the power of words

Today’s guest blogger, Gabriela Sánchez Díaz, is currently a Master of Gender Studies student at Memorial University. A professional percussionist and a Body Mapping instructor, she came to MUN’s Department of Gender Studies interested in the intersections between femininity, bodies, embodiment, movement, and classical music performance. Like Gina Snooks, who blogged last week, Gabriela examines the possibilities of autoethnography – and in the case of Tami Spry, performative autoethnography – as a vehicle for thinking through the politics of embodied experience.

The Power of Words
by Gabriela Sánchez-Díaz

Last summer, I took a course in improvisation and arts-based research. On the last day we gave group and individual presentations. I was in the storytelling group. The idea for our presentation was based on how the Maasai community gathers together at the end of day to tell what happened to them during that day. In a similar way, we were gathering at the end of our course to talk about our experience(s) during the course, but we spoke in different languages — some of us in our mother tongue and some others, in a second language, just inserting some isolated words in English so we could grab the attention of the audience. I talked in Spanish in front of all these people, in a place where I have always communicated in English.

The preparation for this event connected me profoundly with my language. I realised how much I miss speaking in Spanish, and I concluded that a part of myself not only thinks in Spanish, but also feels in that language. Sometimes, when I am here writing, speaking, struggling to find words, I miss bits of myself. I realise how important is for me to write and express myself in my mother tongue with slang, sayings, and those words with the “ch” sound. After that summer course, I decided that for my writing exploration I needed to follow the flow of my thoughts and feelings as they arose, sometimes in English and other times in Spanish.

As part of the research for my Master’s degree in Gender Studies, I am using autoethnography. To this end, I journaled last year from September to December. In the past weeks, I’ve been reading, re-reading, and translating fragments from Spanish to English.

It is not the same.

When I am translating, there are words that don’t sound right. They do not have the same rhythm. There are words that are very similar, for example, fragmentation and fragmentación; however, when my writing is really emotional and it comes from places of anger, I start using harsh words. It is more difficult to translate these and to keep the power of the feeling in the word(s). One of my entries says:

Ahora sé que si no estoy a gusto, se manda a la chingada. No tengo porque soportar “un poquito más.”

According to Octavio Paz, there is a group of secret words in each country, words that do not have a clear meaning, words that we say as emotional reactions that come from the gut and are ambiguous (211). Chingada is part of that group in Mexican culture. It can be a verb, an adjective, or a compound word. A change in the intonation can change the meaning and the intensity of the emotion, even though there is always some degree of aggression and violence in its meaning (Paz 213-14). In the context in which I used it, the meaning is to send something or somebody far away. Maybe my words could be translated as:

Now I know that if I am not comfortable, I can send it to hell. I don’t have to tolerate “a little bit more.”

But “hell” is not the right place! That is not where I send intolerable things and people.

The struggle of translating words and understanding how their meanings are connected with my gut feelings made me think of Gloria Anzaldúa’s texts, where she uses English, Spanish, and Nahuatl (Aztec language). As a reader, I could follow her necessity of writing in mixed languages, but what about other readers? What are the effects of these texts on audiences that speak just one language and that need to skip those unknown words? What is better, the impact of a word in another language or a “close” meaning of the word that is understandable?

Anzaldúa explains her reasons to me:

Until I am free to write bilingually and to switch codes without having always to translate, while I still have to speak in English or Spanish when I would rather speak Spanglish. . . my tongue will be illegitimate. . . I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of existing. I will have my voice. . . I will overcome the tradition of silence. (Anzaldúa 81)

Powerful words to consider.


Anzaldúa, Gloria. “How to Tame a Wild Tongue.” Borderlands/La Frontera. San Francisco CA: Aunt Lute Books, 2007.

Paz, Octavio. “Los Hijos de la Malinche.” El Laberinto de la Soledad. Ed. Enrico Mario Santi. Madrid: Ediciones Cátedra, 2002.


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