The University Record, September 18, 1995

Theater troupe to perform work based on Behar’s book

By Jared Blank

“Part anthropological study, part gripping oral history, part personal confession and part feminist cry of outrage” is how the Boston Globe described anthropology Prof. Ruth Behar’s 1993 book Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza’s Story.

New York City-based Puerto Rican theater troupe Pregones will present a performance adapted from the book on Sunday (Sept. 24) at 3 p.m. in the Mendelssohn Theater.

The story is an autobiographical narrative of the life of Esperanza, a Mexican Indian woman rumored to be a witch who has cast a spell of blindness on her abusive husband.

Said the New York Times of Esperanza’s storytelling: “Esperanza’s stories are dialogical, and they are performed more than told. Much, then, is necessarily lost in translation. One can only imagine this expressive Indian woman taking the parts of each of her key characters.”

Behar says that the Pregones Theater’s performance is special because it recaptures the vitality of the dialogue that the Times asserts was lost in translation. “I felt that Pregones returned the story to its oral form,” Behar says. “They beautifully bring out the different voices in the story. The actors take turns playing Esperanza and the anthropolgist who is writing about her, and in that way bring out the complexities of thier personalities and desires in producing a book together.

“In some ways I think the play is a better translation than the book. Drama is active. Esperanza said many times that her story should be a film,” she adds.

Behar says that she decided to study anthropology because she wanted to write—she sees a natural connection between anthropology and writing. “I wanted to use language to talk about cross-cultural encounters: being someplace other than your home, finding yourself across the border, finding that you almost belong but not as fully as you'd want to,” she says.

Behar’s themes of belonging and identity have taken a more personal note as she conducts research in her native Cuba, a country she left when she was 5 years old. She says she has “an emotional link to Cuba” but when she is there, many questions are raised about her own personal identity—as a Cuban American, as an American citizen, as a Jewish woman. She adds that her research in Cuba is helping her to “close the circle” in her life.