Livestreamed on this page on Wednesday 23 September 2020 at 6:00 p.m. EDT (Boston, UTC -4) / 5:00 p.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC -5) / 4:00 p.m. MDT (Denver, UTC -6) / 1:00 p.m. PDT (San Francisco, UTC -7) / 12 p.m. AKDT (Juneau, UTC -8) / 10 a.m. HST (Honolulu, UTC -10).
Postmonolingual New York
A conversation with Ava Chin, Jasmine Claude-Narcisse, Damion Searls, and Lisandro Pérez.
PEN America, the Center for the Humanities at CUNY Graduate Center, and the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library presented Postmonolingual New York livestreamed on the global, commons-based, peer produced HowlRound TV network at howlround.tv on Wednesday 23 September 2020 at 6:00 p.m. EDT (Boston, UTC -4) / 5:00 p.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC -5) / 4:00 p.m. MDT (Denver, UTC -6) / 1:00 p.m. PDT (San Francisco, UTC -7) / 12 p.m. AKDT (Juneau, UTC -8) / 10 a.m. HST (Honolulu, UTC -10).
Join us for the finale of Translating the Future, a 20-week series of conversations between translators, with “Postmonolingual New York,” featuring Ava Chin, Edwidge Danticat, Damion Searls, and Lisandro Pérez.
To walk down almost any New York City street is to move through a shifting constellation of languages. Nearly half of all New Yorkers speak a language other than English at home and close to a quarter don't speak much English. Nevertheless, a monolingual paradigm persists in narratives of the city's history and literature disseminated by its most prominent cultural and media institutions, which often portray non-Englishspeakers as newcomers, recent arrivals, outsiders or interlopers. Though its remarkable linguistic diversity has been a characteristic of the city for as long as it has existed, New Yorkers have come under attack in their own streets and subways for speaking languages that sounded "foreign" to Anglophone monolinguals. This evening’s speakers bring together just a few of the many threads of New York's richly multilingual history.
Ava Chin is the author of Eating Wildly (Simon & Schuster), which won 1st Prize in the 2015 M.F.K. Fisher Book Awards. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times (“Urban Forager”), the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Village Voice, Marie Claire, and Saveur, among others. She has been the recipient of grants and fellowships from the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars & Writers, the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program, the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University, and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. A former slam poet, she is an Associate Professor of Creative Nonfiction & Journalism at CUNY’s College of Staten Island. The Huffington Post named her one of "9 Contemporary Authors You Should Be Reading."
Jasmine Claude-Narcisse is a member of the Henri Peyre French Institute Board of Directors. She completed a doctorate in French at the Graduate Center, CUNY (2018) with a thesis entitled “Rhétorique du soi dans la littérature haïtienne francophone du XXe siècle: Manques et Manquements?” Her research encompasses the rhetoric of the self in French and Francophone literature, Francophone Caribbean autobiography, and recalibrating the contours of Francophone literature. Among her publications, Mémoire de Femmes (1997), in collaboration with Pierre-Richard Narcisse, an account of interviews, research and oral histories of and on Haitian women in history, remains a work of reference in the field. For over twelve years, she led the Haitian Book Centre and the annual Haitian Book Day in New York. She has spearheaded the Henri Peyre French Institute’s continuous programming on Haiti, including the Haiti Rencontres series in 2012, curating its three-day conference Impunity, Responsibility and Citizenship – HAITI, in March 2016. As a professional educator in the field of second-language acquisition and French/Francophone literatures, she was a full-time visiting instructor at CUNY’s York College and Queensborough Community College and has taught at multiple campuses of CUNY, developing the Creole Language Program at York. She now works in secondary education. She is actively involved in the work of the collective Jean-Claude Charles which aims to revisit and promote this groundbreaking Haitian author through conferences, symposia and publications of a critical apparatus of his oeuvre.
Damion Searls is a translator from German, French, Norwegian, and Dutch and a writer in English. He and Jon Fosse were longlisted for the International Booker Prize this year, for The Other Name: Septology I-Il; he has received Guggenheim, Cullman Center, and two NEA fellowships as well as the Schlegel-Tieck Translation Prize for Hans Keilson's Comedy in a Minor Key and the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize for Uwe Johnson's four-volume Anniversaries, among other awards. Searls also edited the one-volume abridgment of Thoreau’s Journal: 1837–1861; his own books include What We Were Doing and Where We Were Going (stories), The Inkblots (a history of the Rorschach Test and biography of its creator, Hermann Rorschach, which has been translated into ten languages), and The Philosophy of Translation (forthcoming). Visit Damion Searls' website here.
Lisandro Pérez is a Professor of Latin American and Latinx Studies at John Jay College, City University of New York. He received a Ph.D. degree in Sociology from the University of Florida. Pérez has served as editor of the journal Cuban Studies and co-authored The Legacy of Exile: Cubans in the United States (Allyn & Bacon, 2003). He has published in the Latin American Research Review, International Migration Review, Journal of Latin American Studies, Cuban Studies, and the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, among other journals. His most recent book, Sugar, Cigars, and Revolution: The Making of Cuban New York (NYU Press, 2018), won the 2018 Herbert H. Lehman Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in New York history, awarded by the New York Academy of History. A Spanish edition of the book was published in 2020 by Casa de las Américas, a leading Cuban cultural institution.
Esther Allen: Welcome. I'm Esther Allen, a professor at City University of New York, and I'm here with Allison Markin Powell who translates Japanese literature and works with the PEN Translation Committee. She and I are co-organizers of Translating the Future.
Allison Markin Powell: Thank you, Esther. And thank you all for joining us. For what was once long ago meant to be the kickoff event for an in-person conference this week, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the World of Translation, which in 1970 was billed as the first international conference on literary translation held in the United States, instead, we're here for the finale week of Translating the Future, which, due to circumstances we're all very well aware of, ended up launching online four months ago on the actual anniversary of the May 1970 World of Translation conference.
Esther: At this evening's event, "Postmonolingual New York," we'll hear about several linguistic communities among the hundreds that together make up the city where this conference has been based. Like other city dwellers around the world, we New Yorkers are now wondering what the landscape of our city will look like once we're able to emerge and recover from the effects of these pandemic months. But we do know for certain that that landscape will be post-monolingual, because, as this evening's speakers will confirm, it always has been.
Allison: We are particularly grateful to the Princeton University Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication for generously sponsoring today's conversation. And we have long been fortunate to have, as one of the central partners in this conference, the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. We will soon hear remarks from the director, Salvatore Scibona, who will introduce tonight's speakers.
Esther: Tonight’s conversation will be followed by a Q&A. Please email your questions for Ava Chin, Jasmine Claude-Narcisse, Lisandro Perez, and Damion Searls to email@example.com. We'll keep questions anonymous, unless you note in your email that you would like us to read your name.
Allison: Translating the Future is convened by PEN America's Translation Committee, which advocates on behalf of literary translators, working to foster a wider understanding of their art and offering professional resources for translators, publishers, critics, bloggers, and others with an interest in international literature. The committee is currently co-chaired by Lyn Miller-Lachmann and Larissa Kyzer. For more information, look for translation resources at pen.org.
Esther: If you know anyone who was unable to join us for today's livestream or any of the other conversations that have been part of this conference, recordings are available on the HowlRound and Center for the Humanities sites, as well as on PEN's archive. Before we turn it over to Salvatore, we'd like to offer our utmost and eternal gratitude to our partners at the Center for the Humanities at the Graduate Center, CUNY, the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, and PEN America, and also to the masters of dark Zoom magic at HowlRound who have made this livestream possible. And now, Salvatore.
Salvatore Scibona: Hello. The thank you to Esther and Allison for organizing this vital conference, and also for your pluck at reshaping it so briskly last spring into this virtual event. We at the Cullman Center are immensely proud to have co-sponsored this whole series with PEN and the Center for the Humanities. I am the Sue Ann and John Weinberg Director of the Cullman Center. As some of you know, the Cullman Center selects 15 fellows a year for a nine-month term. Our new fellows have just arrived. Fellows receive an office inside the New York Public Library, the big one at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, intensive access to our collections, and a living stipend of $75,000 so they can focus exclusively on their work during their fellowship terms. The fellows are some of the best and most promising academics, independent scholars, poets, playwrights, journalists, dramatists, artists, and fiction writers at work today. We have also for a long time supported the work of translators with our fellowship, including a number of participants in Translating the Future, such as, recently, Damion Searls, Jennifer Croft, and Susan Bernofsky, as well as the non-translation work of other panelists here, including Ava Chin and Lisandro Perez. To those watching this from abroad, the Cullman Center welcomes applicants from accomplished scholars and writers from any country who have a need for the resources of the New York Public Library, home to the fourth largest library collection in the world. Now, I'm delighted to present our four panelists for this evening who will appear in the following order. First, Ava Chin, who teaches at CUNY and is the author of the MFK Fisher Book Award-winning, "Eating Wildly," and a forthcoming book about her family's century-long life in New York City's Chinatown. Jasmine Claude-Narcisse, who has taught throughout the CUNY system and works in the field of second language acquisition and French and Francophone literatures. Her publications include "Memoire de Femmes," in collaboration with Pierre-Richard Narcisse, an account of interviews, research, and oral histories of and on Haitian women in history. Lisandro Perez who teaches at John Jay College and whose most recent book in 2018 was the fulfillment of his Cullman Center research in 2004 and '05. Titled "Sugar, Cigars and Revolution: The Making of Cuban New York," it won the 2018 Herbert H. Lehman Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in New York history. And finally, Damion Searls, a translator of many books from German, French, Norwegian, and Dutch, and the winner of the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize for his translation of Uwe Johnson's four-volume novel, "Anniversaries," which Damion worked on at his Cullman Center fellowship in 2013 to '14. Now, please welcome Ava Chin.
Ava Chin: Hi, everyone. I'm so glad to be here with you tonight. I'm gonna be talking about my book, my latest book, which is about my family's experience under the Chinese Exclusion Act laws and how they landed here in New York City's Chinatown. My book is, again, about the impact of the Chinese Exclusion Act laws, which started in 1882, and it lasted at least until 1943 but had lasting implications for the Chinese community in our nation, as well as implications, heavy implications, for my family. I wanna talk to you about the various languages that were present in New York City's Chinatown. What we say in English Chinese, this, of course, is a shorthand for many of the different languages and dialects of Chinese that were spoken back then as well as today. So if we can move on to slide number two? Thank you. The languages and the dialects that I'm talking about in the mid to late part of the 19th century in China originated from this particular region. It's called the Pearl River Delta area of China. You can see that it's not too far away from Macau and also Hong Kong. This is where some of the earliest immigrants from China came, worked in the gold mines in the 1840s, and also worked on the railroad. If we take a look at the next slide, you can see on the left, there is a larger detail. You can see where the Pearl River Delta is. It's in the Southeast Asian region. The climate is very much like Southeast Asia. It's very tropical. At the time in which people were migrating in the mid to late 19th century, people were fleeing China because of civil war, drought and famine, the effects of imperialism, and interethnic warfare. Folks landed in places like the United States, largely on the West Coast. Unfortunately, by the 1880s, this was a decade of terror for Chinese. This was a period in time in which there were massacres, lynchings, wholesale rounding up of Chinese and pushing them out, what we would probably now call pogroms. And it was a very difficult time. So a number of very intrepid Chinese then jumped on the railroad and sought refuge. I should tell you, I guess, that in this period of time, there was an economic depression. There was a fight for resources. European immigrants from the East Coast and East Coasters jumped on the railroad that Chinese helped to build, including my great-great-grandfather, went out West and found Chinese working there in jobs they thought should have belonged to them. So all of these forces together cumulated in this decade of terror for Chinese. So then Chinese go, make a reverse-migration to places like New York City. Let's see. If we can move on to the next slide? My family members were amongst some those early refugees that came to New York in the 1880s and in the 1890s. Eventually, by 1915, we all wound up in the same tenement apartment building on the crooked foot of Mott Street. It is where my family has lived continuously for over 100 years. It is where I'm lucky enough to have my writing studio. And it is also where I'm happy to be speaking to you today. If we take a look at the next slide, I just wanna talk to you about the various languages. This is the 1920 census. This is the census for the building. The building is already, let's see, 19... It's about five years old at this point. And you can see, I know it's kinda hard to see, but there are a variety of different languages, native languages, that people are speaking in the building. There's Chinese, there's Italian, there's Russian. We don't have this right now, but if I was able to give you the other pages of the census for the building, you would also see Austrian-German being spoken, and maybe a tiny bit of English. In terms of the Chinese dialects that are being spoken, again, Chinese, is just this the blanket term for a number of different dialects that are coming from Guangdong Province. What we used to call Canton, which is we call Guangzhou, the area around Guangzhou was an area we called Sam Yup, which means the three-county area right around the city. A large number of Chinese came from that region, and they spoke a particular dialect of Cantonese. And then later on, people from what we call the Sze Yup Region, the four-counties region, where my family came from, from Toi San, a lot of us, a lot of people spoke that dialect. And then there were people who were not Cantonese but who were Hakka, and they spoke their dialect. If we move to the next slide? I just want to show you an image of, well, I would say typical family but I don't think we were that typical. I am using my family as a lens to investigate the time period. And this is the do-sham family, the mm family. This is my great-grandparents on either side of the matriarch and patriarch who are their uncle and aunt. You can see that the uncle and aunt in the center of the frame are an interracial couple. It was second marriages for both of them. And when my great-grandfather, who's in the bow tie, wearing the bow tie on the left, first came to this country, he went to prep school in New England, so his English language skills were impeccable, but he was originally from those villages in Toi San that I had shown you on the map. When he came and he lived with his aunt and uncle, of course, the aunt and uncle mainly spoke English at home. And in an effort not to ostracize or make the aunt feel like an outsider in her own home, the lingua franca was English. On the right hand side, holding the baby, is my great-grandmother. She was Hakka but she was originally from Hong Kong, and she was a midwife trained by missionaries from the London Missionary Society. So she spoke Hakka and Cantonese, pure Cantonese from Hong Kong, but she also spoke, because Hong Kong was a British colony, she also spoke English. They are one of the few families in the building, certainly one of the few Chinese families in the majority-Chinese building in the 1920s, who spoke English at home. Let's see. If we can move to the next slide? Chinatown is a society that has a number of associations. These associations are grouped together in a variety of ways. You have family associations, village associations, work associations. And this particular building is the association for three families, including my Chin family. The associations were really important because during the exclusion period, Chinese people wholesale weren't allowed to come to the United States and legally immigrate. So when they landed and discovered this incredibly inhospitable environment, they needed to network with each other in all their different ways. So an immigrant coming from our villages would have landed in New York, gone immediately to the family or the village association, found a bed, found a meal, and found an access to jobs and employment. In these associations, they would have been speaking their village dialects. And maybe they would have been speaking Cantonese as well 'cause they would have known both. One of the things I was really fascinated by was this idea of what we call the generation poem. Travis, if we can move to the video number one? I just wanna describe to you... I'll tell you when to play in a second. I wanna describe to you what a generational poem is. In China, there is something called the generational poem where the first two... There are two characters in your given name. Not your surname but your first name. One of those characters will be the same character for all of the folks in your generation. This includes your siblings. This also includes your neighbors in the town and anybody else who has your surname, okay? So that character, again, is the same for all of these different people of that generation. It is a poem that children learn by heart. I should also qualify that this is something that exists mainly for the men of the village, but in certain cases, I've known women who have also had this kind of naming convention. So I went back to China, to our villages, about in 2017, a Fulbright fellowship, and I interviewed different farmers from our villages to see what they knew about our family members, and I asked them to recite the generation poem. So if we can listen to this first one? Can we just ask him to recite the generation poem?
[A prerecorded video of a man reciting a generational poem is played].
Ava: Okay, thank you. [Ava’s video briefly pauses.] All right. Just gonna wait. Okay. Till it comes back. This generational poem is incredibly important because it tells you where you are in the generations that came before you, and it also tells you your placement in terms of the future generations that will come after you. So an immigrant into the United States is always gonna know his or her place, largely his, in terms of the history of the family but also the history of the villages. And what that farmer was able to tell us was 20 generations, all right? Let's take a look at the next one. And this was from my grandfather's village. You'll see that this farmer, he speaks really fast. So let's just listen to it. It's very quick.
[Another prerecorded video plays 20:10].
Ava: ”Did you understand?" he says. Okay, great. Thank you. Let's see. If we can move back to the PowerPoint? Allison, if you wouldn't mind? So what's so important, in addition to the history of the generational poem, is that when you landed in New York and went to this village association, you would've given your name and you would've recited the poem, and immediately, everybody would know, oh, yes, you're so-and-so, and you're my father's generation or you're my generation, right? Even if we aren't totally related to each other. Well, actually, even if you're not my brother you're obviously related in a certain way. So this helps the person to have a real context for themselves. I will tell you that, in the course of my research, one of the things I did was I joined the family association. This is very unusual because for many generations, it was only men that were allowed to be part of the family association, but we did it anyway despite my lack of language skills. Today, the associations are still very multilingual. You will hear Toisanese being spoken, you will hear Cantonese, and you will hear Mandarin. Very little English. So it's very multilingual today. The same thing is true throughout Chinatown. I would say that you hear Fujianese in the Fujianese sections of Chinatown, and you do hear a lot more Mandarin being spoken on the streets, not necessarily in the [inaudible 22:35]. Let's see. Okay. I just wanna move on to the next slide. Okay. One of the difficulties in working on this book has been how to address the multilingual nature of the community. I've had to make decisions. What kind of Romanization do I use? It's an English-language book. What kind of Romanizations do I use? Do I use pinyin? Pinyin was only developed in the 1950s. It works very well for Mandarin. Do I use or the system? Which works better for Cantonese? But since most of my speakers and most characters in the book were speaking Toisanese, there's no standardization for Toisan into English. I've also had to make decisions about whether to write using the dialect or using the official language of Mandarin. Now, in 2018, two years ago, when I had the happy privilege of being a Cullman Fellow, this all kind of came to a head for me as a writer when I went to the Golden Spike reenactment. It was the 149th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which my great-great-grandfather had worked on, and I was going to try to find other researchers, talk to other families who'd had similar experiences, gather their stories, and I didn't expect to be very... Oh, if we can move back. Yeah. I didn't expect to be so moved by this officially sanctioned ceremony. But I was interviewed by a Salt Lake Tribune reporter, and she asked me about my great-great-grandfather, the railroad worker, and she asked me his name. Now, I had to make a decision. Am I gonna use his name in Cantonese? In Cantonese, his name is Yoon Sun. In Mandarin, it's Yuan Shin. In Toisanese, it's Yoon Thlin. Now, if I was gonna be really smart about it, I would've used the pinyin Mandarin version so that other researchers might be able to recognize his name if they saw it in a railroad roll, right? But I thought about it, and I really thought about it a lot, and I thought, "If this project, if so much of this project is about naming the unnamed, writing this narrative that has largely been, mm, lost, or willfully lost, in certain ways, if Cantonese as a language today, in China, it certainly feels quite imperiled because of the forces of the official language, because the Chinese government really pushes Mandarin," I thought, "you know, I'm just gonna say his name in his native language. I'm gonna say it in Toisan." So you can see at the bottom, you have his name, Yoon Thlin. So that's my end of my presentation. If you move to the next slide, if you like. Happy to hear from the other speakers. Including Jasmine. Jasmine.
Dr. Jasmine Claude Narcisse: Thank you so very much, Ava. It's like I've been lost in your presentation, so, now, I have to kind of gear towards my own. I really would like to express my heartfelt thank-you to Esther for her unexpected invitation to join this conversation today. It is indeed an unexpected opportunity for me to revisit my personal experience of this post-monolingual New York we're talking about today. Not that my experience is in any way exceptional, but I think, in fact, it is its commonality, the fact that that makes it worthy of attention, in the sense that because it is such a common, everyday experience, we tend to normalize it, to banalize it, and we know what this banalization leads to. It's some kind of invisibility. And invisibility is something that I think makes way to sustain certain discourses that are like dominant discourse. For me, it's that breeds dominant discourse. And this dominant discourse, unfortunately, they don't just stay there and be dominant discourse. They are often assimilated by weak links at, as we may call them, in linguistic power dynamic. So because my decision to join this conversation was a little bit kind of late, I would like to bring that disclaimer that what I'm going to share with you today is not really research-based. I won't have enough time to kind of put the research together for that to be. It is simply my reflection and my understanding of my forever-multilingual journey here in New York City and before New York, in Haiti. So I am in no way prescriptive, and I don't pretend to be speaking in the name of what could be considered my community here in New York. In fact, I may have at some point and I am going to have some very strong views on certain things. I will own them, and I'm going to really ask for grace from you, from the public, from everybody, because it is this only genuine way I think I can speak about it for the moment, so it's gonna be really from heart, so you're going to allow me to be personal for a moment. I never had the privilege to encounter the monolingual New York, if that ever even existed. I'm not sure. In fact, I never lived in a monolingual space, period. I was born in Haiti, in a Haitian family. So, really, that was a bilingual family, I may say, and where my mother's essential role seemed to be the strict enforcement of rules, principles, propriety about the usage of French and Creole by her children and our friends. In fact, I should rather say, especially by us, the girls, because I realized, but only when I get much older and the damages were already passed on, that this whole catechism was more fluid for boys and men than it was for women. After that, maybe we can talk about that, if there are questions about it for more details. But later on, when I reached the age of socialization outside of the house, and this rule started being picked up by school and various other spaces, I realized as well that my mother was, in fact, arming us for a society where the simple, not so simple, I would say, linguistic performance would play as a major determining social identifier. So, much naively, at first, but really very consciously, as I was growing up, linguistic performance became a social capital I got to take advantage of. And I would like to say that, even though I don't want to slip into generalization, it is a very common middle-class Haitian phenomenon, like you navigating between French and Creole and the power dynamic and what that says, what that doesn't say, and when to switch, when to start in one language and continue in the other. It's a whole science in itself. But, in a way, they breed that to your, the middle-class families breed that to you at birth so you kinda know how to go there. So this long introduction, to wheel back to the space we're living in now, which is the monolingual New York, post-monolingual New York, pardon me, I immediately loved that lens that invites us to liberate New York from the premises of its monolinguality, a lens that precedes our presence as other in that space, and this a lens that opens it up and tells us "Tell us how you feel, New York." And here, I had this like very Davidian thing where feel was to fill in and also to feel like how I fill it. Also, both girls are here but I don't know how to express that in the pronunciation. Not speaking English enough. So we all agree that this monolingual New York is a fallacy. It's a myth. And I think it's interesting how, within that myth, we're going to enter into that myth and try to trace the multiplicity of that city instead. And I would also say that I understand that I'm expecting to be speaking about the French New York. I realized in my conversation, in my exchange with Allison and Esther, that French came up and never Creole. But my French New York, Francophony obliges, is tied to this vicious, unavoidable, French-Creole power dynamic I told you about, I mentioned about. So I won't say French; I would say Francophone starting now. And I say Francophone please, I would like, since I can only speak from my Haitian stand, when I say Francophone, I ask that you hear French and Creole, because for me, the two of them kind of always are navigating on the same plane. So I thought I would try to talk today about the power dynamic, this kind of vicious power dynamic, and how it unfolds here for a middle-aged woman, because I arrived in the United States pretty late, a middle-aged woman arriving in New York with that power dynamic. So I already had these two languages, and of course, in the meantime, I studied English, I studied Spanish, I was translating in four languages, and here I am coming into New York. That's where this post-monolingual New York is going to be dumped into me in the form of a story that I call the story of loss and new mastery. What do I mean by that? When I moved here 20 years ago with my family, my mother welcomed us in her home. Lucky me. Lucky us, I would say. She had immigrated here 18 years before. I would say fled would be a better word, but that's a whole other story. We cannot go in there. And she had sweated water and blood to pave a golden path for us. I arrived in the United States with all my papers, all my family, with their papers and everything, and a house waiting for me, and everything you can imagine. And I will be forever grateful for that. But here I was, in front of her. Of course, she left, I was in my late teen years. And here I was, in front of her. And naturally, the language that came to me to relate to her was French, because in my bilingualism, my mother was my French reference. That's how I was supposed to speak to her. And I'm part of this generation that, if I had spoken Creole to my mother when she was in Haiti, she would look at me and asked me to speak up. Like, "Would you express yourself?" And the famous phrase was [Jasmine says a French phrase 36:30]. That means “speak,” because before, they don't know what you were talking about. So I naturally started speaking French to her because that's what it was. And here she was, laughing at me and calling me Frenchie and telling me, "Oh, I forgot how French was so precious for you." And I said to myself, "Wait. In the 20 years we spent apart from each other," because before she left, I had left two years myself to go to college, so had left my hometown to go to college, and in the 20 years we were apart, letters, phone conversations, wishes, even jokes sometimes were in French. So for me, the language I speak with my mother is French. And then, also, I studied linguistics, so I started myself to realize that where to put my French and what my Creole was and what my French was. And I was translating as well. So the imbalance that was in the language and the way that they had me speak them, I had kind of arrived at some kind of plane, even though it cannot be really equal, but I had arrived at some kind of equilibrium between these, but this equilibrium didn't touch my relationship with my mother who the language was French. So it was really strange and a shock for me. Now, we were in this Haitian extended family, my mother, brother, my own family, and I think we were like almost eight of us. And the languages we spoke were French and Creole. English remained the foreign language, even though I was in New York. But inside the house, English was the foreign, was the the tongue of school, the tongue of paperwork, business, the tongue that keeps coming in the mail. In a way, the tongue of power as well. And then it occurred to me that my mother had to make space for English. And to do that, she just put French aside. So English became the language of power, and English was doing here in the United States what French was doing for her in Haiti. So I said to myself, "What is that is expecting from me now?" And I understood, you're in America, you're in New York. Here, you speak Creole in the house. That's your intimate self. And outside of the house, you speak English. I learned to reckon with the fact that these expectations were actually the expectation for the diasporic Haitian communities, community here, and I want to suppose that the diversity that I know for New York, and I just heard Ava speaking, and I understand that, most likely, that must have been the case in maybe Chinese families at some point, so I am predicting that the diversity that we would present in New York can tell us about the multiplicity of the dramatic outcomes of this kind of problem. So I don't really think what happened to me was, in any way, something, anything original. I discussed. I tried to explain and tried to bring up the possibility of alternatives, other alternative to this binary core set, English-Creole or English-French binary core set, and it was unfruitful because I think these discussions were touching to really entrenched fractures, deeper wounds of the postcolonial Haitian social fabric I was from, and it was almost impossible to kind of weave just some new concept or some new explanation or something just so we come up with any kind of change on that. In 2001, two years, probably, after I arrived here in the United States, in a stubborn attachment to my Francophone Haiti or to my Francophone self, I decided to, with the support of my partner and friend, we decided to take over a mail Haitian order bookstore that was operating from a friend's garage. The dream goal was to modernize the bookstore, to make it an online Francophone bookstore, to reach out to this culturally vibrant Francophone community. It was New York, after all. Organized cultural events. And so we did, and it lasted 12 years. It was a Haitian Book Center. We held a Haitian Book Day every year in Queens. In fact, the six last years at your college, with the collaboration of the Modern Language Department, I will be forever grateful for that, inviting Haitian authors from Haiti, Quebec, France, organizing events where the community had to meet with these authors, furnishing books to public libraries in French and Creole in the United States. But when I say we, understand, friends and family. Because at no point in the whole enterprise we could hire, afford to hire anybody. And the thing is that for 12 years, I worked without a salary, doing that. We called it cultural activism. I convinced myself that Francophone literature and Haitian literature deserved it. Throughout the years, I confirmed my true Francophone identity in New York through this activity that was good 12 years. Through my doctoral studies, my enduring teaching of French and Creole, a big majority in the CUNY system, and at high school levels, in my personal and intimate life. In fact, my joy now is my daughter speaks to me and to her father in a combination of, because now she's an adult, in a combination of Creole and French. And she went through this age where, after college, kids from immigrant families forego English inside the family and reclaim their immigrant identity. And this is my forever joy, to see that the French and Creole, she didn't want to speak in the house. Just came out like this, and then this is what she speaks to me right now, most of the time. If anything, that's me who wants to speak English to her right now, because I need to have some kind of everyday English in my life. So I could confirm that Francophone identity, and have it, because if there was one thing I wanted to not lose, that was that, this complexity that was me. And as a form of conclusion here, I wish I could claim and bring to the forefront of French New Yorkese community that would gather all the Francophones, the multiple possible Francophones of New York, but I'm afraid it might be just another construct, another fantasy, because I didn't meet that community. I would like to suggest that we are many French, our Francophone pods in New York, as we are cultures and nationalities. We cross paths at the Alliance Francaise, rarely, at the Maison Francaise of Columbia and NYU, sometimes, and even then, English sometimes takes over, and then we go, after that, to our families, to our close ones, and to our own pod. My possibly Haitian Francophone community has switched French, this is what I realized, my Haitian Francophone community in New York has switched French, the old master, to English, a modern master. I'd like to contend that there was and there is loss in the way, in the process. What the other French New York communities may have lost or gained is for them to find out and to share, but I thought we could start a conversation from this story that is mine. I think I might have, going over my time, and I'm going to switch over to Lisandro. And I would come back to me, if anything, if there was the need to. I'll be more than happy to answer some questions.
Lisandro Pérez: Thank you very much, Jasmine. Very interesting. And I wanna thank Esther Allen. I wanna thank the staff that's put it together, Allison, this wonderful panel on post-monolingual New York. What I want to emphasize here today and what I'll be presenting here today is really based on the research that I did at the Cullman Center. And I, once again, I thank the Cullman Center after all these many years for their wonderful support there, which was quite a few years ago, and it took me quite a bit of time to finish this book. But what I'm going to say is really based on the book that I wrote as a result of that fellowship. If we could start the slide, if you have that. I put these up not because I'm hawking the books or anything like that, but because, again, so you're aware that this is the title of my project. Also, for the translators in the audience and in the panel and so forth, it has been translated into Spanish but it circulates really only in Cuba because it was published by Casa de las Americas. So what I'm dealing with in this book is actually the Cuban community in New York in the 19th century, from what I believe is the beginning of it in 1823 until, really, the war, the Spanish-Cuban-American war, 1898. I'm actually a sociologist by training who's been daring enough to do history here, but nevertheless, I approached this like a sociologist, so a lot of my information comes from the sort of census information that Ava shared with us earlier, looking at the census and so forth. It actually was the largest community of Latin Americans east of the Mississippi until about 1886, when then another community of Cubans in Ybor City took over. Its origins, and the reason that it became such a large community, is because its origins was on what was called the sugar trade, which was one of the important areas of trade between the US and the world, and which brought a lot of the, almost all of the production of Cuban sugar during the period in which Cuba experienced and started experiencing a sugar boom or a sugar revolution, shortly after the elimination of the production in Saint-Domingue, of course, or Haiti, which up to that point was the world's largest producer of sugar. This migration involved people coming back and forth. There was a bridge built between Manhattan and Havana which brought over a lot of the sugar traders, a lot of the elite that own land, and many of them came to study and came to study English, came to study a new commercial sort of relations, the new commercial, workings of the commercial system in the US. Eventually, that community started also becoming very politically active in the separatist struggles that enveloped Cuba starting about the 1850s and starting, of course, with the annexationist movement, which was the first manifestation of Cuban separatism. And a lot of that activism, and that's part of what I have in my book, is actually based in New York. A lot of the leaders of the separatist movement from Cuba started coming to New York as early as the 1820s, as we'll see, but really intensified in the 1850s. And then, when war breaks out in 1868, you have a tremendous number of Cubans that are coming over, many of whom had been in New York before. Many of them have been educated in New York. But now, they were coming more permanently because the situation was politically very difficult for them. This migration lasted until about 1880s. And then, of course, we have the start again of the independence movement in 1895. Now, that's basically what the book covers or what that books cover. When Esther asked me to do this, it's for the first time, really, that I started thinking about language. That is, it's not something that came up in the course of my research. It was in this community, in many ways, not an issue. Not an issue the way it is, for example, today, in which there's this controversy over the use of languages and the attempt to impose some monolingual and English-only types of standards. The Cubans that I researched back then, it wasn't an issue so much. So it got me to thinking about whether or not, if we go back this far, 1820s, 1830s, 1840s, 1850s, essentially before the great immigration, great European immigration, whether we're talking about a pre-monolingual New York, in which, if we can talk about the great migration from Europe and its large numbers that came in, is when perhaps the issue of language became contentious in the context of the pressure for assimilation and the pressure for the groups to assimilate. Because the Cubans I'm studying in the 1830s, 1840s, 1850s, didn't think that was a problem for them. They could merrily go on with their Spanish and also, as we'll see, with their English. So there wasn't a trend at that time towards imposing English or a certain hegemony of English. And I think, again, that started happening with the pressure for assimilation later on. And certainly, English was not vested with any degree of superiority among those who came from Cuba, as probably happened with other groups. So let me, if we go to the next slide... One of the first individuals that I talk about in my book was Fr. Felix Varela y Morales who arrived in New York in December of 1823. He thought he was gonna be here only for a very little amount of time but he ended up spending the next 30 years of his life here because he was not able to return to Cuba. The Spanish actually had a death sentence on him. And when he first came in, one of the things he wrote in his diary was the following about English. He said, "The whistling sound of English rings in my ears, like impertinent flies, making it hard to write comfortably in Spanish." So, for Varela, actually, English was sort of an annoyance. One week after Varela arrived in 1823, another Cuban writer, Cuban important figure, next slide, please, arrived, and he was the poet, Jose Maria Heredia who became known even in the US for his "Ode to Niagara," to Niagara Falls. He was a little bit, even though he had this tremendous admiration for the United States, he had absolutely none for the English language. And this is what he writes also when he came to New York. "My soul becomes oppressed and I even want to die when I realize that my only hope rests in living the rest of my life among these people, hearing their horrible language, a language that is all anomalies, and I can hardly understand how such a great people has convinced itself to use such execrable gibberish." So that was the view of English. It certainly wasn't the case that these arrivals felt that English was something to be aspired to, necessarily. But nevertheless, Varela, who stayed for the next 30 years in New York, did learn English very well. In fact, most of those who followed Varela in the Cuban community in New York were bilingual. Many of them had actually studied in the United States before arriving as students, and bilingualism, I think, became a norm, and it became, really, a strategy. There were two things that, in the political activism of the Cuban community, they wanted to do. One was to present the cause of an independent Cuba before the US. And certainly, the annexationists were not in favor of independence, but, again, they had to convince people in the US to annex Cuba. Later on, when we get into the independence movement, various political groups and political activists in the Cuban community in New York wanted the United States to support the independence movement. So there was an audience that obviously had to be addressed in English. But at the same time, they have their community to address and, more importantly, Cuba. So there was what Rodrigo Lazo calls, and, in fact, his book on this, he's a literature person here in the US and out West, what Rodrigo Lazo calls his book, "Writing to Cuba." So the notion that, since they had freedom here of being able to publish and to publish what they couldn't, on behalf of Cuban independence, that they were going to write to Cuba and to their compatriots. So this was part of sort of the separatist movement. On the one hand, writing to Americans, writing to the US government, writing to the US president, that had to be done in English. On the other hand, writing essentially to their compatriots and to Cuba. And that was a bilingual enterprise. And a lot of the Spanish publications essentially were small newspapers that sometimes so many of them were short-lived. The earliest one appeared in 1846, '47, and it was called La Verdad, The Truth, and it was a newspaper published by elites, sugar holders, many of whom, and slave owners, who wanted to, essentially, annex Cuba to the US because they felt that this was, in many ways, the best way to save slavery. They had a newspaper, and that newspaper was published in Spanish, and parts of it was also published in English. I think that the best example of a effort in English to reach an American audience, next slide, please, was this publication in 1873, which appeared after the 1868 war. It's called, as you can see, "The Book of Blood." It's published in New York, first in 1871 and then in 1873. It is a book documenting atrocities by the Spanish against the Cubans who had risen up for independence in 1868. It contains a very documented list of people imprisoned, of people deported, of people executed. This was published in two editions in New York, and I think this was, again, a tremendous work of propaganda, if you will, that the Cuban community did in English. The most effective spokespersons for Cuban independence, and I'm talking about particularly linguistically, most effective, were these two individuals. If I could have the next slide, please. I'm sorry. Let's go to the next one, if we could, and maybe come back to that one. Yes, these two individuals. They arrived in the 1868-1870 period to New York as youngsters, and they were raised in New York. Gonzalo de Quesada is actually a graduate of City College. And both of these were very articulate exponents of the US essentially supporting the independence movement of 1895. Like I said, Gonzalo de Quesada actually got his law degree, I believe, from NYU. His undergraduate degree is from City College. Fidel Pierra was a man who prided himself in trying, as much as possible, to place articles in US publications, in English, in an attempt to get the US interested in the cause of Cuba. This was, by the way, something that happened after Jose Marti, and I'll get to Marti later, died in 1895 because Jose Marti never believed that it was a good business, that it was a good idea to get the US interested in the cause of Cuba. And, of course, he was, in that sense, absolutely right. But when he dies, his party in New York falls into the hands of individuals like Gonzalo de Quesada, Fidel Pierra, Tomas Estrada Palma, individuals who actively lobbied for US support for the independence movement, if not entry into the war. And, of course, that happened. Eventually, that happened. The press in New York had a great deal to do with it. And many of these individuals who were communicating in English to the press and to the public in the United States had a great deal to do with that. And, again, a lot of Cuban, particularly Cuban nationalist historians, felt that this had been, with hindsight, a mistake. Marti saw it with foresight. But with hindsight, the idea of interesting the US in this was a mistake. Could we go now back to the other slide, please? I'm sorry. I went out of sequence here. I cannot fail to mention, in talking about language, that what is widely regarded as the Cuban novel of the 19th century was actually written and published in New York. It was called "Cecilia Valdes o la Loma del Angel." It was written by Cirilo Villaverde, which, with a lot of help, many people believe from his wife, Emilia Casanova, it was finished written in Harlem. In fact, I have the census form, Ava, where they live when he wrote this. And it is the Cuban novel of the 19th century in the sense that it is a broad novel about costumbres, about customs and so forth. There's a great deal about racial exploitation, gender exploitation in the movie. I'm citing the movie. It was made into a movie, actually. But in this novel. And one of the things that's interesting about it is that it is not an immigrant novel. That is, the novel doesn't pass through New York. The novel could've just as easily been written in Cuba. Maybe that's one reason why it's become such an iconic piece of literature. If we jump ahead, too, to the next one, and I wanna finish, of course, with Jose Marti. I'm sure Esther Allen who is Marti's principal translator would appreciate this, because Marti actually did become bilingual, well, at least enough to earn his living partly in New York from translations and making translations. He arrived in 1880, and, of course, he organized in the latter years the independence movement, and he goes to Cuba in 1895. And he's killed, of course, when he returns to Cuba in the midst of the war. We have another vision from Marti here, also, of English because Marti realized very early that if he was going to make a living in New York, he needed to know English. Which, again, he did. He learned and he did translation. So here's what he writes to a friend in 1882. He's just arrived, two years before he had arrived. A friend of his writes, sort of asking, "Do you think I'll be able to make a living in New York?" And this is Marti's quote, which is one of my favorite quotes. It's very little-known. And, again, all of these are my translations that I'm doing from Spanish. Here's what Marti wrote. "You are interested in knowing whether you can find a way to make a living in New York. In my judgment, that depends solely on things I assume you master. First of all, the language of this land. And," he says, "your determination. You must summon all your determination to enter the herd in which the workers of this city live. But it is a herd of kings." So he was confirmed New Yorker in that. So I appreciate very much this invitation because it got me thinking about these different language issues, something I hadn't thought about in the many years I was working on this research, and how, essentially, language, and particularly bilingualism, had its function in the Cuban community that I've been studying. I'd like to turn it over then to Damion, who's going to continue with the panel. Damion.
Daimon Searls: Thank you. This is all so fascinating. I'm here as kind of the outlier in the panel, although maybe the inlier in the conference as a whole since I'm here as a translator. So that means there are two of me in my presentation. I'm gonna talk a little bit about the book that Salvatore mentioned, which is a great artifact of post-monolingual New York, and then just a little bit about my experience, and try and leave some time for questions. I think my time's almost up right now, but we'll try and keep it brief. So the book that Salvatore mentioned is called "Anniversaries" by a German writer, a major young German writer of the '60s named Uwe Johnson, like Johnson. In fact, when he lived in England, he said, "Just call me Charlie 'cause no one can pronounce Uwe." So you can call him Charlie Johnson. But he's Uwe Johnson. He wrote a novel about a 34-year-old German woman named Gesine and her German daughter, Marie, living on the Upper West Side in New York City, having immigrated in 1961. The book takes place from 1967 to 1968. Here it is, both volumes. It's long because it takes place over a year, and each day of that year is a chapter, so that adds up to a lot of chapters. It's really, I think, arguably the great New York novel, certainly in the conversation with James Baldwin's "Another Country" and any other pinnacle New York novel you wanna name. And it was written in German, mostly, by a German writer. The story is about these immigrants, but the fact that they're two different generations as the main character creates this very rich and vibrant novelistic situation. When they came over, Marie, the daughter, was 3 1/2. So by this point in the book, Marie is 10. She is definitely more American than German while her mother is definitely more German than American. And that plays out on the language level in terms of slang and accents and when they choose to speak to each other in German versus English, all of which is in the book. It plays out on the social or moral level where Gesine, the mother, is shocked by some casual racist comment that the daughter brings home, while at the same time, Gesine is telling Marie stories about her childhood in Nazi Germany. So they both are really looking at these other cultural experiences from different positions, and yet there they are living in New York. So it's a great novel of the kind of acculturation experience as well as multilingual New York experience. I did think that I should read a little bit. The thing about the book is that it's so, mostly so granular. It's so rich in the experiences of being in New York, of how you fold The New York Times to read it standing up in a crowded subway on your commute, or the line of mourners going blocks and blocks through Midtown, leading to St. Patrick's Cathedral after RFK's assassination, or the sunset over the Hudson, all of these New York experiences that, of course, it's impossible to really capture in any reading, much less a really abbreviated one. There is one, early in the book, very early, in volume one, a sort of panoramic, multilingual New York passage that I thought I would just read so that he's one of the presenters here. This is a flashback from 1967 to 1961 when they've just shown up in the country and are looking for an apartment and Marie doesn't speak English yet. So the she is Gesine, the mother. "Would she have stayed in this country if not for the apartment by the river? Probably not." Skipping down: "On her first trip to New York, Gesine had ridden the #5 bus down Riverside Drive, the inside edge of a wide artificial landscape that starts with the promenade along the river, then continues as you move inland with a multi-lane, divided expressway and practically horticultural on-ramp loops, then a spacious, hilly park 50 blocks long with monuments, playgrounds, sports fields, sunbathing lawns, and bench-lined paths for strolling. Only then comes the actual street bordering the park, curved in numerous places, rising gently over graceful knolls and hills, stretching out slender exit fingers toward apartment buildings behind farther green islands. A rarity in Manhattan: a showpiece of the gardener's art and a street with views of trees, the water, the landscape. Back then, Gesine had hoped to someday live in one of these towering fortresses of prosperity, richly ornamented in Oriental, Italian, Egyptian, in any case, magnificent style. She thought she could never afford it. Broadway, where it crosses 96th Street, is a marketplace of mostly small buildings with lots of foot traffic to the Irish bar, the drugstore on the southwest corner, the restaurant across the street, at the newsstand. Now, as then," meaning 1967, like 1961, "scruffy men stand leaning against the buildings, thieves and fences, drunks, crazies, many of African descent, jobless, sick, some begging. This Broadway is polyglot with accents from every continent confusingly tackling American English. As you walk along, you can hear Spanish from Puerto Rico and Cuba, Caribbean French, Japanese, Chinese, Yiddish, Russian, various vernaculars of the illegal, and, again and again, German as it was spoken 30 years ago in East Prussia, Berlin, Franconia, Saxony, Hesse. The child heard a high-bosomed matron, wearing an old-fashioned dress with a large flower pattern and ribbons, harangue in German a short, downcast man in a black hat creeping alongside her. And she stood there, forgetting all else, and noticed Gesine's tugging hand only after a while. It was a whitish, gray morning with lots of people on the street moving carefully through air thick with moisture, and the intersection promised a memory of Italy on many mornings to come." It goes on a bit, and then she, of course, gets the apartment, where they live for the course of the novel on 96th and Riverside Drive. So that's the New York that this German writer, who was living in New York for two years and then writing about New York for the rest of his life to finish the book, was experiencing. I wanted to just bring up one more place that the book covers, as a transition. This is the part of Riverside Park that our main characters can see out their window. "The morning is cool, bright, and dry in the park. This playground sprinkled with white light is a part of Gesine's earliest days in New York. Here's where Marie brought her in contact with her first neighbors. This morning, she's sitting on one of the benches around the edge of the arena and looking down at the half-naked children running in circles in the taut, intersecting jets of water from the three sprinklers." A bit later, we get, "The playground across from our building, surrounded without and watched over within by tall, old trees is a large enclosure on several levels, starting with a big, flat area at the north end full of slides, seesaws, sandboxes, and fenced-in groups of swings and bordered by mostly-broken green benches. This zone opens out into a circular space surrounded by high walls, and in it, a concentric area ringed by a metal fence. At a break in the wall on the southern edge, steps lead up to a terrace of benches, picnic tables, and an attendant's hut that looks like a little castle, followed by more steps up to the highest level, some 15 feet above the playground." The reason I wanted to read those little blips, among the oceanic immensity of all the other moments in the novel, has to do with my own experience. I grew up in what seems to be monolingual New York. I didn't speak other languages at home. My parents didn't either. And I grew up three blocks away from the apartment where Gesine lived. And that playground that Uwe Johnson just described is the park that I went to every day as a kid for years and years. I mean, my whole childhood is that park. Many years later, I discovered that this great German writer had written a gigantic novel about my neighborhood, and years after that, I read it, and years after that, I translated it. So it turns out that my monolingual New York wasn't monolingual all along. One of the things that was so intellectually interesting about translating this book is how it raised these questions of translation. What is it I'm doing if I'm trying to bring into English dialogue that supposedly took place in English that a novelist is writing in German, or descriptions of places that could not be more local to me? In the translation studies or translation theory world, people very often talk about there being these two different places, and the translator brings a text into English or else makes it still seem foreign and sort of pulls an assumed local monolingual, monocultural reader towards more cultural diversity. So there are these two different places, and translation is moving from one to the other. But what was moving where when I'm translating this description of my childhood playground? And that made me think, as a translator, or as the multilingual person I became after childhood, if I'm sitting on one of those park benches reading a book in German, I'm not going anywhere. I'm not carrying anything anywhere. I'm just experiencing something different the same way I would if I'm reading anything. If I'm reading something in English, it's giving me new perspectives, it's describing things in a way that I may not have known, or else it's giving me back my own perspective in a very homogenous way. That could be true of something I'm reading in another language, too. I'm not going anywhere. I'm just in a space where there are various kinds of information or experience I have access to and various kinds that I don't. So I started to see my role as a translator just as reorienting who has access to what as opposed to this idea of bringing something somewhere. I'm writing a book called "The Philosophy of Translation," and I really increasingly came to feel that every space is a polylingual, hybrid, somehow non-homogenous space, no matter how much we wanna imagine these two separate poles. A classics professor translating Plato, nobody's bicultural in English and classical Greek, and yet that professor studied Greek at university. There were universities for, let's say, him to go to. Greek was taught there. Greek was valued. There are editions of Plato in Greek that he has access to. There's a community of other readers and reviewers that also speak Greek. Greek isn't from Mars. It's part of the complicated, multilingual nature of the culture in the same way that this German perspective on New York was sort of there all along. It was just waiting for me to find it. And then now that I've translated it, it's there for other members of the New York community to have access to. So that was the perspective that I wanted to bring to the panel. And let me stop there so we have a little time. But thank you so much for bringing me together with these fascinating, actually-multilingual New Yorkers.
Esther: If we had actually orchestrated it so that all of your remarks connected with each other and interwove, I don't think we could have done a better job. I have to say we didn't actually orchestrate that. But the themes that you all brought out were so resonant with each other. And I wanna thank you. As it turns out, we don't really have any questions from the audience. I think that the Gmail account has gone silent because everyone is in awe of your brilliance, your collective brilliance. But I wondered if we might dedicate the last few minutes of the program to your questions or observations about what each other has said. Jasmine, you'll need to unmute yourself. You're still mute for the moment. So would any of you like to address a question or two to the others?
Lisandro: Well, let me... This was something that I was gonna communicate later to Ava. And it shows a bit how all of these things, these are not silos, right? Even in time, and they're not even time silos, so they're not ethnically silos. Because one of the things that I do have in my book is that I found a fair number of the Chinese laborers who are going to Cuba starting in 1847 under contract labor arrangements, who, by a decree of 1860, if their contract was not renewed, had to leave Cuba. And the quickest way to get out of Cuba was on a ship to New York because that's where the ship traffic was. And I found in the census, again, our friend, the census, a number of individuals who were working as domestic servants in the homes of wealthy Cubans in New York who had brought their domestic servants over, and some of them, in fact, were, in fact, born in China. And I've seen passenger manifests which have, from Cuba arriving in New York, sometimes as many as 12, 13, 14 men, with Spanish first names, born in China, who said they indicated they were on their way to China. And I've always wondered if, in many ways, they never made it to China but actually stayed in New York. And that was one way in which the Chinese community in New York grew, perhaps not very significantly, but that's something that I haven't followed up on, but it might be something that Ava might have run into. I don't know.
Esther: Certainly, as a food writer, Ava, you have a lot to say about that.
Damion: Well, and two blocks away from that description was the Cuban-Chinese restaurant, of course, that I grew up around the corner from. And I remember, at some point, it hitting me, like, "Why is there a Cuban-Chinese restaurant?" Now, I find out the answer.
Lisandro: It closed, by the way, recently.
Ava: Yes, sadly.
Esther: So sad.
Ava: Sadly. So, I haven't researched the Cuban-Chinese migration patterns, but I do know that my great-grandfather, that there were a lot of Chinese living in Cuba. Even today, there are small Chinatowns in Cuba and in Havana. And I know that my great-grandfather, the one in the family portrait sitting with the bow tie on the left, from his Chinese Exclusion Act file, did indeed go to visit Havana. It was, I believe, to do business, but I haven't really researched, or I don't know a great deal about it. But thank you, Lisandro, for mentioning it 'cause it's sort of been on my radar and it's one of the other things that I need to look up.
Allison: Sounds like another book project.
Jasmine: If I have time, I would like to ask a question to Damion, actually. You just said something very interesting. You're the only person on the panel who said, "I kind of was raised in a monolingual New York." For you, that existed. That was such a thing that existed. And, of course, I think I read somewhere that you not only are translating from German but you also worked in many other languages, if I understand. Now, my question to you... Because we are speaking about the languages like if they were all equal. My languages, myself, are like on planes that are very different from one another. That's why I talk about power dynamic, and I don't think the power dynamic changed when we immigrate from our place to the place. I think we bring it in with us. Do you think your post-monolingual New York, the one you were raised with, is the same as the post-monolingual, I mean, the monolingual New York is the same as the one they are claiming right now and the one we're trying to kinda undo?
Damion: That is a very good, sharp question, because not only are we talking about the language it's possible to be monolingual with in New York, but English is a world-dominant language, so if you just look in terms of whether you're talking literary translation or technology or whatever else, clearly, English is not in the same position as any other language, certainly, as most other languages. There are other global languages, but I think the case is still pretty convincingly made that English is even more dominant than the other global languages. So could I, could I be in the perspective that I'm describing if it wasn't English? If I was raised monolingually in some other community and some other language, would I then be able to attain this sort of utopian multilingualism that I was kind of gesturing towards when I said, "Oh, New York was multilingual all along." There are these icons of German literature describing my park where I'm playing handball at age eight. And when I'm eight, it was just the wall I played handball, but now, it turns out that it exists in this kind of rich, multilingual, post-monolingual space. But your question puts, even more sharply... I assume you mean the monolingual New York being advocated for today in the political context of Spanish is bad and immigrants are bad and dark-skinned people are bad and everything that isn't hegemonic, white, English, Republican America is bad. I guess what I'd have to say is that, when I talk about growing up in monolingual New York, I mean that kind of in quotation marks because, in my perspective now, it wasn't monolingual back then, it never is. It was always sort of porous and open to these other languages and cultures, the way my example of the Greek professor. He's not in a non-Greek-speaking culture. People aren't walking around on the streets speaking ancient Greek, but ancient Greek has penetrated that culture and infused it and affects it in various ways. So my current understanding of how culture works is that there are no monolingual cultures. So when I talk about, I grew up in monolingual New York, I mean that kind of as shorthand, I didn't speak any other languages. But, even though I didn't know it at the time, it wasn't rigidly monolingual. So that, I guess, is my perhaps self-serving but also kind of intellectually honest take on my understanding of being monolingual not matching the kind of current political, much more aggressive and reductionist understanding of it. That's the best I could do on the spot for that really tough question. But what do you, I mean, can you tell me what you think?
Damion: Yeah, yeah, about…
Jasmine: Well, I don't want to... I really don't want to take something. It's just that I found out, while myself was trying to reflect on my own experience and while I was hearing each one of you, passionately enough, I found out that it's interesting how we kind of trying, we did, we pulled the languages out of their, I would say nests, and we tried to see if we can speak about them, but we stay in the formal, in the formal aspect of it. But I think what is nourishing, the dynamic between these languages is something like... I wish we had another hour to go into how these languages are actually living right now, because German and Chinese and Spanish are not living in the same way French and Creole and, I don't know, whatever, Japanese, whatever other language is living. And then I think the vibrancy of what we're saying right now, I kind of feel so much life, and we don't have time really to tap into it. I don't want to be too political, but it's just that, for me, there was a deep political aspect of it that we cannot just like lift a little part of. There was so much to be said. I was just curious. That's it.
Esther: I’m very grateful to you for being political, Jasmine, because this was exactly the idea of this program. There's a false narrative that has been implemented nationwide, in a certain way, and I think everything that all of you have said is such a valuable corrective to that utterly false narrative, which must be corrected at every moment, about who the people of this country are. And I do wish we had at least another hour, if not two or three, to continue. Unfortunately, we've already run over time. Also, this is the, by far, the richest evening of our conference, because we have another event at 8:00 p.m. with Maria Dahvana, speaking of the ancient world, Damion, with Maria Dahvana Headley and Emily Wilson, who will be discussing their respective translations of Homer and of "Beowulf." So we do have to conclude. You've all been absolutely wonderful. I think that this is going to be an extraordinary resource for teachers, the recording of this, which will live on for many years, no doubt. Thank you all so much.
[Crosstralk in which everyone thanks Allison and Esther 1:34:10].
Esther: You’re a great group. Allison, do you wanna read us out with our thanks to our sponsors?
Allison: Yes, of course. Once again, we'd like to thank our partners, HowlRound, PEN America, the Center for the Humanities at the Graduate Center, CUNY, the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, and the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, and to the Princeton University Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication for their support of this evening's event. Thank you, all.
Jasmine: Thank you.
Esther: Goodnight. See you on the Columbia University site in about 20 minutes. Okay. Bye. Thanks.
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