A Steaming Pile of Local Politics

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In case you need more evidence that politics is a work of fiction, here’s a look at something we received in the mail the other day. The Fiction Advocate lives in District 38 in Brooklyn, where we are represented by Councilman Sara M. Gonzalez. Her latest bulletin has side-by-side translations in English and Spanish. (District 38 is 50.8% Hispanic, 22.7% Asian and Pacific Islander, and 17.3% White.) We noticed some key differences between the English and Spanish versions of her text.

English:

Since before she was elected, first as Chair of Community Board Seven, then continuing every year since her election, Councilwoman Sara M. Gonzalez has organized a community gathering…

Spanish:

Por los últimos diez años, desde antes de su elección a concejal cuando fungía como la primer mujer Latina en dirigir la Junta Comunitaria Siete, la Concejal Gonzalez ha organizado una fiesta…

See that? “Cuando fungía como la primer mujer Latina.” She didn’t say that in the English version, did she?

Okay, so Gonzalez knows her audience; she knows that people who read the Spanish version are more likely to be swayed by the fact that she was the first Latina woman to serve as Chair of Community Board Seven. Nothing wrong with that; it’s smart of her, actually. But things get crazier at the end of her open letter.

English:

Also, my experience in seeing the community response to so many concerns instills me with the confidence to say: Make no mistake we will get through this – Together.

Sincerely,

Sara M. Gonzalez

Spanish:

He vivido en estas comunidades toda mi vida y he visto las buenas y las malas. Gracias a Dios hemos podido mejorar muchisimo. Por lo tanto, se que todos los vecinos de nuestra comunidad nos uniremos, gritaremos presente, y superaremos esta crisis como hemos hecho antes – Juntos!

Dios Los Bendiga,

Sara M. Gonzalez

The English version is tailored to non-religious, civic-minded folks like us. But the Spanish version emphasizes that Gonzalez has lived her whole life in this community (unlike most of the white folks who moved to the neighborhood recently), gives thanks to God (because the Latinos in District 38 are by-and-large religious), and talks about improving ourselves, uniting, and declaring ourselves present—notions that appeal more to folks who find themselves in an ethnic minority, in country where they don’t speak the dominant language. Gonzalez signs off the Spanish version with an exclamation point and a “God Bless.”

Maybe these are minor differences. But they’re also deliberate. It’s deceptive—and clever—to print them side-by-side as translations, when in fact they are subtly different versions of the Gonzalez narrative.

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