Blogger of the Week: Gabriela García-Calderón



Gabriela García Calderón may be the star translator of Global Voices in spanish. She translates on a daily basis for our publications, and as if that weren't enough, she still has time for writing in her personal blog, Seis de enero (January 6th). On a Lima morning, we met to have a drink and chat about various subjects. Here are the results.

Hello Gabriela, lets start with one curiosity of mine. As a professional lawyer, what gave you the idea of embracing other hobbies, such as translating?
Little more that a year and a half ago, after almost 14 years of practicing Law as a self-employed lawyer, I felt I had to try some additional activities in my spare time. Among the professional options I had in mind when I graduated from high school were Diplomacy and Translation. I finally chose Law, because since I was 8 my dream was to be a Diplomat, which in the end didn't happen. But languages always attracted me, and those urges of translating texts from one language to another in order to make them understandable to other people were never really gone.

I have never thought about it before, but I can see that both Translation and Diplomacy are professions that bridge people; both have to do with combining characteristics from different cultures, nations and lifestyles. That idea of [studying] Diplomacy came from a Polish friend I met when I was 8 – she was the daughter of a official from the Polish Embassy in Peru and we became best friends. Her dad's mission ended on the early 80's, and I lost track of her. Years later, her dad came back as Ambassador. I don't know how I had the nerve to call him and ask for his daughter, I mean, this is an Ambassador we are talking about! But he remembered me perfectly. He gave me my friend's address in perfectly spoken Spanish, and that's how I found her after all those years.

And how did this urge lead you to Global Voices?
At first, what I was interested in was translating more than anything else, as a collateral and different activity to what I have been doing in the previous years, without leaving Law aside. Gradually, I started realizing that it was a way of getting in touch with life elsewhere, with daily life in other contexts where people consider things we don't even think about around us. For instance, holidays in Muslim countries. It was important for me to realize that some dates that are so important for others while here we barely know about them. Those testimonies are much more valuable when they come from ordinary people who might go through lots of experiences in their hometowns that are similar to the complaints we have in Lima on the spreading of road works, for example, all the way to things like direct testimonies about the bombings in Gaza.

My link with Global Voices (GV) started by chance: on a Saturday in November 2007, I was reading the newspaper and I see this piece saying “if you want to join this translation project, just send en e-mail to Juan Arellano.” That very day, I got an account on GV and I started learning how to edit texts. From then, I just carried on.

What were your previous experiences translating? Was it very different from what you had done before?
In the last few years, I had done some occasional translations, always with family friends because I am not a professional translator. That's why it had to be done for people who knew me and who would trust in the ability of someone who isn't a professional translator. I have even completed that translation of a book about Pope John Paul II, from Italian to Spanish. The author, a Polish journalist, former Polish correspondent in the Vatican (currently back in Warsaw), authorized me to translate it. That was shortly after John Paul II passed away.

This is very different, because GV texts come from ordinary people, the so-called men in the street, the voices of those who don't have a voice, people next door that tell us how their lives are affected sometimes by everyday issues and by not-that-everyday issues too on a Web site with global reach. I sometimes read notes on the newspapers, about events I have translated, about subjects that make front pages in the countries where they have happened. Second, because I find it fascinating to be able to read the opinion of a Trinidadian girl that tells us about something as simple as significant as the love she has for her grandmother, or the Chinese citizen and his impressions about the 20 anniversary of Tiananmen events.

And the best part is that I've been able to establish virtual friendship with people I've met thanks to these translations. One of them is Coffeewallah, from Trinidad and Tobago, precisely the one who told us about the love for her grandma. She even dedicated a post to me. That was so exciting for me, for I didn't expect it and I was speechless as I was reading her text. Another one is Mariyah, who blogs from Syria, and whose blog I got to know via a translation of a post for GVO.

Before getting involved with GV, is it true that you were not aware of things such as Web 2.0 or the blogosphere?
That's correct, I'd heard very little about Web 2.0. To be honest, even now I really don't understand very well what it is all about. Regarding the blogosphere, I read and commented in some blogs on a regular basis, but that was pretty much it. In fact, I think I didn't even know the term blogosphere. At first, it seemed to me an exclusive closed club, and we as readers had some access and that was it, like voices without votes. After a while, I realized that the blogosphere needs the blogger-reader feedback and reader-blogger feedback as well, and many times it needs the feedback between readers that start dialogues through their comments. That's why I don't understand what's the point of blogs that don't admit comments, bloggers that don't reply comments and those who censor comments they don't like. As is usual, we can find a little bit of everything.

Shortly after joining GV in Spanish, you were “encouraged” to have your own blog. How do you feel about it now?
I was encouraged [to have a blog] because what we translate here are blogs. At first, I went through some kind of stage fright: I had the blog already open but with no posts. I felt no one, or very few people, would be interested in a very simple anecdote as the guy selling churros at a corner in Lima, or memories I keep of endlessly beloved ones that are not around anymore, or those simple simple stories I talk about sometimes. Juan Arellano, our editor, told us not to write about complicated subjects – not at first at least…that it would be better to start with the subject we knew best, that is, ourselves. And little by little we'd get used to writing. In my case it worked like that, even though I've made the decision not to speak of politics at all, that's what experts are for.

Now that I mention the guy selling churros, here is what happened to me as a result of that post. I posted it on March 2008, and in June 2008 I received a comment from a Peruvian girl living in Argentina, telling me she came by chance to my blog. She was looking for the blog of a friend of hers, an Argentinan girl from Córdoba, that had posted about the same guy who sells churros in Miraflores. No one can tell me that the blogosphere is not a handkerchief: it turns out that the father of this Peruvian living in Argentina, with a very good blog about cooks, was from Nauta. My mom is from Yurimaguas, and knew an aunt of this Peruvian girl, who had lived for a while in Yurimaguas. It was surprising to find out that the cousins of this Peruvian blogger had played pranks while growing up with an aunt of mine in Yurimaguas.

As one can see, my blog, Seis de enero, has also allowed me to make new friends I would not have dreamed of before. If the person who encouraged me to start a blog would have told me so, I wouldn't believed it. When e-mails took the place of actual mail, I thought that the emotion that comes with receiving news from the other side of the world was forever gone. It's not quite the same, but the emotion is still there.

Would you recommend starting a blog to others?
Sure I would. In fact, I'd say not to doubt it for a second. It is an unpredictable way of expressing ideas, of being related with other people's opinions and experiencies. It may sometimes be useful to find out facts about ourselves that wouldn't be apparent otherwise. Whether it's a blog in which simple and everyday incidents are told, as mine is, or a recipes blog – which I may say are truly successful – or a blog about politics and current affairs…It doesn't matter the subject, it doesn't matter whether you talk about this or that, as long as it is a subject in which we have solid knowledge, and remember never to be disrespectful to anyone. There may be some people who won't agree with you, but that's only a part of the plurarity we can find in the blogosphere.

What's the reason for the name Seis de enero (Janury 6th)?
It's simple: it's my birthday. It was the first thing I came up with when I decided that my posts would be about my own experiences. When I was making the register of the name I thought maybe it was already registered. Fortunately, that wasn't the case.

And your experience in GV, do you think it is useful in other aspects?
It is indeed. As a matter of fact, though, what I learned in one of them was applied on the other one. I remember when I first started with GV, I used to run away from posts that included videos, simply because I wasn't able to insert them, until I had the idea to do so using HTML code, which is what I use when the post I pick up contains too many images, it is easier to do it that way. I think that is my major achievement, and I guess I wouldn't have figured it out had I not had the blog. Besides, I think that making translations from English to Spanish constantly has helped me learn much more. It's not just about the academic language learned from grammar, with its rules and exceptions, but richer speaking forms, more colloquial ones from each place around the world, especially the ones where English is the most spoken language.

Why do you think a man in the street should read GV in Spanish?
Because of the news from around the world,  everyone may realize that everywhere there are people with the same problems. Or with completely different ones from ours, but that are so present in their lives just as it had been, in a time that I really hope never comes back, blackouts and bomb blasts. To realize that we are not on our own, that unrest can be found everywhere and yet people move on, that dialogue is the most important thing, that we must communicate in order to understand each other, that we may disagree, but that is not a reason to consider other people as unworthy because they think differently.

Returning to the first question, what is your specialty as a lawyer?
For about the last five years I am fully dedicated to Arbitration, a way to solve conflicts between parties using an alternative to the Judiciary. At the time of carrying out a contract, the parties agree to resort to an arbitration in order to solve their disagreement. They settle the terms for carrying out the arbitration, and the arbitrator can be a sole arbitrator or be part of a court. I've worked both as a sole arbitrator and as member of a court. It is always a very enriching experience, you get to learn from the other members of the court, from the parties, from the legal secretaries who help you all along the process.

And what do you think is the situation of Peruvian bloggers facing our legislation? For example, would it be easy for a blogger to be involved in legal problems for posting against the government?
I really hope not. I've read and translated a lot about bloggers in other countries being held in prison and mistreated for posting what they think about this or that matter. Just for expressing ideas or thoughts! I guess the problem may exist when, misusing anonymity, a blogger dedicates time and energy to discredit other people without evidence. That's a powerful tool that can be misused in the wrong hands. Of course there is always the possibility of a rectification, but many times the damage is done and hardly repaired.

You said that your family has ancestors from our Amazonian region. What do you think about the recent events unfolding there?
My mom and all my family from my mom's side is from that part of Peru. My mom was born in Yurimaguas, precisely. From a long time ago I have had the feeling that that whole region only exists when there is an invasion from Ecuador. Just to speak about a concrete point, the highway Tarapoto-Yurimaguas, now that it appears every headline. It is about 130 kilometers long. Just a few years ago, it was just a road, a simple way. It wasn't conceivable, but it took 6 hours to travel across that distance. I am aware that there is a highway now (after having heard my whole life that it was the next work to be done) and now it takes two hours to travel that distance.

I don't think it is possible that in that huge territorial area, so enormously rich in so many resources, there are almost no airports, the roads are not properly conserved, the villages are almost completely isolated and the utilities are so precarious. Back to Yurimaguas, there used to be an airport, but now it is hardly used because the runway is too small for big airplanes. And it just stayed like that, nobody cares and nobody does anything to link the population with the rest of the country. In the '70s, when I first went to Yurimaguas, there was electricity only some hours per day. I've always known that during the golden years of the caucho exploitation, the wealthy families sent their children to study in Europe. I assume one of the reasons may have been that coming to Lima was too complicated. While across the Amazon river, getting out to the Atlantic Ocean may have been see as more feasible. Anyway, I want to express clearly that I don't justify any kind of violence whatsoever, no matter where it comes from. As Gandhi used to say: an eye for an eye and we'll all be blind. But I've just said before, political subjects are meant for the experts.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Yes – that I feel very comfortable with being part of this wonderful community, that has made me meet a handful of wonderful, dedicated and interesting people. Lingua, GV and all the other projects give voices to those who normally don't have a channel to express and share feelings, ideas, opinions, thoughts, nuisances, injustices, joys and pains.

Thank you, GV.

Thank you Gabriela.

N.B. – for those of you that may want to listen to our voices, I include a short podcast with greetings from Gabriela to the readers of Global Voices Online.

The picture in this post is by Isabel Guerra and has been used with permisssion.


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