Marjorie Agosin is a professor of Spanish at Wellesley College as well as an essayist, poet, and human rights activist. In the essay “Always Living in Spanish,” translated by Celeste Kostopulos-Cooperman, and the poem “English,” translated by Monic Bruno, Agosin discusses her family’s history of physical and linguistic displacement. In both, she writes about how she feels when composing and speaking in English and Spanish. She begins the essay by naming the stars in Chile’s sky,

“But here in the United States, where I have lived since I was a young girl, the solitude of exile makres me feel that so little is mind, that not even the sky has the same constellations, the trees and the fauna the same names or sounds, or the rubbish the same smell. How does one recover the familiar? How does on name the unfamiliar? How can one be another or live in a foreign language? These are the dilemmas of won who writes in Spanish and lives in translation”

The essay remains in (translated) English, yet the poem moves freely between Spanish and English. The applications for a translingual classroom are obvious. I often use this early in the semester when I am trying to establish the personal aspects of moving between languages and cultures, or “living in translation” as Agosin describes it. Since both pieces are short, you can have students read them out load and break into groups for discussion. If I do ask students to read aloud, I encourage them to work through the Spanish phrases as best they can. Some stumble over the untranslated portions, feeling the discomfort of speaking in a language other than their own.

I’ve also used these two pieces to discuss difference in genre, using the following prompt:

What effects do the genres have on how Agosin presents her message? What does the essay allow her to do that the poem does not, and vice versa? How do these two genres work together to create a clearer picture of her relationships with Spanish and English?

You can also listen to Agosin discuss how writing helped her battle against racism and adversity here. While the interview is is thirty minutes, this does allow you to bring in an aural component to the conversation.

Agosin’s pieces were originally published in Poems & Writers in 1999; however, I found these pieces in What’s Language Got to Do with It?You can find a copy from the textbook here.

Reading: Marjorie Agosin’s “Always Living in Spanish” and “English”
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