Thursday, May 19, 2016

Found in Translation

As an adolescent, one of my favorite pastimes was opening up my family's antique cedar chest, and pulling out a small, brown paper bag that contained all I knew about the life of my maternal grandmother.  The old smell and black and white photos made me feel like I was connected to her.  She died on April 14, 1962, the day my mother was born.
My maternal grandmother, Rosario de la Paz Rios.

Her name was Rosario de la Paz Rios.  She was a 26-year old beloved school teacher when she tragically passed, shortly after giving birth, due to not being closely monitored and having a severe heart condition.  I would spend a good portion of my life trying to piece together what she was like and secretly wanting to be like her.  On rare occasions when I visited with older, maternal relatives I was often told that I favored her.  When I finally managed to muster up the courage to ask a closer family member about her life, I was graciously turned away.  Traditionally, the older generations don't speak of the dead.

I have always known that the bulk of my heritage traces back to Mexico, with rumored drops of Italian and Puerto Rican blood on my paternal side.  I have gone back as far as possible with helpful tools like, but have yet to make it past the early 1900s.  I have been told that it would be necessary to travel into old Catholic churches in Mexico to find records beyond that.  With the current situation across the border, I do not foresee that happening anytime soon.  Plus, I wouldn't know where to start.

Thus, my research was at a standstill for a very long time.  Until recently, I assumed that I would need to be at peace with not knowing certain things about my family's history.  Many of my older relatives were gone long before I thought to ask them such questions, and those alive gave me bits and pieces of information over many years, or none at all.

The only paperback copy my family and I
currently own of Poemas Del Alma.
The answer seems obvious now, as hindsight often is.  You see, it was my maternal great-grandmother, Elodia M. de la Paz, who was a published author.  She penned a book of Spanish poetry, Poemas Del Alma, or Poems of the Soul, that was printed by Rio Grande Printers, Inc. in 1969.  Why I had not jumped at the opportunity to read the book before now is beyond me.  I can only conclude that I was meant to read it for such a time as this.  

Reading through it has been more rewarding than I could have imagined.  It's as if the missing puzzle piece is finally within my grasp!  As I read her words, I felt so many different emotions:  inspiration, pride, sadness and gratitude.  Though this was certainly not the case, I felt like she had written this book, so many years ago, just for me.  This was better than any story I had ever heard about her or other kinsmen.  In reading her story, I learned that she was extremely well educated and graduated from Pan American College.  She later married and had four children, her youngest and only girl being my grandmother.  She was a woman of faith and a dedicated mother.  Originally from Mexico, she was a fan and citizen of the United States, often feeling the nuances of navigating both cultures.

I immediately set out to start translating a couple of her poems into English, but was met with doubts.  Would I do the poems justice?  Could I translate without losing the feeling behind them?  Though I am much more confident translating from Spanish to English than from English to Spanish, I am far from perfect at it.  I asked a dear friend, Carla, for her help in translating certain words and colloquial phrases.  Below is our first collaboration of bringing her work to life in the English language:

My maternal great-grandparents.
Poet Elodia M. de la Paz on her wedding day.
A mi adorada hija Rosario

No me quejo Señor por lo que has hecho
pues comprendo, tus obras son perfectas;
seguiré en Tí creyendo mientras viva
aunque mis ilusiones ya estén muertas.

Quisiste un ángel más allá en tu cielo
y dirigiendo al mundo tu mirada
escogiste a mi santa hija del alma
dejándome a llorar, desesperada.

Pero a pesar del grande desconsuelo
por el dolor sufrido, te bendigo,
porque con él se lavará mi alma
y te agradezco, oh Dios, ese castigo.

Mi fé hacia Tí me hace reconocer
que poco a poco aliviarás mi herida,
manteniendo mi fuerza la esperanza
con la que pueda soportar la vida.

Mi hija se haya en el cielo, ya a tu lado
sera el ángel que cuide nuestra vida;
es lo mejor para ella destinado
pues vivirá, por siempre bendecida.

To my adored daughter, Rosario
(a teacher)

I won't complain, Lord, for what You have done
I understand that Your ways are perfect
I will continue believing in You as long as I live
Even though my dreams are dead

You wanted another angel in Heaven
And looking at the world
You chose my soul's saintly daughter
Leaving me without hope

Though I am deeply grieved
for the pain suffered, I bless you
because with it my soul will be washed clean
and I am grateful, oh Lord, for that punishment

My faith in You makes me recognize
that little by little You will heal my wound
hope maintaining my strength
with which I can bear this life

My daughter finds herself in Heaven, by your side
she will be the angel that takes care of our lives;
it is the best destiny for her
she will live, forever blessed.

Because I looked up to my grandmother so much growing up, it made sense that I would translate the poem her mother wrote about her, first.  In reading through Poemas del Alma, it seems that I have a new heroine:  my great-grandmother, Elodia.  It is a life goal of mine to eventually publish a book.  And not just any book, but a book of poetry.  This whole process has been a reminder that everything happens in due season.  My great-grandmother published her only book long after her four children were grown.  While I do not know if my process will take as long, I know that I need not be in a hurry.

I look forward to the rest of my journey in translation about the life of a woman I never knew, that reminds me so much of myself.


  1. This is a moving sumptuous and personal blog. Your grandmother's poem is heartfelt and I feel privileged to have read it. What a wonderful find and yes, I too believe we find things when the time is right. Perhaps, this is your great grandmother's way of saying, keep going, keep writing. And yes you definitely favor your grandmother, physically and in her love of teaching. I think by sharing your great grandmother's poem, you have brought her and your grandmother to life. They live in you and in your writing. Well done Giana! Well done!

    1. I love these words, Sonya! They are refreshing to my soul! Thank you!

  2. Beautiful post about a beautiful family. Thank you once again for letting us all into a little piece of you and your family past, present, and future. I'm sure you will have a book someday.

    1. Thank you so much, Michelle, dear friend and faithful reader! :)

  3. What a treasure! The love of words lives on through you and your mom and the littles!