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Colour and light: How art intersects with language majors

By Kerrick Chavarria, December 12 2023—

“I’d give it about 10 years before we get our jobs taken by AI”, uttered a classmate of mine comically. He half-jokingly made his witty remark in the midst of students preparing for a Japanese exam. 

Interestingly enough, that’s been my dilemma. I don’t have a snowball’s chance of making it out alive. I’m a Spanish major — nothing special. I learn a language just to do, well something. Granted, I may not know what that something is. I just know the usual cadence surrounding this topic. “Oh… Spanish”. There’s also “What are you going to do with Spanish”. I can’t forget about my personal favourite: “Maybe you should go into teaching”. Don’t get me wrong, these are valid statements to be made and there is no inherent evil in them. I just so happen to find this to be a usual four-chord pop song  — It’s catchy and it’s bland. Sometimes it’s good to comfort your palate with something simple. Nevertheless, it’s always #1 on the Billboard charts of existential dilemmas of the world. 

Why does this matter? Well, in a time where expediency is valued over quality, we neglect the work that language majors partake in. We often see the work of a language major as an “easy A”, but in reality, the work behind it is much more complex than you think.

It requires the mind of an artist. One who knows how to carefully craft their sentences with precision. It’s more than just learning a language for fun: it’s coming to understand diverse Hispanic cultures and crossing borders through a form of artistic expression through translation.

Amid this chaos, I find myself returning to this same topic unceasingly. However, I’ve found myself in a new dilemma. In the darkness that is futility comes the question of my story: a kid so rooted in music, theatre, and performance — the life that I feel I can’t retain. What will become of him? I, like many folks, make the false conclusion that simply because you don’t have time, you have to wait for your life to ease up in order to do that thing we love.

That, my friends, is a logical fallacy. Let us each be like Socrates and see how wrong we are by searching for the good life. The fact of the matter is, that the very art we partake in is the foundation and environment for our career choices.

Being influenced by Cat Stevens growing up, my passion was always finding a place for my voice to fit in the orchestration of the earthly chorus. I wanted people to know that I loved singing and needed them to know my identity and my style. I wanted them to know my story. It started with car rides, imagining I was strumming a guitar and singing my heart out. People listening to my music. That’s the backbone for my degree — telling stories.

So I set out to do just that in my degree. 

One of the first blessings I received was doing translation work for The Mustard Seed. The litmus test for my abilities to see whether or not I had taken all that I could to bring Mexican government documents to English. Of course, it required style and personality. It required my experience in theatre to really step into my story. I had the script and the various interpretations. All that was missing was for me to establish my role and to foster this small project: a child who needed affection, care and careful attention.

At this point, oh idle reader, you start to wonder if I’m slipping into a world of madness or if I’m overthinking this entire process like an English major (just a friendly jab). However, in the words of Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote: “To what can my barren and ill-cultivated mind give birth except the history of a dry, shrivelled child, whimsical and full of extravagant fancies that nobody else has ever imagined?” I assure you translations have the appearance of absurdity, but I doubly assure you they contain the essence of life. 

The second blessing came from a sage who spoke of mysteries beyond me. He graced me with wisdom from the ancients. His figure was that of a humble music professor, teaching the elements of Progressive Rock. He came about in my first year when I was a Political Science major. I knew not of his presence nor his place in this vast darkness, yet I found myself in his presence — near, yet distant. That spring would prepare me for a lifetime of change. Alone and isolated, I knew not what this meant.

Then light struck me this past summer. I found myself in a class full of pupils eager to discern the mystery of the presence. He appeared once again but with greater gravitas. A name more profound than the rubble of my political cave. He brought about the mysteries of nature and philosophy, of humanity and the destruction of technology. That sage was Dr. Ralph Maier.  

So, if I end up burning into vast nothingness brought on by AI, at least let me burn up with the joy that technology will never capture the human essence of passion, authenticity, and personal identity. A mere mimicry of a collection of artists is not humanity, it is mere destruction. An attempt to sound like an authentic string section will never replace the pure sound of an assemblage of musicians. A crescendo may be replicated, but it will never be an individual. So can it be said with translation. A mere assembly of word-for-word translations will never capture the authenticity of Cervantes, Garcia Márquez or Rubén Darío, the poet of my sincerest affection. 

So why Spanish? For this reason: “I know if I’ll only be true to this glorious quest, that my heart will lie peaceful and calm, when I’m laid to my rest.” The world will surely be better for this. So with my last ounce of courage, I will reach that unreachable star.

This article is a part of our Voices section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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