You Can’t Translate What You Can’t See: Between Languages in the U.S. Immigration System
Franke Visiting Fellow Lecture
How are power structures and empathy implicated in translation? What do we owe asylum seekers, and the stories they bring? What does it mean to bear witness, or to take action? Based on her experiences as an observer and translator in different parts of the U.S. immigration system, Alejandra Oliva reflects on the ways, both big and small, that the system fails the people within it—and the shift required to fix it.
Alejandra Oliva is an essayist, embroiderer, and translator working in immigration advocacy. Her writing has been included in Best American Travel Writing 2020, nominated for a Pushcart prize, and helped her secure an Aspen Summer Words Emerging Writers Fellowship. She is the translator for a bilingual edition of A Is for Asylum Seeker by Rachel Ida Buff (2020, Fordham University Press).
Her nonfiction chapbook, Declaration, was published by Guillotine Books (2016). She holds a Master of Theological Studies degree from Harvard Divinity School and works as a communications coordinator at the National Immigrant Justice Center. She lives in Chicago with her husband and their dog. You can see her latest work at olivalejandra.com
During her Franke Visiting Fellowship, Oliva plans to complete her upcoming book project on translation at the U.S.-Mexico border. Her book, Rivermouth, is forthcoming from Astra House in 2023.