This chapter focuses on Latin American activists and their mediation of symbols and experiences with a view to effecting political and social transformation. First, the chapter examines testimonial writing, a genre as definitive of the region as ‘magical realism’. Two texts are considered: Nunca Más (Never Again), Argentine novelist Ernesto Sábato’s introduction and presentation of the testimony of survivors from the 30,000 ‘disappeared’ under the military dictatorships (1976-83), and Yo, Rigoberta, (I, Rigoberta Menchú) the life story of a Guatemalan Quiché, describing the making of an indigenous activist under the violent military regimes of the 1960s-80s. The telling falls within the contentious – and contested – area of oral history, re-related as testimony by a foreign anthropologist (Elizabeth Burgos-Debray), reaching mass audiences when Menchú won the Nobel Prize for Peace through her activism in 1992. Second, the chapter looks at songs and how they translate both cognitive and non-cognitive modes of understanding the world into cultural resources that allow for a collective (re)interpretation of events. These processes are examined via two cases studies: the songs of Mexican singer/songwriter Judith Reyes (1924-88), which chronicled and circulated eye-witness accounts of the Tlatelolco massacre of 1968, and the songs of Venezuelan singer/songwriter Alí Primera (1942-85), which denounced the economic, cultural, political, racial and environmental impact of the oil industry on his country and which were reinterpreted in the Chávez period as precursors of Bolivarian political thought. We conclude by arguing that a focus on the translation of lived experiences across different modalities of expression – from experiences to words, and from symbols to songs – illuminates the unanticipated ways in which testimony and social activism intertwine.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Translation and Activism
EditorsRebecca Ruth Gould, Kayvan Tahmasebian
Place of PublicationUK
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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