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Chapter 8 Language and Other Lethal Weapons Cultural Politics and the Rites of Children as Translators of Culture Age 7: El Doctor1 “Dile que no puedo respirar—que se me atora el aire. Dile…” How do I say “atora”? (Tell him that I can’t breathe that the air gets stuck. Tell him …) “Tell your mother that she has to stop and place this hose in her mouth and press this pump or else she will suffocate.” “Qué dice? Qué dice?” (What is he saying? What is he saying?) He is sitting behind this big desk, and my mother was sitting beside me and holding on to my hand very tightly. I... what does suffocate mean? How do I translate this? I don’t have the words. “Qué dice? Qué dice?” (What is he saying? What is he saying?) “I... uh... Dice que... uh ... Dice que si no haces lo que te dice te mueres.” 332 Three Decades of Engendering History (He says... He says... He says that if you don’t do what he says you will die.) “Dile que cuando me acuesto por la noche que no puedo resollar.” (Tell him that when I lay down at night, I can’t breathe.) “Resollar,” what does that mean? Her gasps came out quickly and sounded so awful: a croaking sound that seemed to hurt from deep inside her throat. I sit in front of the big desk remembering, hearing her sounds, and feel again the terror of last night and every time I heard her and could not help. I do not have the words to help her. She will die. And all I could do was sit there and hold her hand and listen to her gasp and gasp for air—for breath that would not reach her, her eyes popping out—and watch her die. She called me her lengua, her voz. If she dies, it would be my fault. I tell the doctor she cannot breathe and will die. And he says something I cannot understand about asthmatics and how there is little he can do except give her this pump and that I should be sure to tell her not to panic. Panic. What does that word mean? How do I say panic? How does a 7-year-old girl, not yet in the second grade, translate the life and death words “atora,” “suffocate,” “resollar,” “panic?” How does she explain and interpret words she does not know in either language, while knowing at the same time that her mother’s life sits on her tongue and on what she does with the words given her? Where in her 7-yearold knowledge does she find the meaning of words that hold the life or death of the mother who calls her “mi lengua” —her tongue—the fleshy, movable organ attached to the floor of the mouth with which words are made? What cultural and linguistic rites are these in which a mother’s life balances on a child’s tongue?2 Age 8: La Cuenta “Dile que no le podemos pagar toda la cuenta porque ha llovido mucho y no hemos podido pizcar. Pero que aquí están estos centavitos y luego Language and Other Lethal Weapons 333 luego se la pagamos tan pronto que trabajemos... y que queremos llevar una poca comida hoy—que si nos extiende el crédito un poquito. Andale, dile.” He looks at me from behind his counter and says, “What? What’d she say?” “My mother said we can’t pay all the bill today—because of the rain we have not been able to work and we will pay the rest real soon, as soon as we work... and can we have a little more food on credit?” He looks at me, then he looks at her, and we stand there in front of him. He starts to say something I cannot hear. “Qué dice? Qué dice?” my mother asks. “Andale, dile que sí le pagamos —nomás que ahorita no hay trabajo.” (What is he saying? What is he saying? Go on, tell that we will pay him but just now there is no work.) I start to speak to him again. I look up to talk to him, and he stares down at me, and the look I see in his eyes tells me that he does not believe we will pay our bill. I have seen that same look on people’s faces in town when...


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MARC Record
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