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En Español: From South America to the American South

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Illustration by Jordan Sellergren

Mi despedida sureña

Una existencia simple y tranquila, protegida por montañas diminutas y lagos que parecen salidos de un cuento de hadas. Durante los últimos 10 años, esa ha sido mi vida en una zona rural de Tennessee. Este es el lugar donde escribí mi primer libro y es también donde conocí a mi esposo, un auténtico sureño que nunca habría imaginado casarse con alguien de un país tropical de Sudamérica. Nuestro hogar vibra con el contraste de nuestros acentos y bailamos a su ritmo (una mezcla de merengue y bluegrass) mientras navegamos las sorpresas y rutinas de nuestros días juntos.

Ahora que me alisto para una mudanza más (mi esposo asegura que mudarme es uno de mis pasatiempos), esta vez a Iowa City donde estudiaré un Máster en Escritura Creativa, cuán apropiado resulta que una de mis primeras clases sea un taller de traducción. La mayor parte de mi vida ha sido exactamente eso: un vaivén entre dos idiomas. Puedo empezar mi día pensando sobre los quehaceres en inglés — tengo que lavar los platos, ojalá hubiese un genio mágico que se encargará de la ropa sucia, será que mi esposo por fin sacará la basura — y hacia la puesta de sol me encontraré escribiendo un cuento en español. La autocorrección de mi teléfono no puede seguir el ritmo al tango que bailan mi inglés y mi español (cabe anotar que a mis mascotas se les da bastante mejor). Los sueños me llegan en dos idiomas también, dependiendo de quiénes sean los protagonistas cada noche.

Hace un par de semanas, como una especie de entrenamiento para lo que se viene en Iowa, asistí a un retiro de escritura en la ciudad de Knoxville, sede de la Universidad de Tennessee y su equipo de fútbol americano, los Volunteers, (¡quién lo diría! no me veo nada mal en el color anaranjado del equipo). Aunque me siento segura de mis habilidades de escritura en inglés, no deja de ser abrumador tener que enfrentar una audiencia como la única persona que no es hablante nativa. No sé si aquella sensación desaparecerá alguna vez (no ayuda que sea introvertida) o si quizás se volverá menos aterradora.

Sin embargo — y esta es la parte divertida — a lo mejor sea yo mi peor enemiga ya que, como uno de esos entrenadores físicos intensos, me empujo a mí misma a lanzarme directo en el medio de experiencias intimidantes. Tal como subirme a una montaña rusa, parece que anticipo y ansío aquella sensación de euforia. ¿La única hispanohablante? No hay problema. ¿La única latina? ¡A la carga mis valientes! Porque sé que al final de las vueltas y giros, lo que me espera del otro lado puede ser mágico: una satisfacción inmensa que me regala mejillas rosadas y un montón de energía.

Me complace reportar que la experiencia del retiro mereció todo el mareo y la incertidumbre. El sentido de comunidad es esencial en el mundo de la escritura y aunque durante los próximos dos años, mi comunidad de escritores consistirá en su mayoría de otros autores latinoamericanos quienes son hispanohablantes como yo, mi hogar en los Estados Unidos es y siempre será el hermoso estado de Tennessee. Toca la canción “My Tennessee Mountain Home” de Dolly Parton. (¡Sí! He adquirido un enorme placer por la música country.) Fue por eso fascinante descubrir un grupo floreciente de escritores en Knoxville, uno que me recibió con enorme calidez y gran emoción por mi próxima aventura. No podría haber encontrado una mejor manera de decir adiós a mis adoradas montañas que escribiendo en comunidad con personas a las que me sentí unida por una alianza que supera cualquier diferencia cultural e idiomática. Mi perfecta despedida sureña.

¡Hasta pronto Tennessee!

My Southern Farewell

Written and translated by Melanie Márquez Adams

A quiet, simple existence sheltered by tiny mountains and fairytale-like lakes. For the past 10 years, that’s how life has been for me in rural Tennessee. This is the place where I wrote my first book and where I met my husband, a true Southerner who never could have imagined marrying someone from a tropical country in South America. Our home vibrates with the contrast of our accents and we dance to their beat (one that encompasses both merengue and bluegrass) as we navigate the routines and surprises of our days together.

As I get ready for yet another move (my husband claims that moving is one of my hobbies), this time to Iowa City where I will be pursuing an MFA in Spanish creative writing, how fitting that one of my first courses is a translation workshop. Most of my life has felt exactly like that: moving back and forth between two languages. I can start my day thinking about house chores in English — Will I ever get those dishes done? How I wish there was such a thing as a laundry genie! Did my husband take out of the trash? — and by sunset I will be writing a short story in Spanish. My phone’s predictive dictionary can’t keep up with the tango performed in both languages. (I should note that my pets seem to cope a lot better.) My dreams also come to me in two languages, depending on who the protagonists are each night.

A few weeks ago, as a sort of warm-up for what’s to come in Iowa, I attended a writing retreat in Knoxville, home of the University of Tennessee Volunteers. (Who knew I could pull off orange?) Even though I feel confident about my writing skills in English, having to face an audience as the only non-native speaker is still daunting. I don’t know if that feeling will ever go away (it doesn’t help that I’m an introvert) or if it will ever become less terrifying.

However — and here’s the fun part — I might be my own worst enemy because, like one of those pushy fitness trainers, I force myself to dive straight into scary situations. Like getting on a roller coaster, I seem to anticipate and even look forward to the thrill. The only non-native English speaker? No problem. The only Latina? Game on! Because I know that at the end of the swirly ride, what awaits on the other side of those experiences can be magical: a feeling of satisfaction that leaves me rosy-cheeked and full of energy.

I am happy to report that the retreat was worth all the dizziness and uncertainty. A sense of community is essential to the writing world, and although for the next two years, my writing community will be composed mostly of other Latin American authors who are Spanish native speakers just like me, my American home is and always will be the beautiful state of Tennessee. Cue Dolly Parton’s “My Tennessee Mountain Home.” (Yes, I am a country music convert!) I was therefore thrilled to discover a thriving group of writers in Knoxville, one that welcomed me with great warmth and heaps of encouragement before my upcoming adventure. I could not have found a better way to say goodbye to my dear mountains than writing in a community of people for whom I felt a kinship that surpasses any cultural or linguistic differences. My perfect Southern farewell.

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Melanie Márquez Adams is an MFA candidate in Spanish creative writing and recipient of the Iowa Arts Fellowship at the University of Iowa. Her work has appeared in The Acentos Review, StorySouth, Asterix Journal, Whale Road Review and elsewhere. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 249.


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