COMMON FRONT AGAINST AIDS
From "The Memoirs, Volume Two" -
Then someone came up with
the idea that there are, like, 28 native languages in the state of
Oaxaca, besides Spanish, which of course I’d known, and that, well, we
should translate our AIDS information into those languages so it could
go out to the pueblos and lots more people could get our message and
important, life-saving AIDS information.
Boy, I said, that sounded
like a lot of work to me.
Nancy said, “You can do it,
So, we were talking it
around a bit, and people always liked the idea and then, too, Nancy said,
Bill, that’s just the kind of project that funding people like, you
know, ethnic and such. And I bet I could get us some money to do it.
Well, she went to someone
she knew at SEDESOL, this sort of Federal social agency which gives out
money in grants, not too big, to good projects in Mexico; she knows
everybody. And she says, yes, I think there's some money there, Bill.
Too, we had been working
with CONAFE; last year they had received some thousand of our Education
Packets, below. The director was a nice guy, a friend of Nancy’s, and I
met with him a few times. It’s a state-wide program, also existing in a
couple other states, I guess, mostly rural and poor states, which sends
kids just out of high school into the remotest areas of the state, where
they have practically no schools or education, and the kids teach in
these little pueblos for a full year, like basics in Spanish, and
reading and mathematics and such. In exchange, the kids get grants for
their college education. It’s a good program.
Our speakers had given a
number of training sessions to the kids during the summer before their
teaching and had been well received. When we suggested to the director
that they help us with some volunteers who spoke some of the indigenous
languages and could translate our information, they were more than happy
to comply and we got a good bunch of kids who wanted to help.
We had come across a list
of the indigenous languages in the state, some 27. The principal
languages each had several variants, Zapoteco, for example, listed five,
Mixteca and Mixe, three each, and so forth. We decided to start with
the most populous, around nine, and for which we would be the most
likely to find translators.
We held a number planning
meetings and talked a lot about what we were doing. Early we were made
aware that any translation into indigenous languages should center on
audio recordings, and not on written material. Elí, Sergio’s friend
from Juchitán and a Zapoteco del Istmo speaker, made it clear.
“None of the state
languages possessed writing. The written forms of the languages are all
the result of a sort of phonetic, Spanish spelling out. Therefore,
anyone who could read Zapoteco or Mixteco or such, could already read
Spanish. So, it was no use to spend our time on written material.”
Fine, our efforts would go
to recording audio cassettes. We took the “script” from our original
recording in Spanish which we had made for the Education Packet, and
which Sergio had directed and the kids would translate in a recording
studio. The cassettes could then serve as adjuncts to our Packet and
would work with our flip chart and illustrations by Enrique Flores which
we had made the previous year.
Sergio again was brought in
to direct. We asked CONAFE for two kids from each language, to have a
bit more dynamics in the tape, two voices, and to be a bit more secure
in what they were saying. None of us, of course, spoke the languages
and the two kids could check each other and make sure we were saying the
We ended up with eighteen
kids, two for each of nine languages. That would be the project, the
first stage, at least, with an idea to record nine more next year and
nine the following year, to cover all 27 languages in the state. We
planned a week of training, rehearsals and recording. We had become
good friends with the University radio program and they agreed to loan
us the space and their studio.
We set up a little opening
session on the Monday morning of the week and Nancy came, as well as
Lilia and a couple others. We had called the press and there were
reporters and photographers from the papers. Nancy gave a nice little
talk to the kids and told them to work hard this week and do everything
Sergio told them. Then she turned it all over to Sergio and all the
extras left. Sergio began. I stayed for a while and then was in and
out throughout the week. It was an interesting five days and we learned
For one thing it was talked
about that most of these communities have really two variants of each
language, one of the adults, of the village elders and more formal, and
another variant used by the youth, the kids, using a lot more slang and
modernisms and such. Well, of course, the youth of these communities
was really our audience and whom we most wanted to reach with our
message. However, it was also noted, without the blessings of the
community elders, our message stood little chance of being accepted or
heard at all. The village elders would not approve of any of what they
would consider profanities or sexual explicitness.
Well, a lot of our message
talked about sex and a lot of sexually explicit information. Then, too,
a lot of these languages just didn’t have words for some things; condoms,
for example, or vaginal fluids, or erections or ejaculations. Those
things would have to be explained in the language and a Spanish term
defined and used. Further, many of those things were referred to by “euphemisms.”
Semen, for example, could be called “honey from the hills.” Well, even
though everybody may know that honey from the hills means semen, as a
factual AIDS information source, we couldn’t possibly say you get AIDS
from honey from the hills!
And so it went. The kids
worked hard and everybody talked a lot about how they would translate
our material, to be accurate, to be accepted by the community, and to be
clearly understood by those who heard it.
In the end we had nine tapes of our information in nine different
languages of the state. We also made a short demo tape, with one
paragraph, the same, from each of the languages. It was the first
paragraph about “Sindrome” and you could hear each of the kids trying to
explain in their language what a syndrome was. It was a short tape about
fifteen minutes, or less. Nancy loved the whole thing and would call up
people and say, “Listen to this!” and play the demo tape into the
mouthpiece of the nine kids explaining syndrome.
The following year we would
record nine more languages with eighteen different kids, and over time
hundreds of copies of the tapes would be sent out and often played on
local radio stations which promoted indigenous languages, among others.
We had been thinking to translate a third nine languages, and finally
cover all the 27 in the state, but by the end of the second nine, we
realized we were hunting out really obscure dialects of which only a few,
usually older, speakers still lived. So we were satisfied with the
eighteen we had, and never really came across others we thought we
We got some good coverage
in the press and generated a lot of interest in the project.
In addition, many of the
kids who translated for us would remain good friends and occasional
hangers-on for many years after, which I always enjoyed.
NOTE: You can read more about this project and
listen to the tapes on the Common Front's website under
LISTEN AND LEARN:
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