‘The Translation of Letters and Ideas in Cuba’s Republic’: Symposium looks at translation practices in Cuban history

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three men playing musical instruments
Men playing instruments in Cuba. On Thursday, a four part symposium titled "The Translation of Letters and Ideas in Cuba's Republic" was held virtually, and focused on the usage of translation of major Cuban publications during the Republic Period (1902-1959). Photo by Dimitri Dim on Pexels.com

“The Translation of Letters and Ideas in Cuba’s Republic,” a four-part symposium co-sponsored by the University of Connecticut’s Department of Literatures, Cultures & Languages, the UConn Humanities Institute, El Instituto Seed Grant, the John. N Plank Lecture Series and Global Affairs took place virtually Thursday, and focused on the usage of translation in major Cuban publications during the Republic Period (1902-1959). 

The first half of Thursday’s event was a discussion on “Philosophies, Geopolitics, and Translation” moderated by Samuel Martinez, a UConn professor in the anthropology department and the director of El Instituto, the Institute for Latina/o, Caribbean and Latin American Studies. Four panelists presented lectures focusing on different aspects of the overall topic of translation in Cuba, followed by a Q&A session with the audience. 

The panelists included César Salgado, an associate professor in the department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Texas at Austin; Reynaldo Lastre, a graduate assistant in the department of literatures, cultures and languages at UConn and a co-organizer of the symposium; Rachel Price, an associate professor in the department of Spanish and Portuguese at Princeton University and Anke Birkenmaier, a professor in the department of Spanish and Portuguese at Indiana University, Bloomington. Presentations and discussions took place in a mix of English and Spanish. 

Each presenter discussed different publications. Lastre, for example, focused on “Bohemia,” Cuba’s oldest general consumer magazine, while Birkenmaier talked about “Gaceta del Caribe,” which chronicled the cultural politics of the mid-1940s not just in Cuba but in the entire Caribbean diaspora. 

The common thread amongst all the presentations was the way in which translation allowed for international solidarity and multicultural movements to take root in Cuba. For example, Price explained how “The Negro World,” a publication that began in 1921 in New York, started a Spanish language section in order to explain pan-African movements around the world at the encouragement of its Cuban readership. 

“The common thread amongst all the presentations was the way in which translation allowed for international solidarity and multicultural movements to take root in Cuba.”

The second half of the event was a keynote speech given by Rafael Rojas, a professor at the Centro de Estudios Históricos at El Colegio de México, entitled “Tres políticas de traducción en la ideología cubana de los 60” (“Three translation policies in Cuban ideology of the 1960s”). Rojas was introduced by Jacqueline Loss, a professor in the department of literatures, cultures, and languages at UConn and a co-organizer of the symposium, and Lastre. 

Image of weekly supplement of “Lunes de Revolucion”. (Translation: Revolution Monday) was a weekly literary supplement to the magazine, Revolucion. The magazine reflected strong nationalistic and anti-imperialistic views that existed in Cuba during those times. Photo courtesy of Internet Archives.

Rojas discussed three Cuban publications specifically in his keynote speech: “Lunes de Revolución,” “Cuba Socialista” and “Pensamiento Crítico.” Each was in print during the revolutionary period and approached the Cuban Revolution in different ways, whether focusing on industrialization, intellectualism, Latin American guerrilla or the relationship between Cuba and the Soviet Union. 

Just as the other speakers noted, Rojas explained how the translation policies of each of these periodicals led to a more interconnected and international feeling of solidarity, not only between Cuba and the rest of Latin America but also between Cuba and the rest of the world. For example, Rojas mentioned how “Lunes de Revolución” discussed the African American struggle for equality in the U.S. One of the major purposes of “Cuba Socialista,” meanwhile, was to showcase the experience of the Cuban Revolution to the rest of the world. 

Rojas’ lecture concluded with a Q&A portion. 

Rojas studied philosophy at the Universidad de La Habana in Havana, Cuba and earned his doctorate in history at El Colegio de México. His areas of expertise include the intellectual, political and diplomatic history of Latin America in the 19th and 20th centuries.  

Loss shared some insight on the genesis of the symposium. 

“When I published my English translation of Jorge Mañach’s ‘An Inquiry into Choteo,’ which began as a collaborative assignment in a senior seminar several years back, Reynaldo suggested we come together in one form or another to interrogate not just Mañach and translation, a small and seemingly manageable field, but the significance of translation during Cuba’s Republic,” Loss said. “From that question, we began navigating the different figures who participated in translation and who are themselves translators. We are as much interested in the practices that occurred after Cuba’s independence until Castro’s Revolution, as we are with the ways that those practices continue to influence the present day.” 

Photo of Fidel Castro. During the event, Reynaldo Lastre explains that “We are as much interested in the practices that occurred after Cuba’s independence until Castro’s Revolution, as we are with the ways that those practices continue to influence the present day.” Photo courtesy of MROnline.

While the symposium’s main focus is translation, the event touched on much more. 

“We are eager to implement the concept of translation as a vehicle to investigate the racial, gender and post-colonial constructions put into practice in the Republican period, thus contributing to studies of translation in Cuba,” Loss said. 

“it shows that it is a field closely connected to ethics, both inside and outside of translations. For me, it was work but also learning from all this.”

Rastre, who referred to working with Loss as “an honor and a privilege,” agreed with the complex nature of translation. 

“I think the symposium highlights different ways of approaching the concept of translation in Cuba,” Rastre said. “In addition, it shows that it is a field closely connected to ethics, both inside and outside of translations. For me, it was work but also learning from all this.” 

The fourth and final part of the symposium will take place Friday, March 5 from 1-3:30 p.m. For more information or to register, look at the UConn events calendar.  

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