Monday, May 25, 2009

Bristol Palin's People Cover

"If girls realized the consequences of sex, nobody would be having sex," says Bristol. "Trust me. Nobody."

There's so much wrong with this! Let's start with the image itself, which doesn't match the words below. What consequences is she talking about? A cute baby and getting to graduate? Most teen mothers don't get to graduate, so I'm happy that she was able to, but this picture doesn't help her status as an Abstinence-Only advocate. There are no consequences to be seen.

I imagine inside the magazine (which I did not buy) she goes on to explain what she means by consequences. And she's said on television that taking care of her baby is hard work. So let's focus on her words in the quote.

"If girls knew the consequences..." Why only girls? This is a huge issue I have with the Abstinence-Only movement. The focus is on getting girls to keep their virginity, not boys. I'm going to be very honest in this post, which no one will ever read anyway, when I was young, I was all for abstinence myself. And a part of me still believes that it is in the interest of high schoolers to wait. But when I realized that no one would ever expect the same from my future husband, it made it a lot harder to take seriously. Why pressure girls to be virgins with Purity Balls and Promise Rings, while not encouraging boys to do the same?

"...the consequences of sex..." There is a real problem with founding Abstinence-Only on the fear of consequences. Some people are working very hard to keep birth control and the HPV vaccine inaccessible to teens because, well, if we can't scare teens with the threat of pregnancy and STDs, what reasons can you give? Why is it that teens shouldn't have sex? The problem with using pregnancy and STDs to the advantage of abstinence programs is that it stigmatizes teens and sex and actually hinders public health efforts, like the HPV vaccine. The HIV community has worked so hard to take away the stigma of HIV/AIDS, but it seems certain sectors of our society want HIV to remain a threat so they can use it to convince us all that sex is bad.

"Nobody would be having sex. Trust me, nobody." And why should we trust Bristol Palin? In my own opinion, it really would be better for teenagers to wait, for their own emotional maturity to catch up with their bodies. But just try telling a teen they aren't mature enough for something. I don't really think they will listen to Bristol either. The teens I've met while teaching have a very low tolerance for hypocrisy. And on the cover of People, holding up her adorable child, she is the ultimate hypocrite.

"...nobody." She doesn't say teens or high schoolers or unmarried people wouldn't have sex. She says, if they listen to her, nobody would have sex. That may not be exactly what she meant, but I get a very sad feeling from that statement. She probably had very little time to explore her sexuality before she became pregnant. In public, her sexuality is completely defined by her motherhood and her guilt for not having waited (or for having gotten pregnant ( or both)). But in her private life, what does she really feel about the sex she had? Was it a good experience? Was it her decision? Was it painful for her? If she wants nobody to be having sex, I get the impression that it was not all that great for her. And that's a shame too.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Suriname: Border Confusion

A comment was left on the previous post about Suriname mentioning that I had used an incorrect map. This map is the one they suggested:

When you compare the two, you see that the Southwest corner of Suriname extends across a river in the first map, and in the second that area seems to be part of Guyana. I was not aware that there was any tension between Guyana and Suriname over their borders.

Please, if anyone has some insight into why these maps contradict each other, I would love an explanation. Does the disputed region have some valuable resource? Which country do the people of that region what to be part of?

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Hi friends and family, this is my first post about Suriname. I'll be there from May 31st to August 6th. Tyree will be joining me July 28th. I will be taking a class with Tulane and doing an internship. I'm posting several maps because the most frequent reaction I am getting when I say I'm going to Suriname is "Where?".

Please see the next post for a discussion of this map.

From the
CIA Factbook:

Capital City
: Paramaribo

Official Language
: Dutch

also spoken: English, Sranang Tongo, Caribbean Hindustani, Javanese

Ethnic Groups: Hindustani (also known locally as "East Indians"; their ancestors emigrated from northern India in the latter part of the 19th century) 37%, Creole (mixed white and black) 31%, Javanese 15%, "Maroons" (their African ancestors were brought to the country in the 17th and 18th centuries as slaves and escaped to the interior) 10%, Amerindian 2%, Chinese 2%, white 1%, other 2%

: Hindu 27.4%, Protestant 25.2% (predominantly Moravian), Roman Catholic 22.8%, Muslim 19.6%, indigenous beliefs 5%

Here's a really interesting article about languages in Suriname:
Babel of Tongues

Tropical Decay II

Lately, I've been seeing these signs from the New Orleans Fire Department posted on homes and buildings around town. These pictures were taken on Toledano. I guess it's not strange the Fire Department would want to warn people about the dangers of abandoned buildings; I just think it's interesting they chose to use the X, so eerily reminiscent of the Katrina X.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Proud to Call it Home

I see these bumper stickers all around town. I love them because you can see them in so many different languages, which seems to embrace the various cultures that have gone into creating this city. I've seen French, Italian, Gaellic, Hebrew, Spanish. I'm keeping my camera ready, but please send in any pictures you have of the other languages to

For your own sticker, go to

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sin Nombre

This was an amazing movie. Leaving the theater, my husband said, "This is the new El Norte." El Norte was the film we were shown in high school Spanish in an effort by our teacher to make us think differently about immigration into our country. I in turn showed the film to my students when I taught Spanish. But now I wish I could have shown this movie instead.

Instead of anti-communist military dictatorships, the people of Central America now have to deal with highly organized and violent gangs. I remember one of my Salvadoran students in Gadsden County explaining to me that the gangs ran everything and that's why she left. The MS-13 gang members in the movie use words like "homie" and "bitcha" making the point that these gangs were formed in the U.S. and exported back to Central America when members were deported.

The gang's name "Mara Salvatrucha" is explained by Wikipedia like this:
Additionally, the word mara means gang in Caliche and is taken from marabunta, the name of a fierce type of ant. "Salvatrucha" is a portmanteau of Salvadoran and trucha, a Caliche word for being alert, usually entailing preparedness for crime or abuse from police.

This is also a movie about being on the road. Honduran immigrants travel through Guatemala on foot and then catch a train going north in Chiapas. They are in fear of la Migra before even reaching the U.S. as they are illegal in Mexico too. The train is dangerous, both for the other people riding it and for the risk of riding on the roof of a train.

My only criticism is that Sayra's character is not well developed. We understand El Casper and his desire to leave his past behind. But we don't know Sayra well enough to properly understand what changes the rough journey north might have made in her. And that journey would have changed anyone. She was a flat character set against the very dynamic and moody Casper and that bothers me.

A last interesting point: in El Norte, when Enrique and Rosa finally cross the border, there is a very dramatic scene showing the glimmering lights of San Diego. When Sayra reaches some border town in Texas, we see a SuperWalMart and if I remember correctly....a Circuit City, which is now a dead company. The scene is not beautiful. We don't feel any relief for Sayra having made it. The U.S. is not what it used to be, for them or for us.

Interpretation scene from Spanglish

In this scene we see:

-examples of consecutive interpreting
-examples of simultaneous interpreting
-lack of confidentiality
-lack of objectivity
-yet a high quality of interpretation, nothing is left out or changed

Please see my previous post about interpretation skills.

This scene brings up several good points about interpretation. The little girl does an amazing job interpreting for her mother, but it is entirely inappropriate for her to be the one mediating a conversation between two adults. While I know this is just a movie, I also know that many children end up learning English faster than their parents and therefore often end up interpreting for them. Sometimes they interpret for situations that involve them- like at a teacher-parent conference. Often, non-English speakers don't have a choice because they cannot afford a third party to come interpret for them. But children should not be used as interpreters by their parents and it's as simple as that.

Medical Interpreting and Translation

To continue with my last post about language, I thought I'd share a little of what I learned at a medical interpretation training I took a few months ago. What fascinated me about the training, were the skills that were simply not intuitive. Many bilingual people end up interpreting at some point. But just speaking two languages fluently doesn't make you a good interpreter- and I say that, because I know at this time I am not a good interpreter. Here's what I learned:

Interpretation and Translation are not the same thing.

Interpretation facilitates
oral communication.
Translation facilitates
written communication.

Consecutive interpretation
involves someone speaking a short phrase and then pausing, allowing the interpreter time to interpret. This is the most appropriate method for medical situations.

Simultaneous interpretation
involves a continuous narrative while the interpreter interprets without pauses. This method is usually used in diplomatic situations, like at the UN, and is best for one-way communication, such as a speech.

Sight translation
means reading out an on-the-spot translation of a document.

Ask both the patient and the provider to speak clearly and in short phrases making sure not to leave anything out, or add anything. Interpret everything said at the encounter without paraphrasing.

The interpreter should minimize their importance in a meeting. They should sit beside and slightly behind the patient. They should not look at the provider or the patient. They should insist the provider and patient talk directly to each other.

Speak in the first person when interpreting for both the patient and the provider. Say "I feel like this..." not "She says she feels like this..." The provider should speak directly to the patient and not to the interpreter. Interpreters should encourage the patient and provider to have a good relationship. Our goal is to create a situation as close to an English-speaker's as possible.

If you don’t understand something that was said, don’t be shy about asking to hear it again. If you don’t know how to say a medical term in the target language, ask the provider to put it into simpler terms and interpret the explanation.

next post .

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Espanhol e Português: Common Misconceptions

A few clarifications:

Portuguese and Spanish are not the same language.

Portuguese is not a dialect of Spanish.

Brazilians speak Portuguese, not Spanish.

The word Hispanic means Spanish-speaking. Brazilians cannot correctly be called Hispanic. Latino, maybe, but not Hispanic.

Unless they are from Spain, people who speak Spanish are not Spanish anymore than Americans who speak English are English. Hispanic is more appropriate.

Not everyone who speaks Spanish in America is Mexican.

A few thoughts about Race and Ethnicity:

Ethnicity refers to culture, Race refers to our cultural constructions of the physical differences between us**. The words Hispanic and Latino refer to one's language, and therefore one's culture. Hispanic and Latino are not racial categories as people from Latin America can be of any decent: Asian, African, European, Indigenous.

Have you ever been asked to make choice like this?:

White (not Hispanic)
Black (not Hispanic)
Asian or Pacific Islander

There is something wrong with this form. White and Black are essentially racial categories, while being Hispanic or Latino refers to being from or a descendant of someone from a Spanish-speaking country. For example, it is very possible to be both Black and Hispanic. But if you are Black and Hispanic, most forms don't want you to mark that you are Black. Probably because what they mean by Black isn't race at all, but ethnicity. The cultures of Black people from Latin America and Black people from North America are very different. So what does the form really want to know? Your race or your ethnicity?

What should a Brazilian mark on this application? Well, it's up to them. But, by lumping Hispanic and Latino together, Brazilians in America disappear into the Spanish-speaking population. Why is this important? Brazilians don't speak Spanish, so, services tailored for a Hispanic population aren't going to have the same benefits for Portuguese-speakers.

Brazilians are a racially (and ethnically) mixed nation. The percentages are uncertain, but many Brazilians are of Indigenous, African, European decent. Many are a mix of all three. There is a huge Japanese population. This form doesn't capture the diversity of Latin America. Is it fair to ask Brazilians and Hispanics to deny that they are Black or White in addition to being from Latin America?

These are just a few pervasive misconceptions about race, ethnicity and language in America. Does anyone have anything else to add to the list?

**I say a cultural construction of physical differences, but the word race is controversial. Biologists have suggested that the differences between humans, skin color, etc., are so small that race does not exist at all.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Bristol Palin: Why I feel for her

There is a marked difference in these two videos. In one, Bristol Palin expresses that "abstinence is unrealistic," and in the other she is introduced as an advocate for abstinence-only education. In both videos she appears very much a girl of her age, uncomfortable talking about her sexuality on camera. That's understandable. It's this change of heart about the question of abstinence that is so strange, and the fact that if she doesn't want to talk about choices she made in her own life, how can she teach anyone anything?

Abstinence did not work for her. She is a poster-child for the cultural divide described in Red Sex, Blue Sex. So why does she think it would work for anyone else? She avoids any details from her life, never revealing just why she didn't use contraception, offering no real advice for others, except of course "wait ten years." On the Good Morning America video, her answers seem rehearsed, manipulated. She knows exactly how to derail the journalist's inqueries and answer questions that were not asked of her. It seems she's gotten more training on how to give an interview than how to prevent pregnancy.

I feel for her because it so clearly doesn't matter what she really believes. She knows what she is saying isn't "realistic" and won't help anyone to avoid pregnancy or STDs or the fear and shame she herself is probably feeling from all the attention she is getting. Does she really want to be an advocate? How did she come to be called this? Was this her own idea?

Why are conservatives so obsessed with the way they think things should be that they can not handle the way things really are? Do they think the sky will cave in if people continue to have sex outside of marriage? Why do people think withholding information about contraception and protection - life saving information - is morally acceptable?

If she is anything, Bristol is an example of a failed ideology. I'm sure she didn't choose to be that either. I feel for her, because she seems to have no agency, no voice, no control over her own life. Her image and story are used as examples of all types of ideas: pro-life, abstinence-only, how abstinence-only has failed, of the hypocrisy of the Republican party. But she doesn't seem to have any ideas of her own about what has happened to her. She certainly doesn't have any idea how to help anyone else.

Watch the videos, see for yourself. She seems without a spirit.