Thanks to Jocelyn González and Patrick Grant for this interview for Strings & Things andTilted Axes.
Por Livia Salgado
El domingo los edificios y las luces de Nueva York fueron impregnados por una exploración sonora de dos músicos Mexicanos: Elisa Corona Aguilar y Benjamín Kumantuk Xuxpë.
La isla de Manhattan antes de que los europeos se posicionarán en ella fue habitada por los miembros de la nación Lenape o Lënapeyok.
Pero ayer Elisa y Benjamin no fueron ni extraños ni hallazgos, ya que sus raíces llevan mucho tiempo en este continente y así como se mezcla la sangre también se mezcla la música, y ayer la música de Elisa y Benjamín en vez de perderse en el aire, se fue a acariciar los rascacielos y a las luces de neón y abrazo a los transeúntes que van muy rápido, pero que no saben que el hechizo de esta ciudad es que es una ciudad de nadie y es ciudad de todos.
Elisa Corona Aguilar es traductora, escritora y guitarrista, está cursando el doctorado en música en NYU (Universidad de Nueva York) y es ganadora entre otros reconocimientos de el Premio Internacional de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.
Benjamín Kumantuk originario de Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec Mixe en Oaxaca. Estudio en la CECAM ( Centro de Capacitación y Desarrollo de la Cultura Mixe), la Escuela Nacional de Música de la UNAM y en la Escuela de Música Ollin Yoliztli entre otras.
Incluso los demás miembros de la banda de Benjamin a pesar de no poder venir debido a papeleos; a visas y bordes impuestos estuvieron presentes, se vinieron como bolas de fuego :
Los Kumantuk Xuxpë la banda de Benjamin surgen de una narración tradicional ayuujk: donde los protagonistas se quitan la cabeza y se elevan en forma de bolas de fuego.
Así la ciudad de Nueva York el domingo se iluminó un poquito más con el talento y la tradición de Mexico.
Livia Salgado estudio la licenciatura de Comunicaciones en la Universidad de el Nuevo Mundo en Mexico y Diseńo Gráfico en Parsons NYC. Reside en NYC es diseńadora, pintora y práctica el arte de la espada japonesa
Pieza para guitarra eléctrica, caja de música y iphone. Voz de la poeta Aura Sabina; poema de la poeta Blanca Luz Pulido, “Navegación nocturna”; sonidos del mar de la artista visual Tania Pineda; fragmentos de Satie, “Gnossienne No.1”; caja de luz & música hecha por el escultor José Antonio Rage.
I got the Slow Professor from a secondhand bookstore. Holding a book in your hands is always more fun than reading it in the computer. It’s probably also slower, and my eyes can always use less screen time. So I read this book and discover that my mother was a slow professor. She taught Political Science in the National Autonomous University of Mexico for forty-nine years. She retired last year, just one year before making it to fifty. When you do make it to fifty, the university awards you with a big gold medal. But my mother was happy with her 49 years, she’d already come a long way. My brother told her, “Who cares about the gold medal, I can buy you one!” The anecdote may sound silly, but to me it was an act of rebellion, showing we should care less about official awards, more about our health, our time with our family, our personal, private accomplishments, those that the academia doesn’t care that much for, like having children who have become independent, successful, and even able to buy you some luxuries, like a big gold medal.
So I probably learned it from my mother: I am a slow person, I’m proud of it, I do it on purpose most of the time. I left the academia for a good while as a declaration of slowness in times when most students went for graduate school right the way. I wanted to do other things with my life. I knew since I was very young that I wanted to be an artist, and that everything else could wait. Thus, I created unusual options for myself. I published books, won literary prizes, and had multiple music projects. After struggling for a long time, I can proudly say now that I have a career as a writer and a musician in my country, Mexico, where it is almost impossible to do that and still be able to pay your bills.
And while pursuing this, I also came to the US, where too often I hear the words “productive,” “efficient,” “ambitious,” words I never ever heard from my mother or her colleges to describe their work. I still don’t use them to describe my work. It was a big cultural shock when, coming from Mexican public education, I saw a bunch of computers at NYU with a sign that said “productivity station.” Or when trying to sign up for a class I discovered I had to put it in my “shopping cart.” Most shocking was to learn that this collection of words, productivity, efficiency, competitiveness, is sometimes used to advocate for people like me. In this country, as immigrants, every time we are threatened with deportation, the way corporations slash universities try to defend us is by talking about how productive we are, how efficient, little working creatures that do everything right, and bring so much wealth to the economy of this country. How could they think of getting rid of us?
This fantasy of our quasi-genetic productivity plays against us in the uneven ground of the US academics, where too often I’m reminded I am that kind of intruder, the one that came to steal your jobs! If I accomplish something, I’ll get some angry looks, snarky jokes – “oh, anyone can do that!” – and feedback, lots of unrequested feedback. When my white, male, American colleagues accomplish something, they’ll get woos, waaaus, congratulations, and lots of rubbing elbows. The ideal of collegiality invoked by the Slow Professor book is far from being what it should be.
In the US more than anytime in my life, I’m encouraged to do unpaid work, to apply for grants that I don’t need, to help in research that I’m not really interested in. I stick to the family tradition and keep refusing to do so. I’m also told I’m not supposed to be doing anything except concentrating in my PhD, and yet I keep doing so. I confess I rejected an Ivy League university after realizing it would imply losing some independence in my work, too much time on the subway, and not having lunch with my boyfriend as often as I like. Nowadays, in pandemic times, it still surprises me when many of my colleagues and professors have suddenly discovered that it is actually nice to have lunch with their loved ones.
I can say without regrets that I stick to slowness as much as I can, and I do it mostly by ignoring criticism, breaking a few of the rules, and asking myself constantly, what do I want my life to be like?
And yet the American culture of speed is not just about individual agency and personal habits. It is actually about getting a job or not, about tenure tracks, health insurances, also about immigration policies. It turns out that being an immigrant, an international student, a woman of color, can also play against my safety if I am too slow. I was in a special working permit once, thinking I was doing everything right, and suddenly, it turned out, that by being slow I became illegal. Long story short, I didn’t work enough days and that threatened my legal status. I didn’t think this was my fault, since I had asked my university, my employers, at least four times if everything was ok with my papers. In the end, I had to solve it the American way: I threatened a few people with lawsuits. And magically, it was done! A click in the computer, and I was legal again. This is how fake the system is, and yet there are not many chances to be slow within this system. I still try to take them all. I have found acts of collegiality and friendship with other students, American and immigrant, white and black, who are slow as me, who prefer having lunches, having babies, getting engaged! They organize collective readings like this one, too! Instead of being the productive student, the efficient professor. Maybe we’ve come to steal those jobs! In a very slow way. Maybe we’ll fail to do so, and end up jobless, illegal, or being sent back to our countries, for those of us who have the option of having another country.
This is not meant to discourage anyone from being slow, on the contrary. It’s meant to remind us that being slow is a privilege that not everyone has. Being slow can also mean taking risks that worth taking. Most importantly, slowness needs to be collective, if it is meant to be used as a way to transform the system. Otherwise you become just a lazy bum, but if we aim at collective slowness we become other things: anarchists, perhaps, socialists, that dreaded word in the US. We may even become rebels – and I remember that the symbol of the Zapatistas, the EZLN, is the snail, because they can walk long distances by doing it very slowly.
And I leave you now with a phrase by Hector Murena, a writer who said, “To sleep, to eat, to love, are despicable acts, wasted time, and the lights that shine the brightest in the night are those that come from second hand bookstores.”
Elisa Corona Aguilar
Washington DC, 2020
I finished the translation of Tonight at Noon, by Sue Mingus, at the Mexico City International Airport, on my way to New York City. My flight was delayed and this gave me the opportunity to work, getting the best out of this space, which is for most people uncomfortable but ideal for me for various reasons. The first: transitional places have always seemed inspiring to me, they are spaces where my creative process flows lighter, perhaps precisely because art is about going beyond everyday spaces, crossing limits, transcending borders. And yes, let’s insist: translating requires a creative process; like poetry, I suspect, it has to do with breathing, with breath; it is the art of traitors, it has been said too many times, but in that betrayal thought and language are reinvented, history and its characters are unearthed, readers who remained on the margins are reached.
Second reason: the Mexico City airport is one of the places that Charles Mingus traveled in life and death; In 1977 he was traveling to play in the Sala Nezahualcóyotl of the UNAM, some time later he came in a wheelchair, already ill, and only a few months later he departed, in the form of ashes and bones, in an urn wrapped in a colorful zarape, in his journey to the other world. I realize that during the translation process I have followed in the footsteps of Charles and Sue Mingus, sometimes even without realizing it: I have inhabited their same neighborhood for so many years, the East Village of Manhattan; I have had breakfast at Las Mañanitas, in Cuernavaca; I have passed in front of the Rio de Janeiro building, where it is said, he went to visit the curandera Pachita; I have knocked on the door where Charles died: the old splintered wooden gate, I suspect, is still the same one that saw him enter.
Above all, I have spent the last few years on a trip back and forth between Mexico City, Cuernavaca and New York; I have gone to countless Mingus Mondays at the Jazz Standard, where the Mingus Big Band plays every Monday, there I discovered Sue’s autobiography and set out to translate it. By a very Mingus-like coincidence, thanks to theater director Karin Coonrod, I visited Sue at her apartment in Upper Manhattan on the terrible day Donald Trump won the presidency of the United States. That day Sue told us about how she would like to play with some of the musicians of the Mingus Big Band to change the lyrics of “Fables of Faubus,” to update it: “Tell me someone who’s ridiculous, Sue!” and she would scream, “Donald Trump!” “Why is he so ridiculous?” “Wants to build up a wall!” Reencountering Mingus also transcends temporal borders, it makes us imagine what an anti-racist like him would have said about the current situation in the United States and how relevant his words and work still are.
Returning to the subject of translation and its multiple crossroads, how faithfully or treacherously can one translate? I think it is important to admit that in translation you play your own story: what is known and what is ignored. Like all writing, for me it is a game of sincerity, an impulse towards the unknown, a daring to feel and know myself exposed. It is also a game of imagining readers: in this case, my real and imaginary readers are the musicians from Cuernavaca, Mexico and the world with whom I met Mingus and his music, with whom I hope to share this translation and many reflections.
Translating is also a game of leaving breadcrumbs to show the way to others, although sometimes the crumbs are carried away by crows. Humor, for example, translates badly and does not age well, it often depends on sound, on local and temporal references that stick to the original language. Jazz lovers, I suspect, fans of Mingus, would want some of these phrases, as well as references to scores and compositions, in English so as not to go wrong. In some notes I have included observations that have more to do with my personal research, following in the footsteps of Mingus, than with the usual notes expected from a translation, more specific to the language. To leave these marks of Sue and Charles’s trip, I have also left the addresses mentioned for New York in English, and when speaking of Mexico I have even corrected some obvious errors where Sue, without knowing Spanish, made a mistake in some letter obscuring the meaning. In general, the notes are minimal so as not to interrupt the flow of the narration, Sue Mingus’ greatest achievement in this autobiography, which I hope to honor in my own rhythm, my own beat.
An important decision was to always leave there, in the original language, as it is, the word “nigger”: the most offensive in American English, with an untranslatable historical charge. The racial history of Mingus has much to do with this word, with the discovery in his youth that his father called Mexican “niggers” while they called him the same way back. The original title of his autobiography carried this word to refer to himself, but of course it was censured in the final edition. But it is also the word that Dizzy Gillespie and other black musicians used to refer to Mingus: then it becomes a word of camaraderie, of inclusion, of affection. Mingus, the eternal outsider in America´s binary racial world, deeply apreciated this statement of equility among musicians: “you´re as black as me,” Dizzy seemed to say.
Bringing Tonight at Noon to the Spanish language has to do for me with completing a circle, a journey: the return to Mexico of Sue and Charles´s story. Every so often, around his death anniversary, in January, or his birthday, in April, a note on a newspaper or magazine in Mexico speaks of Charles´s death, venturing reasons and pointing out places, making mistakes and changing the story. Here, Sue tells us the whole story, or at least her own version. This translation is also a perhaps clever or treacherous way of inserting myself into their story, because as a musician I am interested in that discussion that Bird, and Charles, and Sue were having: music and its spirituality, the magic and superstition it involves. And so, this is my way of continuing the discussion, on and off the pages, up and down the stage.
Elisa Corona Aguilar
August 6th, 2019
East Village, New York
Sierpe es una serie de composiciones con guitarra eléctrica, loop, iphone, fragmentos de poesía y spoken word en distintos idiomas; es una reflexión en torno a las ciudades y la tecnología que las conecta y delimita; es también una conversación con artistas visuales, músicos y escritores como Saul Steinberg, O. Henry, Frank Zappa y otros que han explorado estos temas, particularmente con Poeta en Nueva York, de Federico García Lorca, una obra enigmática sobre la estancia del escritor en dicha ciudad, cuando buscaba romper la tradición literaria de la que provenía y retratar el espacio urbano desde la experiencia del extranjero, el migrante, el bilingüe.
Fragmento de iLandscape.
Durantes las charlas y eventos de la Feria Internacional del Libro Infantil y Juvenil 2018 he tenido la oportunidad de volver a mis reflexiones sobre la censura y compartir con otros esta preocupación. Cuando escribí por primera vez sobre el tema, hace algunos años, hablé de la censura por parte de algunos grupos religiosos a Harry Potter, de los temas incómodos como la sexualidad y la cuestión racial en otros libros que se han convertido en clásicos infantiles. Corroboro al comparar anécdotas, experiencias personales y noticias internacionales que hoy el fascismo y la ultra derecha parecen repuntar en el mundo y, con ellos, su costumbre de eliminar libros que parezcan cuestionar su poder y autoritarismo, su deseo de eliminar al otro – el que profesa una religión diferente, una sexualidad diferente, el que es físicamente distinto, el que tiene menos privilegios. Autores y editores españoles hablaron de los recientes casos de censura en Venecia; también se mencionó el deseo de Bolsonaro, en Brasil, de hacer una purga de libros “inapropiados” para niños. Otros editores mencionaron dictámenes negativos respecto a libros que hablaban sobre la depresión y el suicidio. Las preguntas que surgen hoy son las preguntas de siempre: ¿quién se ofende y por qué ante los libros infantiles “inapropiados” o “censurables”? ¿A quién se está protegiendo realmente? ¿Al adulto o al niño…o al estado..o a la iglesia? Entre lectores, editores y escritores se habló también de resistencia, de apertura, de ensanchar los espacios de las letras para abrir opciones para los más pequeños y para nosotros mismos: es una tarea apremiante en un mundo donde el deseo de censurar al otro oculta un deseo de enmudecerlo para siempre y a toda costa, con tal de conservar el poder para unos cuantos.
Compartiendo reflexiones sobre censura y literatura infantil con Denise Ocampo (Cuba) y Adolfo Córdova (México).