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“Don Quixote” debuting soon in — Spanglish

By Adda Montalvo
La Prensa

“El gentleman andaba por allí por los fifty” … Sounds right, no? He was tall, skinny and his mind merged one day with all the books he read of chivalry and dreaming of adventures. Who else? It is the famous Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, the story that begins “Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, …”.

But within months, the most universal work of the Spanish language begins a new literary adventure when its complete version (Parts 1 and 2) is launched in Spanglish.

The dreamer and translator of this linguistic adventure is of Mexican origin, based in Amherst College (Massachusetts), Ilan Stavans.

La Prensa talked with Stavans, professor of Latin American and Latino culture, who said that he has only a hundred pages to translate and would love to have the book completed by the Gaudalajara (Mexico) Book Fair, in early December.

La Prensa: This year is important for your project, because 2015 will mark 400 years of the publication of the second part of Don Quixote. And in 2016, it will be the 400 year anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes, its author.

Ilan Stavans:”Let’s see if I succeed,” he admits abut the task he began in 2002. In fact, the first chapter in Spanglish can be read already on the Internet. And it begins with: “In un placete de La Mancha…”.

“My intention in doing the translation can be summarized in several ways: one is to recreate the harmony, rhythm, lyric quality of the original in Spanglish. Also, as you know, there are several varieties of Spanglish, for example, the Spanglish spoken by Mexican Americans in San Antonio is different than what is spoken by Cuban Americans in Miami or the nuyorricans in New York. I have tried (to keep that in mind), that I explain in the introduction.”

And so, he adds, he has tried to find some kind of standardized Spanglish that absorbs words from many sides.

“And third, what happens to a historical text is that you have the original of a certain time and the language to what you are going to translate into from another time … and what I’m trying to do here is not to bring the reader to the past, but give him the opportunity be in the present through the Spanglish,” he said.

Stavans, who recently visited Spain to give several lectures, commented that the idea of translating the most universal novel in Spanish into Spanglish didn’t go over very well with many people on the Iberian Peninsula.

“They think I am promoting a bastard language that will destroy Spanish … but I think it’s a blind way of seeing things. In Latin America people are more understanding, open, because we, in truth, were colonized by the Spaniards and we know what it is to live in a language that is not our’s,” said the scholar, of Jewish parents, who was born in Mexico City in 1961, but has resided in the United States since the 80’s.

And what does it says about Spanglish, this “hybrid border language,” as he calls it, which originated in the southern part of the United States? It is a product of the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty, signed in 1848, to sell two-thirds of the territory of Mexico to the United States. A product and an example of how a business decision generated the mixture of English into Spanish, which makes us say in San Antonio: “La paipa está likeando” (the pipe is leaking), or “es que no macheas” (don’t mix the clothes) or “Joseph quitió” (Joseph quit his job).

Stavans’ proposition is that Spanglish is a border language that is in transition from being just spoken to being written. Proof of this is that here in the United States people are more open to it and there are examples found in advertising, television, children’s books, music, literature, newspapers and more.

“(Spanglish”) is the result of all the strong historical, social and economic forces going back to the 19th Century and it’s not one thing someone can say, ‘Oh, suddenly it appeared and we will make it disappear because we do not like it,” he says.

The full story is available in Spanish on the pdf installment of La Prensa.

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