Elevate Difference

Translating Childhoods: Immigrant Youth, Language, and Culture

Writing a book and having it published is not the accomplishment it used to be. While academic presses are not known for being as competitive as popular presses, they appear to be on the precipice of absurdity. Translating Childhoods: Immigrant Youth, Language, and Culture is an additional finger’s width of movement toward the edge.

Translating Childhoods is an ethnography. Its research was conducted through observation and collecting data from diaries and interviews. The author studied children of immigrants (and at times immigrants themselves) who fulfill the function of translator for their family, and this is the subject of the book.

Faulstich Orellana, while able to avoid participation, chooses to wade into the ongoing debate in the social sciences about whether, as such, the social scientist should act as a physical scientist. Should they aim for aloofness and attempt detachment, or acknowledge their biases and preferences and address them in their writing? She subscribes to the latter position. Married to an immigrant, much of her motivation and mindset in writing this book are acknowledged by her as being the result of her personal relationships.

Child translators form a stratum of unrewarded workers in society, particularly important in a globalizing world. The children acting as translators are unrewarded in monetary terms while being relied upon for financial matters, and precariously teeter on the edge of adulthood while remaining children. Faulstich Orellana would like to focus on the often ignored economic implications of this work, an emphasis which forms a basis of feminist theories in political economies. Ultimately, subordinates in society often work the hardest while earning the least both financially and socially.

The book reads as many other academic books do: as a formulaic, un-inventive, well-stated thesis in a poorly written publication. While the subject is interesting, it is insufficient. Faulstich Orellana creates additional suspense by emphasizing the dichotomies of the children’s familial positions—child and authority figure, dependent and depended upon—however, these are inadequate in holding the book up, and 125 pages (not including appendices) felt more like the reverse, 521 pages. Faulstich Orellana’s fastidiousness in defining her terms and explaining her methodology contributes to the uninitiated reader’s understanding; however, her circular references, not very cryptic foreshadowing, and academic namedropping make this brand of scholarly writing particularly unreadable.

Written by: Elisheva Zakheim, October 16th 2009