Comment: Translating Trump for Spanish-speaking Americans

"How do we show that ‘pussy’ in English is a vulgar term for vagina?" The challenges facing Spanish language news reporters in the US, writes Ann Deslandes.

With ‘sexmonster’, German tabloid Bild has probably demonstrated the most literal translation from English, of a word to describe Donald Trump’s general bearing in the world.

For the Spanish language media in the United States, parsing Trump’s anti-immigration, pro-sexual assault discourse has its own challenges. How, for example, does one translate a turn of phrase so specifically nonconsensual, so particularly gross, as “grab her by the pussy?”

Juliana Jimenez, Miami-based political reporter for Univision, laughs when I ask her this very question over Skype. “Well, exactly; how do we show that ‘pussy’ in English is a vulgar term for vagina, especially considering how many different, region-specific terms in Spanish that could apply? We had to have a rigorous conversation about this in our team which consists of journalists from Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina and Spain. The style guide could only provide so much guidance.”

The team settled on two possibilities - italicising pussy to indicate that it is a foreign word, noting in square brackets that it is a vulgar term for vagina in English; and using c***, which could refer to a number of different vulgar terms for vagina in Spanish that begin with ‘c’. They decided they could also rely on the fact that many people in their audience also speak English and could always corroborate the meaning with the English version of the story.


Translating rude words aside, reporters like Jimenez have thought carefully about presenting Trump’s sexist rhetoric in the Spanish spoken by their audiences, which for Univision ranges from millennials who get their news from a variety of sources to bilingual professionals who regularly travel between the US and Latin America, to Spanish-speaking households for whom Univision’s television channels is their primary source for information and education.

Like many journalists across the globe, Jimenez and her colleagues believe it is important to consider whether Trump’s championing of sexual assault and the objectification of women could embolden viewers or that viewers might not understand why his stance on matters like the age of consent are problematic.

“We try to educate our audience in our reporting by describing things like the leaked audio as 'an obscene video', or referring to the implications of his words as 'sexual assault',“ says Jimenez. “We don’t want to patronise, but we do want the audience to know that this kind of talk is unacceptable and to bring them along with us at the same time.”

In this sense, Jimenez and her colleagues are helping to build the global language around women’s bodily autonomy, the kind that was catalysed by Michelle Obama, who described “that sinking feeling” that we women get when we are ogled by a dude in the street.

Trump’s way with the ladies is not the only matter that has specific implications for Univision’s audience. His policy statements on immigration have caused widespread fear amongst Latin Americans on both sides of the border, particularly his promises to deport undocumented migrants and to build a wall between the USA and Mexico in order to keep any more out.

As Jimenez puts it, the Spanish-speaking media in the USA consists of “immigrants reporting on immigration to an immigrant audience”, and it’s precisely how that audience is served.

“Not much gets lots in translation when Trump talks about things like the wall”, she adds. As such, “we supplement news like that with service journalism - when a new visa comes about we explain it to the audience and provide avenues to apply, for example.”

Univision actively advocates for US immigration reform, and aired the ‘Rise Up as One’ concert held in San Diego at the border between the US and Mexico.

For many Latinos on both sides of the border, Hillary Clinton is hardly a positive choice for US President either.

The recent hurricane in Haiti has provided cause for many to highlight the role of the Clinton Foundation in profit-making reconstruction efforts after the catastrophic earthquake of 2010; and Clinton appears unlikely to redress any of the other generations-long foreign policy failures of successive US administrations in relation to Latin America.

However, at least she doesn’t cause as many style guide headaches for the US Spanish-speaking media as her opponent does.

Ann Deslandes is a freelance writer and researcher. Follow her on Twitter @Ann_dLandes.

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