Translation as Transmigration
“IT IS NORMALLY supposed that something always gets lost in translation; I cling, obstinately, to the notion that something can always be gained,” remarks Indian writer Salman Rushdie in Imaginary Homelands(17). The topic of cultural translation has been extensively assessed in postcolonial writing and criticism, yet few scholars have acknowledged that a wide variety of contemporary ethnic American writers from diverse time periods deploy questions of literary and cultural translation in their works. Although most of their texts are written in English and the ethnic language is most often transcribed into English words, ethnic American writers maintain a constant preoccupation with questions of cultural translation: Who can be a translator? What can be translated? When a second- or third-generation child no longer speaks the parent's ethnic tongue, what gets “lost” in translation? And what might be “found” in translation? Finally, as Gustavo Pérez Firmat phrases it in a clever linguistic wordplay, how might “translation [take us] to a place where cultures divide to conga” (Life 21–22) — where they mesh, mingle, and re-create themselves in a border zone or even border dance of linguistic and cultural free fall?
Through analysis of twenty works of fiction and autobiography written by contemporary ethnic writers, this book examines the simultaneous loss and gain of translation. I demonstrate that there is a trope of cultural and linguistic translation specific to this body of writing and distinguishable from the treatment of this topic in Anglo-American literature; this trope involves transcoding ethnic-