Vivir en dos idiomas

Vivir en dos idiomas
Vivir en dos idiomas

Readers of Alma Flor Ada’s books and participants in her presentations have been awaiting for this book in which she tells the story of her own life. Alma Flor had already provided us with moments of her childhood in her two books for adolescents: Where the Flame Trees Bloom, Alla donde florecen los framboyanes and Under the Royal Palms and had given us some insights of her writing process, the stories behind her stories and poems, in Alma Flor Ada and You Volume 1 and Alma Flor Ada and You Volume 2. In the recently published Vivir en dos idiomas, Alma Flor shares with the adult reader the most important moments of her life: as a student, teacher, mother, activist, author and professor. She shares with openness and sincerity, and her engaging style as a storyteller, the circumstances that transformed her life, her experiences living in four different countries, the people who influenced her development and the lessons learned from life.

“Vivir en dos idiomas is positioned somewhere between literature and history; it is not, however, a work of fiction.” Using her signature style, Alma Flor Ada crafts an inspiring, intense, and personal examination of her life. This memoir presents the most significant experiences of a writer for whom narrating is synonymous with being, and an engagement that she cannot live without. From the very first pages we discover an extraordinary, gifted life. The author recounts the smallest aspects of an apparently idyllic childhood spent in Cuba -her first school years, and the first encounters with what would later become much more than inseparable companions: books. We will journey with her through ups and downs, through cities and countries in three continents. We will also witness the key incidents that led to her unflagging support of peasant immigrants in the United States. With exemplary style, Alma Flor Ada reveals the story of her career and invites us to find in books a new best friend.

”He vivido sin esperar premio ni castigo, y ahora descubro que el premio ha sido cada día vivido.” Vivir en dos idiomas se ubica en la frontera entre la literatura y la historia. Desde las primeras paginas descubrimos una vida tocada por un don. Con la sinceridad que la caracteriza, la autora hace una exploracion personal, intensa e inspiradora de su propia vida. Este libro presenta las experiencias y reflexiones mas significativas de una escritora para quien la narracion es parte del ser, un compromiso inaplazable. Con su inconfundible estilo, Alma Flor Ada nos relata los pormenores de una infancia aparentemente idiica en Cuba, sus anos de escuela y sus primeros encuentros con los libros, que mas tarde se convertirian en companeros inseparables, amigos, confidentes y portadores de su mensaje. La acompanaremos en su travesia, llena de avatares y logros, por distintos paises de tres continentes. Seremos testigos de episodios que marcarian para siempre su camino, como el contacto con maestros como Paulo Freire y las situaciones de injusticia social que motivaron su infatigable labor en pro de los campesinos inmigrantes en Estados Unidos. En estas paginas Alma Flor Ada nos ofrece, lejos de los reflectores de la figura publica, la posibilidad de ser sus companeros de viaje, mientras revela los secretos de su apasionante trayectoria.

It was indeed a challenging process to decide what from my very long and rich life to include in a book of memoirs, and a challenge as well to decide on the style of the book.

The book was started initially at the suggestion of Amaya Elezcano, a wonderful Alfaguara editor in Madrid, Spain, who encouraged me to work on a series of three books corresponding to different phases of my life. Later, another talented editor from the Alfaguara group, Silvia Matute, decided to publish the work in the Aguilar autobiographical collection as a book with three distinct parts.

The first section, Porque empecé a vivir [Because Life Began][G1] covers the years from age fifteen to twenty, when I lived partly in Cuba, partly in the United States. It explores my first experiences of living in a different country, of trying to study and learn in another language, of awakening to the destructive forces of racism and discrimination which could lead people to renounce their own language and identity. The reflections brought about by these experiences would have a lasting influence on my life. There are also more intimate reflections about my own spiritual search.

The style of this first part is different from the other two. Because Cuba played such an important role in defining my experiences, I felt the need to share some sociocultural content with the reader. To that end, each chapter is preceded by a vignette depicting a specific geographical, social or cultural aspect of my country that frames, or influences, the personal experiences.

The second part of the book, La lengua se hizo matria [Language Became the Motherland] covers the period of my life from twenty to thirty-two years of age. During that time, I lived and studied in Madrid, Spain and in Lima, Peru, and did postdoctoral research work at Harvard University through the Radcliffe Institute. It was a period of great change in my life. While I insist that I have never left Cuba, which is so much a part of me, I had to learn to live outside of my country, and far away from everyone I knew and loved. During that period I developed a profound love for another country, Peru, completed a doctorate, met some extraordinary teachers, and began publishing. But above all, during that time I began my lifelong work as a bilingual educator and the essence of my whole being was transformed as I became a mother.

The third part of the book covers some of the work experiences and ongoing reflections that have made up my life of advocacy in the United States since 1970. It explores the influence that Paulo Freire has had on my life and work, as well as what I have gained from working with farmworking families and from the dialogic process of learning alongside my doctoral students at the University of San Francisco and all the teachers whose classes and schools I have been privileged to visit.

Embarking on the introspective journey that writing a memoir requires is both difficult and demanding. At times, one is drawn so strongly into the past that it becomes difficult to be present in the here and now. Some of the memories are painful and haunting and if, until now, they have been explored only superficially, facing them may indeed be a hard task. Yet, how rewarding to be able to revisit one’s life!

A popular Latin American song says: Recuérdame, que recordar es volver a vivir… [Remember me, for to remember is to live again…]. And of course, that means to live again both joys and sorrows, successes and mistakes, presences and losses. But above all, to remember is to accept the opportunity to keep on learning from life… and I, for one, found there is much still to learn.

Sharing it, amidst smiles and tears, has been an act of love. It started with finding compassion for the many persons I have been, from girlhood to adulthood, but became above all an expression of love for all who in one way or another have been part of the story, and for the unknown readers who may find in these pages, I hope, an invitation to explore their own inner journeys.

But no matter how long, rich, and diverse the experience, there is one word that sums it up perfectly, a word that expresses the overwhelming feeling that is left at the end of the process: gratitude.

Thanks to life, to existence, to everyone I have encountered along the way, and to each day.

I have lived without expecting either punishment or reward. Now I discover the reward has been each day I have lived!

Noticias Terra : La cuentista y educadora cubana Alma Flor Ada revela en sus memorias una vida marcada por la lectura, los viajes y los recuerdos de su patria. Aunque la prolífica escritora ya había detallado en dos libros anteriores su quehacer literario y las historias personales que dieron lugar a cuentos y poemas, en “Vivir en dos idiomas” Ada examina los eventos más significativos de su vida para un público lector adulto. Dividido en tres partes, “Vivir en dos idiomas” se lee en ocasiones como un diario de viajes, pues son muchas las culturas con las cuales Ada ha entrado en contacto, a través de sus estudios, viajes y lecturas. La primera sección, sin embargo, tiene un tono particular que la distingue de las otras dos, ya que medita sobre el contexto cultural en que creció, salpicando su relato con canciones, anécdotas y poemas. Esta parte recoge recuerdos y relatos de su querida Cuba al igual que sus primeros encuentros con la cultura estadounidense. La segunda parte, trata de su formación académica en España, Perú y EEUU y su transformación personal al hacerse madre. Y la tercera aborda su labor educativa y literaria en EEUU, donde ha residido desde 1970, y la influencia de Paulo Freire en su incansable labor social. Muy pronto en la lectura nos damos cuenta que la infancia de Ada fue privilegiada, no sólo por la soltura económica de su familia, sino por haber contado con el apoyo de sus padres para explorar intereses a menudo contrarios a las normas sociales de la época. Ada recuerda, por ejemplo, que al cumplir los quince años, sus padres le dieron la opción de pasar un verano en un campamento en el extranjero en lugar de marcar la ocasión con una fiesta, como era habitual para entonces. Lectora y estudiante voraz, Ada aprovecha la oportunidad para asistir a un colegio de niñas en Pennsylvania, donde además de aprender inglés con compañeras igualmente privilegiadas, observa por primera vez el maltrato al que eran sometidas algunas de sus compañeras por pertenecer a un grupo minoritario. El tono de “Vivir”, sin embargo, no resulta pomposo, sino sincero y agradecido. Si bien resulta admirable que en su itinerante vida la escritora haya siempre obrado con tal rectitud, identificándose contra toda injusticia y logrando efectuar cambios verdaderamente asombrosos, es preciso recordar que en la lectura de autobiografía a veces se dice más en lo que queda fuera que en lo que se incluye. Las memorias literarias tienden a no diferir tanto de la buena ficción, en que nos invitan a reflexionar sobre nuestra humanidad y a llegar a nuestras propias lecciones, si es que las hay. Desafortunadamente, en más de una ocasión las memorias de Ada adolecen de didactismo. En una anécdota particularmente resonante, Ada recuerda su trabajo aun de estudiante en un orfanato de Denver. Ada y unas compañeras solían ayudar a bañar a los niños, muchos de los cuales eran hispanos, y les contaban historias en español e inglés después de terminar sus quehaceres. Un día, Ada cargaba a una niñita de tres años a quien le había tomado un cariño especial. Comenzó a contarle un cuento en inglés y la niñita la interrumpió para pedirle, en inglés, que lo hiciera “de la otra manera”. Como la niña le hablaba en inglés, Ada le preguntó que por qué quería que le hablara en español. La chiquita le contestó: “Porque así se oía mi madre”. Podemos imaginar el efecto que esta experiencia pudo tener en la joven Ada y deducir la importancia de la relación afectiva de los niños con la lengua materna. En este caso, como en muchos otros, la anécdota desnuda, sin comentarios o explicaciones, hubiese resultado más efectiva que seguida de un párrafo explicativo como aparece. Aún así, el libro describe la vida ejemplar de una escritora que ha dejado un importante y prolífico legado “en dos idiomas”.


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