From The Autobiography of the Other Lady Gaga by Stefani J. Alvarez
Translated from the Filipino by Alton Melvar M. Dapanas
Translator’s Note: Transplanting the Báyot, Translating the Dagli
Growing up in the northernmost region of the southern Philippines, Stefani J. Alvarez’s native tongue is Cebuano Binisayâ, not the Tagalog-based Filipino she writes in. As such, she is entangled with motifs outside mainstream sociolinguistic concerns: Her use of the I-persona as a báyot which historically refers to a “male cross-dresser,” Bonnie G. Smith, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. a migrant Filipino worker, a son and sibling, a transgender woman in a patriarchal and conservative country, a sex worker, etc. These constitute part of the aesthetic challenges in translating her work and rendering her voice. On the surface, the language is Tagalog, but the nuance, the embodied experience, the structure, and as Alvarez would say in a forthcoming interview, her “soul,” are all in our shared native tongue, the Binisayâ.
Within the literary tradition of Philippine literature in Filipino—an oeuvre independent from Anglophone Philippine literature and the literatures of other local languages—the dagli,Ang Dagling Tagalog: 1903-1936, eds. Rolando B. Tolentino and Aristotle J. Atienza. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2007. is a genre that proliferated in vernacular newspapers at the dawn of the 20th century when Americans took full control of the Philippines, and the English language was imposed by the state. It is a short prose piece which may either be flash fiction or flash nonfiction, both, or neither. Outside Anglophone writings—in Filipino, in Binisayâ, and possibly elsewhere—there seems to be less obsession in separating fiction and nonfiction. The Encyclopedia of Philippine Art (1994), moreover, translates the dagli loosely as “vignettes or sketches” which are “short account[s] that assume a number of functions … [characterized by a] spontaneous and hurried quality … [either as] an explicit expression of a man’s love for a particular woman [or a] highly polemical [expression of] anti-American, anti-clerical themes.” Alvarez’s dagli is heavily informed not only by her material reality, but also by the language and genre she writes in. It can be understood (and best appreciated) in the context of the larger geopolitical landscapes of diasporic/migrant writing, working-class literature, and the postcolonial/transnational queer.
As an emerging translator myself—whose readings and trainings, formal or self-taught, have been primarily in creative nonfiction and poetry—I also problematized and mediated my presence/absence in the source text bearing in mind the unique role of translation, particularly literary translation, in giving wider platforms and postulating identities from the post-/neo-colonies thus contributing to and disseminating, in this context, Anglophone-generative literatures.
These, along with other translatorial actions, needed careful attention and a hint of experimentation as I grappled between translating “word-for-word” versus “sense-for-sense,” among translation, transliteration, and cultural representation, along with the complicated dynamics among translators, authors, and the readership. Smaller questions emerged like, “How to translate the confessional style rhetorically enmeshed with Filipino gayspeak and working-class sensibilities which, at its original text, is already linguistically layered (as Filipino is Alvarez’s second language)? In what ways would word order, sentential brevity, and thematic progression shape the target text? What shifts in translation am I willing to make from the source language to the target language? What boundaries will I have to redraw and revisit from time to time?” And ultimately, there were larger inquiries: “How to translate a minority culture—where Alvarez and I, the translator, both belong to, as Filipino southerners and queer persons treading through literary spaces of Manila, the country’s literary center, and of the West—into a dominant world language without treating the work as some sort of postcolonial exotica which may however serve as its currency for publication? Given the subversive historical tradition of the dagli—a genre which defied the Euro-American short story form and the English language during the American Occupation in the Philippines and long after it—can the said genre and the act of translating it be exemplified as a contact zone between the colonizing genre and language to the colonized?”
There is also the challenge of introducing the dagli to non-Filipino, even non-Tagalog readers, thus the need to locate the said genre in its sociohistorical and ethnopoetic context. t goes without saying that Alvarez, both as author and as the I-persona, has been writing and has produced a body of work that portrays longing, torment, defiance, and trauma in pieces which are, in the words of Filipino biographer and essayist Ina Silverio in a book review first published in Philippine Panorama, “unflinching honesty and such poetic grace” and “to the point, poignant, and painful.” In translating minority cultures to global languages, Paul F. Bandia writes in his essay on postcolonial identities in The Palgrave Handbook of Literary Translation (2018):
All dominated writers, regardless of their linguistic and literary distance from the center, face the question of linguistic difference, and generally seek to distance themselves from the dominant language by devising a distinctive use of the language or by inventing a national literary language. For these writers, the strategies of distancing from the dominant language may not always be conscious or calculated, and may depend on the degree of literariness of their indigenous language and its position in the global literary space.
It is worth noting that in Tagalog-based Filipino, “translation” is “pagsasalin,” from a root word which means “to pour.” In Cebuano Binisayâ, on the other hand, it is “paghubad,” to “unchain” while “hubad” in Tagalog means “to undress.” Perhaps all of those senses combined describe my role as translator as I navigated the sociolinguistic, geopolitical, and literary dimensions of this experiment in cultural representation.
LoveLiterally meaning “love” in Tagalog-based Filipino, PAG-IBIG, an acronym for Pagtutulungan sa Kinabukasan: Ikaw, Bangko, Industria at Gobyerno (in English, “Synergy for the Future: You, the … Continue reading
I went to Al-Khobar with my Arab boyfriend. It was the only city with a remittance center that accepted contributions for the PAG-IBIG Fund. I wanted my monthly contributions to be up-to-date so that I could take advantage of a housing loan. The renovation of our house back in the Philippines was my promise to Mama.
Jubail does not have one for the PAG-IBIG Fund. Its distance to Al-Khobar is the same as the distance from Manila to Olongapo—about a hundred kilometers, a two-hour trip at most.
At the checkpoint, we were blocked by policemen. They are usually suspicious of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who are accompanied by Arabs, especially those Filipinos who are shaved, “clean,” and fair-skinned.
Yasser got out of the car and handed them his National ID card and driver’s license. I glanced at the side mirror. It looked like he was negotiating with them. I was told to get out of the car. They asked where we were going, what time we would return, and where we were employed. One of them whispered something to Yasser who then pulled me back to his car. He explained to me what the policemen wanted. He gave me the condom from his wallet. I did not have a choice. He had already made the first move. I yielded to what they’d already agreed on.
I left the car and headed to the police outpost. I knew exactly what was going to happen next.
It was roughly less than three minutes. I got some tissue and wiped the sweat off my face and the saliva off my nape and ears.
I went back to the car and sat silently. Yasser stared at me. I did not look back. He drove at 150.
“I am sorry. I love you…,” he whispered while a song played on the stereo. Habibi ana… Habibi ana…
That was our favorite song. We used to sing it together.
I switched off the stereo.
Son of a whore, that PAG-IBIG… my mind was revolting.
But I needed to make my contribution to the PAG-IBIG Fund.
We still had a long way to go. There were five checkpoints ahead of us.
I stood in line at Telemoney. It’s one of the outlets for money remittance for OFWs in Jubail, Saudi Arabia. I have them in hand—the Telemoney card, Iqama, and the amount I was sending to Mama.
The lines get quite long at the end of the month. But I patiently waited my turn along with other OFWs. The office closes at 8.
I glanced at the digital monitor. It said 12.85 PHP = 1 SAR. I calculated the amount I was about to send.
Five feet away, an Arab man was looking at me. He gave me a wink and signaled that we go outside. I followed him to the parking lot.
I climbed into his car.
“How much?” he asked immediately.
“300 Riyals,” I answered.
He took us to his apartment.
I made it quick so that I could still fall in line. Telemoney will be closing by quarter to eight.
As soon as he handed me the payment, the doorbell rang.
“I have another friend…”
I made it quick again so that I could still fall in line.
The doorbell rang once more.
I no longer minded the time. It was ten in the evening. Telemoney was already closed. I just counted the riyals.
I hastily undressed and yanked off the Arab man’s thawb as we entered the room.
“Heard the news about the virus?” he asked as I was about to kiss him.
“I don’t have HIV; I am clean,” I said.
“Not HIV. Swine flu,” he replied while I was groping his dick and balls.
I was annoyed. Why would he talk about the swine flu now? Ah, I remembered the A(H1N1) virus had spread here in Saudi Arabia. What was unfortunate was that the virus’s first carrier was a Filipino woman—a nurse who, after a vacation in the Philippines, showed symptoms of the virus and was bound for Riyadh.
“Because those pigs are very dirty,” he murmured while recalling the news. Not only were pigs unclean, he said, but Islam also forbids eating and touching these animals.
“But I eat pig. You know, pork chop, pork barbecue, pork adobo? Very delicious,” I replied, trying to make him laugh.
“No, habibi. It’s okay,” he reassured me while caressing my breast.
My warm tongue ended our discussion. I wanted to convince him that the pig did not do anything wrong. That’s why that night, I let him treat me like his pig.
Alton Melvar M Dapanas
Alton Melvar M Dapanas (them/they) is assistant creative nonfiction editor of London-based Panorama: The Journal of Place & Travel and Iowa-based Atlas & Alice Literary Magazine, as well as an editorial reader for Creative Nonfiction magazine. Their recent works, delineating poetry and the essay, have appeared in Elsewhere: A Journal of Place (Germany), Sine Theta (China), The Babel Tower Notice Board (England), and Insignia: Asian Speculative Poetry (Japan) among others. Using the penname F Alex San Juan, they have been recently published in Impossible Archetype: A Journal of LGBTQ+ Poetry (Ireland). They identify as pansexual, nonbinary, and polyamorous. A native of Metro Cagayan de Oro in the southern Philippines, they are currently based in Siargao Island, living off-the-grid in between the Pacific Ocean and a mountain range.
|↑1||Bonnie G. Smith, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.|
|↑2||Ang Dagling Tagalog: 1903-1936, eds. Rolando B. Tolentino and Aristotle J. Atienza. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2007.|
|↑3||Literally meaning “love” in Tagalog-based Filipino, PAG-IBIG, an acronym for Pagtutulungan sa Kinabukasan: Ikaw, Bangko, Industria at Gobyerno (in English, “Synergy for the Future: You, the Bank, the Industry, and the Government”) is the home development mutual fund, a Philippine government-owned and controlled corporation under the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development of the Philippines, responsible for financing affordable shelter.|
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