Category Archives: English

Dilma Rousseff’s speech to the Senate during her impeachment hearing – English translation

I found myself very moved by this speech, and I wanted to try to translate it into English to the best of my abilities (knowing that my Portuguese is weaker than my Spanish, but that translations into English are my preferred direction). For context, Dilma Rousseff gave this speech while in the final stage of impeachment hearings, which have been very controversial. She and her supporters call it a coup d’état, a power grab by a neoliberal opposition trying to overturn her policies. Her opposition considers it a necessary punishment for government corruption. On Wednesday, August 31st, she was impeached and removed from office; here she is, two days prior, making an impassioned call to defending democracy.

Speech from August 29, 2016 by Dilma Rousseff to the Brazilian Senate: Portuguese text source: Globo

“His excellency, the president of the Federal Supreme Court, Ricardo Lewandowski;

His excellency, the president of the Federal Senate, Renan Calheiros,

Their excellencies, the ladies and gentleman of the senate;

Citizens of my loved Brazil,

On January 1st, 2015, I assumed my second term as president of the Federative Republic of Brazil. I was elected by more than 54 million votes.

At my inauguration, I committed myself to maintaining, defending and fulfilling the Constitution, through observing laws, promoting the general good of the Brazilian people, and supporting Brazil’s union, integrity, and independence.

In carrying out the presidency of the republic, I loyally respected the commitment I took on in front of the nation and those who elected me. And I’m proud of this. I always believed in democracy and the rule of law, and I always saw some of the greatest achievements of our people in the 1988 Constitution.

I would never act against what I believe or carry out actions that run contrary to the interests of those who elected me.

In this journey to defend myself against impeachment, I grew closer to the Brazilian people, I had the opportunity to hear their recognition and to receive their caring. I also heard harsh criticisms of my governance, the errors that were committed and the measures and policies that weren’t adopted. I receive these criticisms with humility.

Because I too, like everyone, have flaws and commit errors.

Yet included in my flaws aren’t disloyalty or cowardice. I don’t betray the commitments I take on, the principles I defend or those who fight by my side. In the fight against the dictatorship, my body endured the marks of torture. For years, I bitterly suffered in prison. I saw peers who faced violence, and some who were even murdered.

At the time, I was very young. I had a lot to hope for in life. I was afraid of death, of the consequences of torture on my body and my soul. But I didn’t give up. I resisted. I resisted the storm of terror that began to swallow me, in the darkness of those bitter times that the country lived through. I didn’t switch sides. Despite carrying the weight of injustice on my shoulders, I continued fighting for democracy.

I dedicated all those years of my life to the fight for a society without hate and intolerance. I fought for a society free from prejudice and discrimination. I fought for a society where there would not be misery or exclusion. I fought for a sovereign and more equal Brazil, where there would be justice.

I am proud of this. If you believe, you must fight.

At nearly 70 years old, now would not be the time, after becoming a mother and grandmother, that I would renounce the principles that have always guided me.

Carrying out the presidency of the republic, I have honored my commitment to my country, to democracy, to the rule of law. I have been uncompromising in defense of honesty in the management of public affairs.

Because of this, facing accusations that are directed against me in this process, I can’t help but feel in my mouth again the coarse and bitter taste of injustice and arbitrariness. And so, like in the past, I resist.

Don’t expect from me the sycophantic silence of cowards. In the past, with weapons, and today with legal rhetoric, they again intend to act against democracy and against the rule of law.

If some are to tear apart the past and negotiate only their immediate payouts, I hope that they answer before their conscience and before history for what they are doing. It falls on me to lament what they were for and for what they became.

And resist. Always resist. Resist to remember the still sleeping consciences so that, together, we stand our ground on the right side of history, even as that ground trembles and threatens to swallow us again.

I don’t fight for my term for vanity or fondness for power, as is the custom of those who lack character, principles or utopias to conquer. I fight for democracy, for truth and for justice. I fight for my country’s people, for their well-being.

Many today ask me where my energy comes from to keep going. It comes from what I believe. I can look behind and see all that we did. Look forward and see all that we still need to do and can do. The most important thing is that I can look to myself and see the face of someone who, even carrying the marks of time, has the strength to defend her ideas and her rights.

I know that, soon and more than once in my life, I will be judged. And it’s because my conscience is absolutely at ease in relation to what I did, in carrying out the presidency of the republic, that I personally come here in the presence of those who will judge me. I come to look directly in the eyes of your excellencies and say, with the serenity of one who has nothing to hide, that I did not commit any crime against the state. I did not commit the crimes of which I am unjustly and arbitrarily accused.

Today Brazil, the world, and history are watching us and await the outcome of this impeachment process.

In Latin America and Brazil’s past, when elite economic and political forces took a hit at the polls and there weren’t legal reasons to remove someone from power, those forces conspired, resulting in coups d’état.

President Getúlio Vargas, who brought us the CLT (Consolidation of Labor Laws) and the defense of our national patrimony, suffered a merciless persecution; a hideous orchestrated plot by the so called “Galeão’s Republic” that led him to suicide.

President Juscelino Kubitscheck, who built this city, was victim of the constant and weak attempts of a coup like what happened in the Aragarças episode.

President João Goulart, defender of democracy, of workers rights and of basic reforms, overcame a parliamentary coup, but was deposed, and the military dictatorship took over, in 1964. For over 20 years, we lived in the silence imposed by arbitrariness and democracy was swept away from our country. Millions of Brazilians fought and reclaimed the right to direct elections.

Today, as the interests of the economic and political elite have once again been shut down at the polls, we have in front of us the risk of a democratic breaking point. Explicit violence is no longer the tool of the dominant political patterns worldwide. Now, the democratic breaking point is caused by moral violence and by constitutional pretexts to lend the appearance of legitimacy to a government who takes power without support at the polls. A violence that invokes the Constitution so that the world of appearances hypocritically conceals the world of facts.

The evidence produced left clearly and without contestation that the accusations against me are simply a pretext, based on a fragile legal rhetoric.

In the last few days, new facts have shown another aspect of the scheme that characterizes this impeachment process. The author of the presentation to the Federal Court of Accounts (TCU) that spurred the accusations discussed in this process was recognized as a suspect by the Federal Supreme Court.

It’s also known, from the deposition by the auditor responsible for the technical opinion, that he had helped to write the very presentation that he edited.

In the thesis developed by my opponents, the vice of partiality, the scheme, shows itself clearly.

They are pretexts, simply pretexts, to tear down, through an impeachment process without a crime against the state, a legitimate government, chosen in a direct election that 110 million Brazilians participated in. The government of a women who dared to win two consecutive presidential elections.

These are pretexts to make viable a coup against the Constitution. A coup that, if accomplished, will result in the indirect election of a usurper government.

An indirect election that, already in its interim state, doesn’t have any women at the helm of its ministries, when the Brazilian people, at the polls, chose a women to lead the country. A government that could care less about the representation of black people in its ministry and already revealed a profound disdain for the types of program voted in by the people in 2014.

I was elected president with 54 million and a half votes to fulfill a promise summarized in the words “no right to less”.

What’s on the line in this impeachment process isn’t just my term. What’s on the line is the respect for the electoral process, for the sovereign will of the Brazilian people and for the Constitution.

What’s on the line are the achievements of the past 13 years: what the population has gained, from the poorest to the middle class; the protection of children; youth who are attending universities and technical schools, the minimum wage increase, doctors tending to the population, people achieving the dream of homeownership.

What’s on the line is the investment in public works to address drought in the semi-arid regions, and finishing the the São Francisco integration, so dreamed for and hoped for. Also on the line is Brazil’s great discovery, pre-salt. What’s at play is our country’s sovereignty on the international stage, measured by ethics and by the search for common interests.

What’s on the line is the self-esteem of Brazilians, who resisted the attacks of sworn pessimists towards the capacity of the country to successfully host the World Cup, the Olympics, and the Paralympics.

What’s on the line is achieving stability, seeking fiscal equilibrium without abandoning social programs for our population.

What’s on the line is the country’s future, opportunity and hope to always keep advancing.

Ladies and gentlemen of the senate,

As the presidency is defined in our Constitution, the loss of a parliamentary majority is not enough to remove a President. There must be a crime against the state. And it is clear that there was no such crime.

It isn’t legitimate, like my accusers want it to be, to remove the Chief of State of a government because of the “whole package”. The only one who can remove a president for the “whole package” is the people, and only the people, during elections. And in the last elections, the platform of the winning government wasn’t what has now been rehearsed and designed by the interim government and defended by my accusers.

What the interim government is trying to be, if it takes power, is a true attack on the accomplishments of recent years.

To disconnect the floor for retirement benefits and pensions from the minimum wage would be the destruction of the country’s biggest instrument for wealth redistribution, our Social Security. The result would be more poverty, more infant mortality and the decay of small municipalities.

Major achievements for women, black people and the LGBT population will be compromised by the submission to ultraconservative principles.

Our wealth is in question, with resources like pre-salt, natural riches and mines being privatized.

The scariest threat of this impeachment process without a crime of state is freezing for an unbelievable 20 years all spending on health, education, sanitation, and housing. It’s blocking for 20 years the access of children and youth to schools, for 20 years, people not having adequate healthcare, for 20 years, families without the dream of homeownership.

Mister president Ricardo Lewandowski, ladies and gentleman of the senate.

The truth is that the electoral results of 2014 were a rude hit to sectors of the conservative Brazilian elite.

Since the proclamation of the electoral results, the parties that supported the candidate who lost the elections did all they could to block my inauguration and the stability of my government. They said that the elections were fraudulent, they asked for an audit of the polls, they denied my electoral counts, and after my inauguration, they looked for any possible facts, in an unmeasured manner, that could rhetorically justify an impeachment process.

As is typical of conservative and authoritarian elites, they didn’t see the will of the people or the legitimate element of government. They wanted power at any price.

They did it all to destabilize me and my government.

It’s only possible to understand the gravity of the crisis that has devastated Brazil since 2015 by taking into consideration the acute political instability that, since my re-election, has characterized the climate in which goods and services are invested in and produced.

A better proposal for our country wasn’t discussed or approved. What remained was the affirmation of “while worse, better”, in the obsessive search to wear away at the government, with little concern for the harmful results of this questionable political action on the population as a whole.

The possibility of impeachment became the central theme of the political and journalistic story barely two months after my re-election, despite the evident unfoundedness of the motives to justify this radical movement.

In this environment of turbulence and uncertainty, the permanent political risk created by a considerable portion of the opposition ended up being a central cause of the reduction of investment and of the deepening of the economic crisis.

It should also be emphasized that the search for fiscal re-equilibrium, since 2015, ran into strong resistance in the Chamber of Deputies, during the time that Deputy Eduardo Cunha presided. Projects sent down by the government were rejected, partially or entirely. Fiscally irresponsible items were presented and some were approved.

In 2016, the permanent commissions of the Chamber only began to function after May 5th, or in real words, a week before the Commission of the Federal Senate began the process of impeachment. As senators, you know the functioning of these commissions was and is absolutely indispensable for the approval of items that interact with the fiscal plan and could lead to an exit from the crisis.

Thus the desired environment of political instability was created, favoring the opening of the impeachment process without a crime of the state.

Without these actions, Brazil would surely be in a different political, economic, and fiscal reality today.

Many spoke and voted against proposals that they had defended their whole lives, without thinking of the consequences that their actions would have on the country and for the Brazilian people.

They wanted to take advantage of the economic crisis, because they knew that as my government appeared to overcome it, their aspirations to reach power would be buried for yet another long time.

But, in truth, the opposition forces only were able to move forward with their attempt when another powerful political force joined them; the political force of those who wish to avoid the continuation of the “bleeding” of sectors of the political Brazilian class, motivated by investigations around corruption and the misuse of public funds.

It’s notable that during my governance and that of President Lula, all the conditions were in place for these investigations to happen. We proposed important laws that outlined the appropriate bodies and conditions to investigate and punish the guilty.

I assured the autonomy of the Public Ministry, naming as Attorney General of the Republic the first name on the list given to me by the institution’s own members. I did not allow any political interference on part of the Federal Police.

I went against many interests by taking this position. Because of this, I paid and am still paying a high personal price for the positions I took.

My removal was orchestrated independently from the existence of any facts that could justify it under our Constitution.

They found, in the ex-president of the Chamber of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha, the core of the pro-coup alliance.

They outlined and made viable the loss of a parliamentary majority in the government. They created political situations, with wide-open support from the media, the political climate necessary for to undo the results of 2014’s elections.

We all know that this impeachment process was opened by “explicit blackmail” by the ex-president of the Chamber, Eduardo Cunha, as came to be known by declarations to the press by one of his own opponents. That parliamentarian demanded that I intervene so that the deputies from my party would not vote for the opening of the investigation process. I have never in my life accepted threats or blackmail. If I didn’t do it before, I wouldn’t do it as President of the Republic. It’s true, then, that not bending to this extortion motivated my accusation of committing a crime of state and the opening of this process, to the applause of those who had fallen in 2014 and of those scared of the investigations.

If I had gone along with this lack of integrity and with the worst of Brazilian politics, which many still today do without the slightest shame, I would not face the risk of being unjustly sentenced.

He who aligns himself with the immoral and the illicit cannot be respected to govern Brazil. He who intervenes to spare or postpone the judgement of a person who is accused of getting rich at the expense the Brazilian state and taxpayers, sooner or later, will end up paying the price to society and history for their betrayal of ethics.

All of us know that I did not get rich in public office, that I didn’t embezzle public funds for my private gain, nor my family’s, and that I do not have foreign accounts or real estate. I always have acted with absolute propriety regarding the public offices that I have held for most of my life.

Curiously, I will be tried, for crimes that I did not commit, before the trial of the Chamber’s ex-president, who has been accused of committing very serious illegal acts related to the schemes and the trickery around the actions that led to my removal.

Historical irony? No, not at all. We’re talking about a deliberate action that relies on the complicit silence of large sectors of the Brazilian media.

Democracy is violated and an innocent is punished. This is the backdrop that marks the verdict that will be carried out by the will of those who launched unfounded accusatory pretexts against me.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Senate,

Let’s get to the bottom of this process. What am I accused of? What were the betrayals of the Constitution that I committed? What were the hideous crimes that I committed?

The first accusation refers to editing three supplemental credit decrees without legislative authorization. Throughout this whole process, we have shown that the editing of these decrees followed all legal rules. We respect the provision enclosed in the Constitution, its target defined in the LDO (Budgetary Guidelines Law) and the established authorizations in the 4th article of the Budgetary Law of 2015, approved by the National Congress.

The 3 decrees respected all of these legal forecasts. They simply offered alternatives for the allocation of the same limits, of expenses and funding, established by the contingency fund decree (contingenciamento*), which weren’t altered. Because of this, they did not affect any part of the fiscal target (meta fiscal**).

Additionally, since 2014, by executive order, Congress approved the inclusion, in the LDO, that it would be obligatory that any open credit must have its use defined under the contingency fund decree, edited according to the rules established by the Fiscal Responsibility Law. This is exactly what I respected.

I don’t now if it’s because of lack of understanding or strategy, but the accusations made in this process seek to attribute our fiscal problems to these decrees. This ignores or hides that the negative fiscal results are consequences of the economic slowdown and not this other cause.

This ignores that in 2015, during the height of the crisis, we had a significant drop in revenues throughout the year – it was R$ 180 billion ($55 billion USD) less than had been predicted in the Budgetary Law. They try to make us ignore that in 2015, we achieved the greatest fiscal limits of our history.

They assert that, when in July 2015, I asked for authorization from the National Congress to reduce the fiscal target, that a new contingency fund should have immediately been established. I did not do this because I followed the procedures that were not questioned by the Federal Court of Accounts or by the National Congress in their 2009 accounts analysis.

In addition, my responsability to the people also justifies our decision. If in July, we had applied the contingency fund proposed by my accusers, we would have cut 96% of all available resources for the government’s expenditures. This would have represented a radical cut to the budgetary grants of all branches of government. Ministries would be paralyzed, universities would close their doors, the “More Doctors” program would be interrupted, the purchase of medications would be strained, regulatory agencies would no longer function. In truth, 2015 would have, at least in a budgetary sense, ended in July.

I will say it again: in editing these supplementary credit decrees, I completely complied with existing legislation. The National Congress was not disrespected in any of these acts. As a matter of fact, this was how I acted during both of my terms.

Only after I signed these decrees did the Federal Court of Accounts change the position it had always had on this matter. It’s important that the Brazilian people are clear on this point: the decrees were edited in July and August of 2015 and TCU didn’t approve the new interpretation until October 2015.

The TCU recommended approval of funding of decrees from all past presidents identical to the ones I edited. They never brought up any technical problems or interpreted the law in the same way that the did when I signed these acts.

They want to lock me up for having signed degrees that dealt with the needs of diverse branches, including their own Judiciary Power, based on the same procedures that have been in place ever since the Fiscal Responsability Law came into effect in 2001?

For having signed decrees that summed up, did not implicate, as was proven in the documents, that not a single cent would go against the fiscal target?

The second accusation against me in this process is also unjust and fragile. It affirms that the alleged late payment of grants owed to the Bank of Brazil, within the scope of carrying out the “Harvest Plan” rural credit program, is equivalent to a “credit operation”, which would be prohibited by the Fiscal Responsability Law.

As my defense and various testimonies already shared, the management of the Harvest Plan is governed by a 1992 law, competently put into law by the Ministry of Finance, that includes guidance on working with the Bank of Brazil. The President of the Republic does not have jurisdiction over the implementation of the Harvest Plan. It seems obvious, besides being legally correct, that I should not be accused for a nonexistent act.

The controversy related to the existence of the credit operation came from the TCU’s change of interpretation, a definite decision that was broadcast in December 2015. Again, there is an attempt to say that I committed a crime before defining what that crime was. A definition that never had come up before, and as all of you in the senate heard in recent days, was warped specifically for this occasion.

I still remember the recent decision made by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, who conducted an investigation about this very same issue. They affirmed that my actions did not contradict the fiscal responsability law because late payments on contracts regarding the lending of services between the government and financial institutions are not credit operations.

I insist, ladies and gentlemen of the Senate: It is not me, nor my defense, who makes these allegations. It is the Public Prosecutor’s Office who refused to follow the proper process, because there was no crime.

Regarding the TCU’s change in interpretation, I remember that even before the final decision, I took preventative actions. I asked the National Congress to authorize payment of liabilities and I declared a payment plan for the funds owed. In December 2015, after TCU’s decision and with Congress’ authorization, we cleared all existing debits.

It’s impossible not to see here both the arbitrariness of this process and the injustice of this accusation.

This impeachment process is not legitimate. I did not attempt, at all, absolutely anything against any of the devices of the Constitution that I, as the President of the Republic, swore to uphold. I did not do anything illicit. It has been proven that I did not act in any premeditated way. My actions were entirely in the best interest of our society. No harm was done to the treasury or to the Brazilian people.

I will affirm again, as my defense has constantly done, that this process is stained, from start to finish, by a clamorous deviance of power.

This is what explains the absolute fragility of the accusations against me. It was promised that this impeachment process would be legitimate because the rituals and steps would be respected. Yet for justice to be had and democracy honored, the process alone is not enough. And in this case, there will not be justice if I am convicted.

I have heard spoken in various moments that this process has diverged, extensively, from what the Constitution and legal scholars call the “due process of law”.

There is no respect for due process of law when the majority of the judges have shared their opinions of contempt to the press, before the defense’s final argument.

There is no respect for due process of law when those voting have shared that my conviction will be but a matter of time, because they will vote against me no matter what.

In this case, the defense’s argument will be only a formality, but neither its arguments nor its evidence will be substantially heard. The process exists simply to give the appearance of legitimacy to something that in essence is illegitimate.

Ladies and gentlemen of the senate,

During these months, I’ve been asked countless times why I did not give up, to cut short this incredibly difficult chapter of my life.

I will never give up because I have an unmovable commitment to the Democratic State of Law. I will never give up because I have never given up the fight.

I confess to your excellencies, despite this, that treason, verbal aggressions and the violence of prejudice have astonished me, and in some moments event hurt me. But they were always overcome, and then some, by the solidarity, by the support and willingness to fight by millions of Brazilians all across the country. Through demonstrations in the street, meetings, conferences, books, shows, digital organizing, our people threw their creativity and support to the fight against the coup.

Brazilian women have been, in this period, a key support in my resistance. They covered me with flowers and they protected me with their solidarity. Untiring partners in a battle against misogyny and discrimination showing their claws, Brazilian women, in this fight for democracy and for their rights, expressed their strength and resiliency. Brave Brazilian women, whom I have the honor and the obligation to represent as the first female president of Brazil.

I arrive at the final stage of this process committed to achieving a demand the majority of Brazilians have asked for: let them decide, at the polls, the future of our country. Dialogue, participation and a direct and free vote are the strongest weapons we have in the preservation of democracy.

I trust that you, honorable senators, will uphold justice. My conscience is at ease. I did not commit any crime of the state. The accusations directed at me are unjust and baseless. To remove me from office is to condemn me to the pain of political death.

This is the second trial that I been subjected to where democracy has also been on trial with me, in the hot-seat. The first time, I was convicted by an execution court. All that’s left from that time, besides the painful marks of torture, is a picture that records my presence in front of my executioners, in that moment in which I raised my head to look at them while they hid their faces, scared that they would be recognized and judged by history.

Today, four decades later, there isn’t an illegal prison, there isn’t torture, and my judges arrived here by the same popular vote that brought me to the presidency. I respect everyone greatly, yet I continue here with my head up high, staring into the eyes of my critics.

Despite our differences, I again suffer the sense of injustice and the fear that, once again, democracy will be convicted along with me. I have no doubts that again this time, all of us will be judged by history.

Twice in my life I have stood face to face with death: when I was tortured for days on end, subjected to punishments that make us doubt humanity and the meaning of life itself; and when a grave and extremely painful illness could have cut short my existence.

Today I only fear the death of democracy, for which many of us, here in this assembly, fight for with the best of our strengths.

I reiterate: I respect my critics.

I do not hold resentment for any who will vote to remove me from office.

I respect and especially appreciate those who have bravely fought for my pardon, for whom I will be eternally grateful.

In this moment, I want to address the senators who, even while in opposition to me and my government, are undecided.

Remember that, in the presidential regime and under the aegis of our Constitution, a political conviction mandates that a crime against the state has occurred, committed with premeditation and proven in a thorough manner.

Remember the terrible precedent that this decision could set for other presidents, governors and mayors. Convict without substantial evidence. Convict an innocent person. I am making a final appeal to senators: do not accept a coup d’etat that instead of solving, will aggravate the Brazilian crisis.

I ask that you uphold justice for an honest president, who never committed an illegal act in her personal life or in the public functions that she exercised. Vote without resentment. How each senator feels about me or what we feel for one another is less important in this moment to what all of us feel for this country and for the Brazilian people.

I ask of you: Vote against impeachment. Vote for democracy.

Thank you very much.”

*contingencamiento – I have used the phrase “contingency fund”, but contingencamiento is defined as “a procedure utilized by the Executive Power, which consists in the delay and, not rarely, the withholding of part of predicted expenditures under the budgetary law.” Source (pt)

**meta fiscal – I am utilizing the phrase “fiscal target”. The meta fiscal is “the economy that the government promises to uphold to prevent growth of the public debt. It is measured as primary surplus (income minus expenditures, except those with interest) in proportion to the GDP of Brazil.” Source (pt)



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On language and ownership

I created this blog as a celebration of the languages I speak, as a way to challenge myself in each one, to examine the beauty of each on its own. But language is not as simple as conjugations and vocabulary; one must learn when to speak, and why.

Hablo español. Esto digo con bastante confianza; aunque yo no tenga la fluidez natural de un hablante nativo, siempre consigo comunicarme fácilmente, y no tengo problemas en cambiar rápidamente entre inglés y español, como es casi requisito del mundo bilingüe Californiano.

no, no, no. But when, I ask, do I speak? When is it my turn to respect others? When do I stay out of the conversation entirely? I can form fluid sentences, but I cannot make a dirty joke. I can be there and listen to emotional outpourings, but I cannot respond with the same tenderness and sureness of the person you surely would rather be telling this to in your native tongue.

Because it’s not my língua, idioma, no. Because speaking Spanish is more than un acento, la ñ, un rítmo… it involves race, culture, life, family, and these are not mine to claim, in any way. I read a beautiful essay, in which a Latina college student speaks of her language divide, of the realities of studying the “language of conquest”. Well, I come from the conquistadores, I suppose, the German and Irish (languages that are no longer a part of me) ones. Those who were discriminated against upon arrival to the United States, but who assimilated enough to lead the discriminatory class, to pick a new assailant. For all the privilege I have as a white person in this country, how dare I try to act like I have a right to speak the language of a minority?

I go to the farmers market with una amiga peruana; she asks the woman si hay algunas empanadas saladas; y la vendedora explica que no hay debido a una regulación de salud– las temperaturas necesarias para las empanadas dulces y saladas son diferentes, y ya es demasiado trabajo traer los dos tipos. And she looks at me and smiles and asks if I would like to try a sample. Sure, I say. Does she know that I understood the conversation, albeit a banal one? Is there any point in acknowledging this shared language when we have another we can just as easily use? My Peruvian-Californian friend chose to speak Spanish and was thus answered in it, but I don’t know that I would receive the same response.

I teach an English as a second language class in a heavily Latino Catholic school. By nature of the subject matter, my students all speak little English (though they grow by the week, which gives me such pride!). I teach in slow, repetitive English, utilizing hand gestures. But when I talk to students one on one, it is usually in Spanish. Criticize my pedagogy if you will, but please, step into my classroom first. The church sells fresh-grilled food on Thursdays, always fundraising, and Spanish, too, is the language. There is such assumption of language that the güera speaking Spanish is not strange. Or perhaps it’s been seen before. I am well received; in this setting, I feel no language pressures.

My class has been growing, though, and we ran out of chairs one day. I went into the next classroom, a catechism class (or something of that nature) and asked si pudiera prestar unas sillas, not even thinking about the language of my request. One of the men simply stared at me, and responded, “yeah, you can borrow some chairs, as long as you bring them back”. Was I insulting him by not using English? Does my race and accent mean that Spanish is not my domain on which to tread? Todavía no sé.

What time does your class end?, I asked, now following his code-switch. Another student responded, a las ocho. The first man translated for me. Thanks.

We were invited to be on a Spanish-language television show. To talk about our work, fighting for immigrant rights. It was clear that things moved fast in TV-land; the representative first sent an email in Spanish, and left me a voicemail in English, inviting us to be on the show. I called her up immediately- one can’t let these things wait til morning. Hablas español? she asked, a few sentences in, sí, pero hablo mejor el inglés. Because English is the language of business. It seems. We continued our conversation in Spanglish, a quick back and forth. I brought the discussion back to my co-workers. We needed people to be on TV, to acknowledge our hard work, what an opportunity! I made it clear that I would happily coordinate, but I could not take that role myself. Why not? asked my co-worker. no puedo hacer una entrevista en español, dije. He was unsatisfied with my answer. Why? Ok, it’s more than feelings about language fluency. It’s because I am not the face of this struggle, because I believe in the rights of immigrants, and I can hear testimonies and do plenty to advance the cause, but it is not my struggle; no es mi voz; no es mi lucha. 

When I finally met the representative in person, she only spoke English to me, despite our multi-phone call, multi-lingual back and forth.

And here we go, on and on. I know other folks in my same situation, and all choose to act differently. I once observed the actions of another white-lady-who-speaks-Spanish, and how she navigated this divide. We held a meeting, in English (because the meetings are always in English, even when the community is not). César came in, and she asked, “Ceaser (pronounced like the salad)how about you introduce yourself?” And he said, “Hello, my name is César (prounciado como el gran líder César Chávez). Names are names, and they are mispronounced always. But if someone introduces himself by a specific pronunciation, and by your own job description, you have the capabilities to call him that, why would you Anglo-cize his name, when he himself did not do so? César didn’t bat an eyelid. This is nothing.

Language, language. I change the pronunciation of my name when I want to show that I can speak Spanish. It’s all assumptions. Sometimes it’s necessary; sometimes it doesn’t matter.

I went to the farmer’s market by myself yesterday. No amiga peruana to initiate the conversation. I bought tomatoes and saw that the man had several types of beans. “When are you going to have habas?” I asked. “Habas… he said, looking at me quizzically, but knowing that such a name was natural… favas?” Yes. I love them. “Next week, I’ll bring them for you.”

Entonces, para la próxima, voy a comprar habas (porque habas, que comí en Ecuador, con cuales hago una sopa mexicana, no existen (en mi mente) en inglés), y tal vez evitaré el miedo de hablar con él en español. Comunicamos claramente en inglés… pero así llego al mismo lugar, queriendo hablar español, mostrar que entiendo algo más de que sospechen, o pretender ser otra, alguien que no soy. Spanish is not the language of my identity. But in a way, it has started to take shape in crafting who I present myself as. No real consequences come from using the proper or improper language; and there is no right answer as to what makes the correct linguistic choice. As long as we understand each other, I suppose…

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True Bilingualism

Growing up in a monolingual English household, I was always incredibly impressed with my bilingual friends, those who would switch into one language with their parents and back to English for their friends. I’d hear Spanish, Vietnamese, Khmer, Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, and plenty more– and these amazingly talented multilingual friends never seemed to think about it as anything. They could just do that? Wow. But I observed other things, like conversations where the parent would speak in their native language, and my friend would understand what was being said but respond in English, or some mix of the two languages. Because the reality is that maintaining bilingualism is hard! For most bilingual people, it’s very likely that they use the languages in different contexts, that they have differing levels of education and different skill-sets, and certain concepts are always simpler to express in one language over the other.

The New York Times Magazine published a nice little piece about bilingualism last month, talking about how speaking two or more languages is a skill that makes us better problem solvers, and perhaps smarter in general. But defining bilingualism can get a little difficult, and indeed, the study differentiated among people with high and low levels of it. When I first started learning Spanish, I assumed that anyone who spoke Spanish, including my aforementioned bilingual friends, spoke it more or less the same way, and well. I wasn’t yet able to differentiate between the Spanish of my friends versus that of their parents, for instance; but oftentimes, there’s a remarkable difference.

I’m talking about people who are fluent in both languages, but their fluency in the lesser-used or lesser-educated language is not the same as a monolingual’s. It’s not wrong, or bad, even, but there are more Anglicisms, more hesitations, and quick “pardon me for my Spanish” notes, among those who grew up speaking it. I suppose I’m suggesting that yes, multilingualism is absolutely possible, and some people are just better at maintaining fluency than others, but for second-generation young bilinguals in America, for whom English is often everywhere, it tends to dominate.

To me, this suggests an absolute need for better bilingual education resources in America; I’ve talked to so many people who wish they had a better command of their heritage tongue or could read and write it well. And it surely wouldn’t hurt students coming from English-only households to gain another language early on in life. What a smart society we would have!

Anyway, I know that language learning has changed the way I think, and occasionally the way I speak English, and that I shouldn’t be discouraged in moments where I just can’t find the word I’m looking for, because many fluent bilingual speakers experience the same thing.

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"Pacification was easy. I want to see domination."

The title of this post is a play on words, perhaps, because the portuguese word “propaganda” is used how we might use the word advertisement, but indeed, the English word propaganda comes into play here, too. I saw this image on Facebook, with a great commentary in Portuguese, so I will try to give some English-language context and some of my comments. I mean, first, let’s agree that this ad has plenty wrong with it, before we really dive in. With me? Cool.

So, we have a woman here, full name given, and it says she lives in Rocinha and is a professional waxer. For those who don’t know, Rocinha is the biggest favela in Rio de Janeiro, pacification is a very loaded word, and in November, Rocinha and the favela Vidigal were formally pacified, which entailed bringing in troops and setting up a special police station within the favela. Goals are to eliminate drug and arms trafficking, and to make these South-Zone favelas look nice and pretty for the World Cup/Olympic Games. We also have in this ad the cultural significance of the BOPE, the special operations police force made famous by the Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad) movies. They’re a real police force, with the logo of a skull on top of two guns and a sword:

The knife stuck into the skull from the top down signifies victory over death. The red lightning bolt expresses speed and surprise. The guns represent the military police of our country.

Anyway, there are about a million things to say about the symbolism here, about the entire idea of pacification, about the city’s commitment to favela residents at all, but those are words for another day (and that have been said by so many others).  Let’s just look at this advertisement here. Ana Paula, a favela resident, has left this policeman passed out, shirt unbuttoned; clearly she is in control- his special military tactics were no match for her control-top lingerie. Yes, this is a lingerie ad, it should be pointed out.

But this ad is in such poor taste. Naturally, the woman is black and the policeman is white; the fact that she is a woman and her biggest achievement is seducing this man in power is also insulting, as if the only power of a female favela-resident is to use her sexuality over perhaps corrupt law enforcement. The mixing of military images and an all-too recent and controversial pacification campaign with the selling of lingerie just rubs me the wrong way, is all. This ad is meant to grab your attention, and it does aim to be a little humorous, but it just plays into the same repeated tropes we always see.

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How do you take your coffee?

So, no sé exactamente lo que quiero de este blog, mas acho que vou tentar fazer algo trilingüe, filling in things with the language I see fit. This probably does very little for general comprehension, pero a mi no me importa, sei lá, whatever. Perhaps logo vou botar traduções, pero por ahora, let’s just live in a land of confusion!


Se você procurar alguma informação sobre o Brasil, vai ler que a caipirinha é a bebida nacional do Brasil. Pois é, e eu bebia muitas caipirinhas quando vivia no Brasil, mas tem outra coisa, algo ainda mais común, que se pode beber em qualquer hora do dia o da noite. Com certeza, falo do cafezinho. O cafezinho é  o que bebe quando você tem dez minutos entre aulas e R$ .50 pra gastar. É o que bebe quando quer conversar com um amigo, e vocês se sentam num lanchonete com os copinhos de cafe e alguns poucos reais. Mais um, por favor! O cafezinho é que está ofrecido quando você espera no banco, ou quando entra num escritório; é a única coisa de graça nos restaurantes tipo “por quilo”. Se estiver na casa de algum amigo brasileiro, ele vai lhe ofrecer um cafezinho. Vai ser forte, e se já no adoçaram, você vai poder escolher entre o azúcar ou o adoçante líquido. Os brasileiros gostam o café muito doce. O cafezinho não leva leite, não. A gente vai tomar um cafezinho? logo logo, vamos!

En  Ecuador, lo interesante para mi fue que aunque el pais es un productor grande de café, la mayoría de personas beben café instantánea (como Nescafé). Creo que es una ironia del “libre comercio” en el mundo moderno, pero esto es una polémica para otro dia.  En casa, yo siempre bebía Nescafé con azúcar, a vezes con leche también. Para ofrecerme un café, mis vecinos siempre me darían un vaso de agua caliente para que yo pudiera añadir el café en polvo al gusto. Claro que existía café típico, pero lo mas común fue Nescafé, dulce como todos las bebidas de América Latina.

En Honduras, cuando vivía en una comunidad pequeña, el café casero fue hecho en una olla grande, con el café molido y la panela* colocados sin filtro, y todos bebieron el café caliente con galletas o pan.  Nunca había bebido mucho café antes del viaje, pero allá bebía café dos o tres vezes por día, y era bien rico. El café es un ejemplo de como la comida e bebida puede juntarnos, porque cuando tomamos un café, ha llegado el momento de descansarse, de sólo disfrutar la compañía de otros.

*panela tiene nombres diferentes dependiéndose de la región (por ejemplo, es piloncillo en México). En Brasil, se conoce como rapadura, una palabra que también existe en algunos países hispanohablantes, pero la palabra “panela” en portugués significa olla o cazuela en español… pues, para los que intentan hablar los dos idiomas, estes “falsos amigos” pueden ser difíciles. ¡Qué confusión!

And here in the US, coffee abounds in many forms, like in the big carafes in meeting rooms, with the little stir sticks and sugar packets and instant-creamer. We love our fancy cafés, our trying to be European pretensions of “oh, this place makes the best macchiato in town”, to our over-Americanized double-triple-foamy-foam-caramel-mocha-frapuccino. There’s the daily coffee pot in just about every household. How do you take it? Black? With cream and sugar? And most people always like it the same way. I have this tendency, that when I make coffee at home, I just drink it black. But when I’m out and about, I’ll add sugar, usually just a bit. Maybe because that sugar is free, and it feels like a bonus. Or it’s later in the day, when my sweet tooth has picked up. Or it’s shitty coffee. I don’t know. It’s a matter of tastes, but I guess I mean to say that my tastes are not necessarily consistent.

Oh, but I’ll take a soy single shot cappuccino, thanks, for here. Almond milk if that café is fancy enough for it. Sounds just right.

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