Extraterritorial experiences

I deal in two languages that are not my own. English (which I did start learning when I was a toddler so if not culturally, at least cognitively, I claim as my own) and Dutch of which I am a simple speaker. Then, of course, there is Spanish. My mother tongue (and my mother’s tongue, and my grandmother’s and hers). And I look at the world around me and define what I see what I touch what I experience (this color, that sound, this voice, that landscape, here one flavor there a texture or something said). There are things I know in Spanish and in no other language. There are things I know in English and in no other language. I do not translate those things. These things happen here in this language or there in these other language.

And then there is Dutch. And here, in Dutch I look for words that do not exist. Entire frameworks that define what happens here and now but remain unnamed. The words Other and Othering have been acknowledged to not exist in Dutch and are borrowed from English. This alterity I am part of, this alterity that defines me cannot be named. Dutch media translates “People of Color” as “colored people” and create something entirely new. A distortion of definitions. A new meaning where the colonial burden remains intact. And I exist between worlds and language(s) where I travel to take the definitions because otherwise I cannot speak of. So much that doesn’t exist in this language but the experiences are part of the real and simultaneously the undefined/ what doesn’t “exist” because it cannot be named. And I borrow from here and there, I become a tourist of the strange (and I say “je suis l’etranger”, la extranjera, la que junta palabras como otros juntan figuritas o coleccionan estampitas). I cross through these other languages that are not my own but contain the definitions. And that’s how these unnamed experiences become extraterritorial. Not here, in the language in which they can be named but there, where I find the words. Yo soy la extranjera, and I remain so through the silence of that which cannot be said.

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