I want to keep an inspiration! 

The creative part is be filming and writing.  The hard and new part is learning to ask deeper questions and analyzing what they see in their interviews.  It’s hard to do one without the other.  I’d prefer this to be just fun, but as one of my own inspirations said, learning has to be hard fun. 

So as much as I don’t want them to be doing this work, we can’t move forward without them.  With the interviews in Maya languages, we just don’t know the quality of the interview or what else to help facilitate what more they might need to know.  We have to stay with the language.  There is just no question about it.  They are seeing more about how language is tied to culture and we want to stay with our foundational principal that the stories need to come from them.  They need to resonate with their own storytelling patterns and ways of knowing, not with ours. 

A thought that came to mind was to ask the students to record the translations in Spanish.  Then, when I have more funds, we can hire someone or find a volunteer to transcribe those.  This will go much faster.  

The tensions that I’m feeling right now are… on the one hand, we want it to move along and be fun and driven by them… and on the other hand… there are a mountain of things that they are learning at the same time – how to type, how to ask questions, how to tell a story, how to analyze what is said, how to ask deeper questions about their histories, and how to unearth a story that is emerging.    These critical thinking skills are happening at the same time that they are learning to move a mouse, to organize folders, to type, and to save.  Together we need to brainstorm an easier way to go about this where it doesn’t feel so heavy.

While I’m concerned about these burdens, I don’t see an ounce of concern in the eyes of these youth.  Rather, the gracefully and without complaint work through translating their interviews.  They don’t question, and don’t show any body language that suggests that this is difficult or something that they don’t want to do.  Thoughts run through my mind.  Do they do what they are told like they do in the schools – without question or debate – are they again cogs in the wheels.  This time takes away from their agency and empowerment but perhaps at the same time builds it?  Gaining these skills however slow, is it “catching” them up?   But this is not the goal, right?  It is to see through their eyes what their stories, language, culture is.  It is not for them to follow our rules. 

To do the work is a way to allow them to have the power and the tools to illustrate things from and through their eyes.  This is something to continue to reflect upon and explore what others have found doing this work.


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