10/25/2005

Living in Translation

Whilst I install my new computer system, I saw the ping on Eileen's blog about KKP (kili-kili power)!

It's the newest craze in our house, now. Fist raised in the air, eyes fierce and challenging...Which in my crazy mind looks an awful lot like something from the '60s...

It's one of those moments of translation for me, from Eileen's husband, to her sisters, to her blog, to my cousins, to our gesture, to history, to empowerment, to ASTIG, to Pinoy Pride all wrapped up with a whole lot of laughter, innocence, and the pure irony of multiplicity.

Living in translation has it's perks - getting to see/experience all these different spaces from that sort of Derrida/Semiotics-nothing-is-what-it-seems
-cause-all-signs-are-arbitrary/but-arbitrary doesn't mean 'without meaning,' symbolic point of view. One minute it's fists in the air, another it's Spirits on the Wires, yet another, color blind painters making masterpieces.

But it's juggling too, standing on one side, next to my folks trying to see/hear what they're seeing/hearing from 'those crazy Americans' who keep putting up hoops they claim aren't racist, but are 'just the way things are.' Then standing on the other side, next to Joe Americano trying to figure out what hoops are just pure bureacracy, which ones can be ignored, and which ones have to be addressed.

Or maybe I'm on this side of the generation gap hearing the complaints from myself and my cousins about our 'rents, swappin' stories of being embarassed at public events as yet again Dahil Sayo is sung slighly off key by a chorus of 20 or so swathed in barongs and butterfly sleeves. Or on the other side, sitting on the edge of an old metal chair to one side of the majongg table, while hands mix tiles, lips mutter quiet curses, and tongues click between sighs carrying the weight of a lost generation.

Stories, so many stories, connections lost, connections regained, connections made for differing reasons, all coming through and around, like standing on stage, 'cept the audience is calling out scene changes as fast as the cast can make curtain calls. And the director? I haven't seen him since the casting couch...

Translation - moving one thing from it's original space to another space. A kind of diaspora then, except, instead of people, it's culture, cultural markers, objects. And in translation they pass through an empty sort of space leaving bits, perhaps loose threads that seem peripheral, not totally necessary, yet when the thing emerges from translation, the thing is no longer whole, no longer as it was previously.

A traditional recipe for sinigang, say, starts with the memory of a pot on a blackened hearth at the center of a nipa hut. From the garden come the vegetables, from the river some fish, from an earthen jar a spice. The teaching comes from hand to hand, measurements taken in comparison to the breadth between knuckles, the number of long beans grasped in the hand, the amount of spice pinched between thumb and forefinger. The child's hands grow to adulthood and in the new place the feet have taken the hands, adjustments have to be made. No longer the same greens, the same roots, the same fish. But still the hunger remains - new foods can only sustain the body for so long before the heart yearns for comfort that comes, aromatic and steamy, from old spaces.

The new recipe is like the old, yet different, bending to the available crops, the expense of what was once common and is now rare, yeilding to the relentless changes presented in the new space. Food in translated, familiar, yet not the same.

My grandmother's recipes are that way, but I didn't discover it until Goldilocks and Lutung Bahay opened up in nearby towns - who knew papaya was in sinigang or coconut milk in adobo? And who put grated cheese on my bibinka? My lola's hearth was a White Westinghouse enamel affair complete with four burners and an oven. The windows steamed and the scent of garlic and onion permeated the pink and white paint on the walls. Balikbayan for me is a place in Seattle that no longer exists, a mile marker along the I-90 tunnel.

But still, living in translation isn't about being lost in translation, but about simply Being. Moving, changing, growing - acknowledging the past, stepping to the future - but always the question - are we carrying baggage that's weighing us down or sustaining us throught the journey?

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