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Lenore Greiner on Translating Respect

Lenore Greiner on Translating Respect

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Griener explains Aretha Franklin to Nigerian immigrants in Italy @ World Hum.

“Signorina, per piacere?”

I looked up into the ebony face of a young Nigerian man, perhaps 20 years old, both of us students at the University of Foreigners in Perugia, Italy. His earnest, round face towered over me and he wore two sweaters, since Italy is far chillier than his home. In his clipped Italian, David haltingly asked me to translate an American song for him and his fellow Nigerian students. The group watched expectantly from across our dormitory’s dayroom.

Then I heard the song from his battered cassette player: the unmistakable strains of Aretha Franklin’s earthy, volcanic, “Respect.”

I couldn’t help but smile.

“Certo,” I replied.

I crossed the stone-tiled floor, which smelled vaguely of floor cleaner, to join them under a flickering and buzzing fluorescent light.

It felt so delightfully wrong.

Here in this student dormitory run by nuns, where heavy, fortified doors secured the men’s and women’s areas, separated by this uncomfortable room, I was being asked to translate an anthem of the feminist movement that oozed with sexuality. But that wasn’t all.
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