This post contains affiliate links to independent bookstores and publishers.
Kianny N. Antigua is a translator, writer, and Spanish lecturer from the Dominican Republic, currently based in New Hampshire.
A prolific writer of (often) bilingual children’s books—including Greña/ Crazy Hair, Kiara and the Virus/ Kiara y el virus and But There Are No Palm Trees Here—Kianny is also known for her short stories and poetry. She also edited Literary Works by 10 Dominican Women, an anthology spotlighting “ten transcendental Dominican women writers who have lived or live outside the Dominican Republic”.
Most recently, Kianny translated Dominicana by Angie Cruz and narrated the Spanish-language audiobook—a fantastic novel which I told her I loved in my first email, an opinion she confessed to sharing (objectively, of course).
Here, we discuss the experience of translating Angie Cruz’s novel (and her fight to use dominicanismos), the systematic invisibility of Dominican translators in mainstream publishing, and her love of language’s multiplicity (see: some cross cultural “ahorita” confusion).
Lauren Cocking: What does translation mean for you?
Kianny N. Antigua: For the last twenty years of my life, my day to day. I translate everything—songs I hear when I’m driving (or the ads in the carriages, when I used to take the train); what I read; what I think; when I speak to my daughter or partner. I’d never stopped to think about this question, but I’ve always carried with me the monumental weight, gift, of living between two languages, two cultures, two worlds. Two “me”s.
LC: How did you end up working as a literary translator?
KNA: Pure coincidence (y por tíguera, en dominicano)! Five years ago, Paula, a friend of my partner, offered him a translation gig. Something small—translating and adapting a couple of episodes of the Canadian cartoon Caillou—but because of some prior work commitments, he couldn’t accept the offer. When he told me about it, my first instinct was to ask if he’d put me forward. Shameless, right?! He did though, and I’ve worked with Paula Gammon Wilson, the executive director of Pepsqually VO + Design, Inc, for five years. It’s fantastic!
LC: You’re a writer and professor as well as a translator. What does an average day look like for you?
KNA: Madness. I always have a thousand and one things to do, on top of keeping house and looking after my daughter. Luckily, I’m really organised and not much of a “procrastinator”, which means I can do lots at once and not leave anyone hanging while trying. Generally, my workday doesn’t end. When I leave the office—I like to go there, even if I’m not teaching [and] I hate working from home because the home is poorly paid, endless work in itself—I go pick up Mía from school and, after getting her fed, take her to one of her extracurriculars. Violin, skating, arts and crafts, karate, depending on the time of year.
While she’s busy, I keep working, whether editing texts, translating, replying to emails, typing out answers to interviews! From there, I go home to slog over dinner and dishes and dirty clothes…and back to the computer, until both body and brain need to be in bed. There I read, have sex. Come on though, I’m no martyr. There are days—or afternoons or evenings—when I barely get up off the sofa, binging whatever trash flashes up on my screen.
LC: Do you have any writing or translation rituals?
KNA: No, none, except for digging in.
LC: I wanted to talk about perhaps your most recent project, the translation of Dominicana by Angie Cruz. How did you come to the project? Or how did the project come to you?
KNA: The same way I got that first job—right place, right time! A beautiful afternoon in who-knows-what-month, Ángela Abréu—executive director of the Dominican Writers Association—wrote me to ask if I knew a Dominican translator. “Me, me, of course!” At that time, the editorial was only looking for a sample translation from a couple of chapters to share with the people who were going to the English-language launch. I barely have the words—it was magic, marvelous. The public response prompted the editorial to see—sense—the need to translate the novel into Spanish and, well, I already had a foot in the door.
Now, it’s key to add that, if it weren’t for Angie Cruz herself asking (well, demanding, politely) that the translator was a Dominican woman, this project would have never made its way to me or any other Dominican translator for that matter. The system simply doesn’t even take us into consideration.
LC: Yeah, I’d heard she pushed for a Dominican translator. Do you know why she was so insistent?
KNA: Because, no doubt, if she hadn’t been, the editorial would have done the same as usual—it would have put Dominicana in the hands of a Spanish translation agency, or a Mexican, Colombian, Argentine, American, Cuban—whoever!—translator. Anyone but a Dominican translator.
To the publishing world, Spanish-speaking Dominican women are voiceless; we neither write nor translate. Invisible. We’re only valued through English. ¿Por qué? “Literary colonialism”, my partner Keysi would say.
LC: Did you encounter any obstacles in the translation process?
KNA: Like in everything, yeah. The biggest was having to constantly justify the vocabulary options I was putting forward. By which I mean—the dominicanismos that I wanted to incorporate into the novel that’s called Dominicana, the story of which narrates the life of a Dominican girl that lives in the Dominican Republic, who’s forced to marry a Dominican man 17 years her senior, who takes her to live with him in Washington Heights, aka Little Dominican Republic.
LC: The irony isn’t lost on me either! Do you have examples of these dominicanismos that you fought to include?
KNA: I included, or tried to include, all the dominicanismos that I thought necessary, always trying to be faithful to the characters and the story. Dominicans—off all genders—like Cubans and Venezuelans, for example, know “la radio” (with the feminine article) to mean the frequency, and the sound emitted by mean the object, the radio, to be “el radio” (with the masculine article).
So, I really fought for that articulito, that tiny fucking definite article, which means one thing and not the other in our vocabulary. The same thing happened with “bola” instead of “aventón” [sort of like “lift” and “ride” in English]; “ron” instead of “licor blanco” [“rum” rather than “white liquor”]; “estrallar” and not “estrellar” [a different spelling for the “same” word]; “tirar” for “aventar” [“chuck” not “throw”]; “bajita” for “petisa” [two variations on “short”]; “el güevo” for “un güevo” [the former means “penis” in the DR, while the latter means “testicle” in Mexico]. Ay, that articulito changes everything. At least for Dominicans!
LC: And why did you fight for these “tiny fucking definite articles” and other seemingly “minor” things? Why was it so important to preserve these markers of Dominicanness in the Spanish?
KNA: I guess that it was for the same reason Márquez defended his colombianismos and Rulfo his mexicanismos and José Hernández his argentismos and each and every Spanish writer and translator their españolismos. I guess.
LC: Tough to argue with that logic. Given your experience, do you have any advice for translators working from English into Spanish?
KNA: Don’t be afraid of questions or their respective answers. Dig around, be curious, sharp. The fact that we don’t know a saying doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist and/ or that it’s not valid. On the other hand—or the same hand?—cultural context is what will define which word, which phrase, is the ideal one, the necessary one.
LC: To change tack a little, you’ve also written many children’s books. I think there’s an assumption that writing children’s books is easy. What is something the average person doesn’t know about writing children’s books?
KNA: Pictures speak louder than words. (See below.)
LC: What are you working on right now—or ahorita, to use a Mexicanism?
KNA: You see?! Cultural context! For you, “ahorita” is right now; for me it’s later. Ay, I love this about language, its multiplicity and inextricable cultural ties. But anyway, right now I’m working on another translation. (I can’t reveal the title just yet, but I’m super, super happy to have the opportunity to translate this YA novel.) I’m also in talks with one editorial about publishing a short story collection and with another about a picture book. In the meantime, I’m preparing to start the trimester. I’m raring to go!
[Editor’s note: In this context, I absolutely used “ahorita” to mean “right now”, but please don’t get me started on the vagaries of time and space in relation to the Mexican “ahorita”.]
LC: And what are you reading right now?
KNA: Ay, mujer, I’ve got so many half-read books. Una guerra de sueños by Manuel García Cartagena, Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector (a present from Angie Cruz!), Una vez fui tú by María Hinojosa, and tons of children’s books, including those that—whether I like it or not!—my daughter reads to me.
LC: Are there any other translators working with Latin American literature that you’d like to mention or think I should interview next?
KNA: Yaaasss! Kadiri J. Vaquer Fernández (Puerto Rican), who I recently worked with on the Literary Works by 10 Dominican Woman (DWA, 2021) anthology and whose work and passion fired me up.
It’s also super important to mention Rhina Espaillat, doña Rhinamai (Dominican), Rossy Evelin Lima-Padilla (Mexican), Melanie Márquez Adams (Ecuadorian), Edgar Smith (Dominican), Elizabeth Polli (US-ian), Keiselim A. Montás (Dominican), and Lorea Canales (Mexican).
This interview was conducted in Spanish over email, translated into English by me, and edited slightly for length and clarity. Header image of Kianny N. Antigua is © Robert Gil.