The ethnography Translated Woman

Reflect on the third and final section of the ethnography Translated Woman, by Ruth Behar. The title of the final section is “Literary Wetback,” and invokes the use of a term that has historically been used to denigrate undocumented migrants, pointing to their clandestine crossings of the Rio Grande which would leave them with wet skin on their backs. The term has been translated into Spanish as “mojado” (wet) and is also widely used. To contextualize her use of the phrase Behar includes a quote from Alicia Gaspar de Alba:

“Now there is another bridge to cross, one I have migrated far away from home to find: the invisible bridge between the marginal and the mainstream literary world. Like any frontera, this one requires the ‘right’ credentials or the right coyote to get me across. Without either one, all I am is a literary wetback, but that, too, has its own magic” (231).

Behar goes onto explain that Esperanza didn’t want her to publish a book in Spanish that others in Mexquitic or San Luis Potosi would have access to. Instead she says, “Esperanza has given me her story to smuggle across the border. Just as rural Mexican laborers export their bodies for labor on American soil, Esperanza has given me her story for export only…The question will be whether I can act as her literary broker without becoming the worst kind of coyote” (234).

In writing up your response to this theme please respond to any or all of the following guiding questions:

1) Why doesn’t Esperanza want her story published in Spanish or printed in Mexico?

2) Why is it significant to Behar that she could take Esperanza’s life story across the border with her to the United States though Esperanza herself could not, except as an undocumented migrant?

3) Why does Behar include the chapter, “The biography in the shadow,” in which she describes her own upbringing and he experience in higher education as she pursed her doctorate, and later on as a professor seeking tenure? How does it relate to the rest of the book?

Sample Solution