Women’s stories / Historias de mujeres
Sylvia Molloy: the insecurity of the otherness.
The difficulties in the meeting of cultures that become more evident with migrations. And the humbleness to overcome these obstacles.
Sylvia Molloy quotes a short story by the cuban poet Roberto Fernández that explains it all. It’s about immigrants in the US and it starts like this:
“No good,” the doctor said frowning his eyebrows as he walked in with Barbarita’s X-Rays.
He told Mima, “Ask her if she’s had TB.”
Mima turned to Barbarita, “He says if you have a TV.”
“Tell him yes, but in La Habana, not in Miami.”
Mima told the doctor, “She says she has TV in Cuba but not in Miami. But her daughter has TV here.”
“‘”In that case we’re going to have to take a look at her daughter’s TB.”
Mima translated, “He says he will have to check your daughter’s TV to see if it works; otherwise, you won’t be able to get your green card.”
“Why the TV?”, Barbarita asked looking at her X-Rays rather puzzled.
“How many times did I tell you to get one? Don’t you see, Barbarita? This is America.”
Tuesday afternoon and the Malba’s library is filled with people who want to listen to a guest invited to take part in the Lectura Mundi programme, held by the UNSAM’s (Spanish acronym for University of San Martín), Molloy, an Argentinean theorist, who’s also an academic in the United States, is a writer that breaks bones.
In 2001, like today, she lived in New York when two planes shattered down the Twin Towers along with the invulnerability illusion of America. The attackers spoke different languages, “others” than English. And Molloy was the President of the Modern Language Association, a group of teachers and scholars in “other” languages existing from 1883.
So the US Government began to order word lists in these “other” languages: Arabic, Farsi, Pashto, Urdu, Uzbek. There were trying, schematically, to understand. As if a culture could be completely translated into another without any losses.
Or rather, like Molloy says now -as the sun shines through the glasses in the library and people who walk their dogs in this sidewalk of Palermo Chico peep into the classroom, “There is a certain hierarchy between English and ‘foreign languages’. September 11 shook the foundations of that hierarchy. We are the other’s others.”
Molloy goes against simplification, the little word list. She is concerned about “the meeting of tongues, of cultures, the need to explore in depth, as awkward as it may be.”
In the speech she delivered back 2001 when she became President of the Association, she said she felt tempted of greeting “Señoras and messieurs, dear amigos and chers colegas,”putting all the languages she can speak at the same level. No hierarchies.
But, how can there not be hierarchies? How could the English spoken by those who are established in a piece of land, who have been lords and masters for generations not be more relevant that the one spoken by those who arrive with their bags and ambitions? In Paraguay, How could not be more relevant the Spanish of the conquistadors than the Guarani of the conquered original residents, even though according to the law -with a constitutional mandate from 1992 that only came into force in 2011- it is a bilingual country? In 2011, experts said there were no books in Guarani, which made it hard to teach it in school. Also, it wasn’t spoken in Court nor hospitals. That, too, is the conquest: if Guarani was necessary in order to ascend, there would be online and accelerated courses.
But, honestly, being bilingual in French and German is the same as being bilingual in Spanish and Quechua?
This afternoon, Molloy paraphrases,“There is none so blind as the self-satisfied monolingual” , perhaps for ever with the rumble of the Towers falling down in her memory.
Molloy, who knows what it’s like being neither from here nor from there, talks about the “insecurity of the otherness.” “The departure point is a dose of humbleness, to know that in order to be oneself, one needs the other to exist”, she says.
She is asked if the rupture after the emigration is repairable, if she could turn back. “Home is where you go back knowing that you left and that you could never really go back”, she answers. “Home is what you leave behind.”