I sat across from my host mom, fingering corn tortillas and spooning guacamole onto my plate, and told her I planned to see Los Juegos de Hambre: En Llamas, or “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” that evening at the local cinema. I asked if it would have subtitles like Thor: Un Mundo Oscuro, or if they would have dubbed it into Spanish. “The Hunger Games” is an enormous franchise; surely Hollywood could afford the auditory translation, I reasoned. Señora Magda explained that they seldom dub movies other than those for children, simply because they can be too young to read along and understand the plot. She surmised that they would only have subtitled “The Hunger Games,” as neogladiators and dystopian societies bring onslaughts of violence to entice young adults, not the fuzzies for niños.
Her approximation proved correct, as my ears reveled in my language, the language I shamefully admitted to craving while studying abroad for four months. However, my eyes easily followed the Spanish blinking across the bottom of the screen. In one morbid scene, I remember Katniss screaming “Oh God, No!” The accompanying text read Diablo! “Devil!”
The panlinguistic translation utilized literal opposites to communicate the same raging sorrow.
Suddenly the refreshing darkness of the movie theatre vanished and the imagined cool, snowy air of home crept through the window seams as I jotted down notes about “human universals” from Professor Wilson, an evolutionary anthropologist under whom I studied. I earnestly scratched thoughts about marriage, wariness of snakes, food taboos and the like across my blank notebook pages. In his closing remarks, Professor Wilson mentioned that in all his travels, even his experiences in the most remote parts of the world, people proved to be more or less the same. Outwardly, a brown ring from a Turkish tea house staining a passport or beads acquired during the latest moka in Papua New Guinea may seem different, but they signify the same nostalgia to the people that treasure them. People value and understand the same things, even when concrete representations appear as exact opposites.
Navigating the seeming contradictions…that’s a magic greater than Hollywood’s special effects, a magic only found in real life by the most astute.