Translating Cuban Letters with Kristin Dykstra and Anna Kushner

On September 12th, the award-winning translators, Anna Kushner and Kristin Dykstra, spoke about the challenges of translating Cuban works for an English-speaking audience in the US in an event titled “Translating Cuban Letters” hosted by LCL. Kushner is the translator of prominent Cuban works such as The Autobiography of Fidel Castro by Norberto Fuentes, and The Halfway House by Guillermo Rosales. Dykstra is a writer, literary translator, and scholar who has translated authors including Reina María Rodríguez, Juan Carlos Flores, and Angel Escobar among others. Both the speakers emphasized that the work of a translator does not only involve an attention to differences in language, but also to the contexts in which language makes meaning.

The translators discussed translation as a mode of understanding and making visible the immense diversity in the diasporic experiences of Cubans and Cuban Americans both within and beyond the United States. Kushner used the example of her translation of The Halfway House to emphasize how Guillermo Rosales captures many of these experiences in stories that include meditations on complex psychological states, crisscrossing cultural narratives, and interweaving histories involving the US, Cuba, Spain, and Russia. Dykstra, on the other hand, foregrounded the way her work helped to break stereotypical perceptions of Cuban culture, replacing the images of “mojitos and old cars” with new narratives that capture the diverse lived experiences of the people of Cuba. Translating figures like Rodrigues, Flores, and Escobar, each from different regions of Cuba, has allowed her to offer a more complex image of the island’s many cultures and peoples.

The event garnered an active participation from an audience that included LCL faculty and graduate students. Professors including Jacqueline Loss, Odette Casamayor-Cisneros, and Peter Constantine enriched the conversation by sharing their views on issues ranging from the challenges and rewards of translating across linguistic and cultural barriers, the institutional and identity politics of translation to the future of translation studies within the broader fields of the humanities and the social sciences in the US.

by Arnab Roy