Translator’s Note

David M. Brunson

Ivana Aponte is an exciting new voice in Latin America and it is my great pleasure to present her poems in English translation for the first time. I first became aware of Aponte’s work as I was collecting poems written by Venezuelan migrants in Chile for an anthology. In recent years, over six million Venezuelans have left their country, fleeing hyperinflation, food shortages, and repression under the current dictatorship. Hundreds of thousands have entered Chile. In the mid-2010s, the first waves of migrants, like Aponte, arrived in planes, secured visas, and integrated into Chilean society and culture. Since then, the situation has deteriorated, especially since the onset of COVID-19. According to the UN Refugee Agency, 400-500 Venezuelan migrants cross into Chile from Bolivia daily, on foot, often weathering the extreme climates of the Andes and the Atacama Desert. Following the UN data, an estimated 21 people died in 2021 while attempting this crossing. Upon arrival in Chile, many are unable to work, lacking proper documentation, so they end up in encampments in cities such as Iquique and Santiago.

This migration crisis has also lead to a surge of xenophobic and nationalist rhetoric by sectors of Chilean society. Many Venezuelans have been harassed or attacked by police and Chilean nationalists. For example, in September 2021, Iquique’s police forced the removal of an encampment of 100 undocumented families who had set up shelters in a public park. The next day, nationalists attacked the families and burned their belongings while singing the national anthem. As I write this, in a top Twitter trend, socially conscious Chileans are denouncing a nationally televised interview in which a Chilean man pined for the days of Pinochet’s military dictatorship and the murder of migrants. The situation is truly untenable.

I must provide this context, as it is essential for understanding Aponte’s work. For this reader, these poems strike an important balance between technical skill and social urgency. The poems in this selection provide voices to the undocumented and voiceless. They explore not only the reality of Venezuela the country, but also that of “The Venezuelans,” the people themselves who sign off the poem “Dispatch.” Despite their unflinching portrayal of the migrant crisis, I’m amazed at Aponte’s ability to also demonstrate hope and joy in her work. In “Laughter as River,” joy becomes not just a survival tool, but an act of resistance. In “Migration,” hope is “our instinct to survive / on this geopolitical patchwork quilt / worn threadbare but sewn up again.” This poem recognizes that hope, however fleeting or abstract, is what underlines migration — the hope to be reunited with family and loved ones separated by politics and borders, the hope for something better.

As a translator, I’ve had to navigate Aponte’s diverse array of forms, from the anaphoric “Laughter as River,” to the prose of “Moles,” to the found form of “Dispatch,” which reappropriates the language of organizations that ultimately fail to do anything more than showcase lofty rhetoric, to the collective voice poem of “Migration.” My goal with these translations is to find a common idiom, in English, that allows Aponte’s voice — and the voices she represents — to emerge through the borders of form, language, and culture. Fortunately, I’ve been able to work closely with Ivana Aponte throughout the translation process. I thank her for her invaluable input and for entrusting me with her work.

These poems will also appear in the anthology A Scar Where Goodbyes Are Written: The Poetry of Venezuelan Migrants in Chile, forthcoming from LSU Press in 2023. For those who can read Spanish, Ivana Aponte’s debut poetry collection, Afectos, will be published in both print and ebook by LP 5 Editora, in Santiago, Chile, in April of this year — an event not to be missed.


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