Sometimes things take a long time to write about because I need more information, because I am not sure of what to make of what I have seen or heard.
Sacramento has an altar show as part of the Days of the Dead commemoration. 2014’s event happened just over a month after the 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa disappeared from Iguala, in Guerrero, Mexico. I felt mixed emotions when I came across an altar dedicated to them. I was happy that someone was observing their disappearance, but I was similarly saddened that the altar maker was not hopeful they were alive; altars are, after all, made as tributes and beacons for those who have passed. The man at the booth was slightly more hopeful than his altar conveyed. Nonetheless, he conceded that it was hard to know what to believe at that point.
November was also politics season in Sacramento, so a few politicians took the stage and tried out their (poor) Spanish on the patient crowd. Then, a representative from the Mexican Consulate stood before us. He informed us he was going to speak in Spanish first and then English.
I decided, despite his promise, to translate for my friends. It is good practice for me (and makes me pay more attention). The man said all of the usual things a politician must say. However, he got more serious near the end as he referred to the disappeared in Mexico, particularly the missing teachers. He promised the crowd that the government was on the case and was doing all it could to make sure that these young men were found and that tragedies like this do not happen again.
Then, the English portion of the show commenced. He said the usual pleasantries and got more serious in the end as he talked about remembrance of those who have passed before us.
Nothing about the teachers! Not a word.
I was stunned silent. The rest of the bilingual crowd was as well. None of us raised a hand to ask: And your commitment to the disappeared? Not one of us.
I went to the man at the altar for the 43. I asked him whether my Spanish had been functioning, whether I had imagined what was lost in translation. He agreed that the most important part in Spanish had simply disappeared in English. How could this be?
I talked with another bilingual person about it. No one could explain what had happened and why.
I waited patiently until this summer in Oaxaca to relate this incident to my Spanish teacher who was unsurprised by the inaccuracy of the English version, by the blatant omission, the redaction.
He thought for long time. Then, he quietly said that sometimes some things are so degradante (degrading) that they are hard to speak of.
He then went on to talk a little about taboo and religion and discrimination. He turned to addressing the complications of a situation.
He said: “We are impotent and shameful when it comes to describing the shame or pain that this could happen in our country. It is not just 43 people who have disappeared, but it is thousands of people. This level of incompetence is not explainable. Even worse, it is not resolvable.”