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Timeless Translator, Arias, to be Honored at the Smithsonian

Talented translators do more than simply translate words from one language to another. They are capable of translating the entire piece of culture so that it remains in tact even after the language translation. Clotilde Arias, the woman most famous for her timeless Spanish translation of the National Anthem, will be honored with a biographical exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC. The exhibit, called, “Not Lost in Translation,” will feature various artifacts from different stages of her tumultuous life, including journals, photographs, and documents.

Arias As An Agent of Change

After living through the Great Depression in the United States, the Iquitos native worked hard in New York City and was actually an active part of the changes occurring there. Although women were not generally offered the jobs she was interested in, the gender barriers did not stop her from becoming successful in those positions. Though she set out to study music, she actually ended up working as an English to Spanish translator for copy at advertising agencies on Madison Avenue. The famous street is now known for its importance in the advertising world at that time. Arias then made a logical move towards translating American jingles into Spanish for the Latin American audience. From there, her musical translation talents were uncovered and she moved onto her more famous project.

The Challenge of the Star Spangled Banner

After her success in acting as the Spanish translator for famous American jingles, Arias was officially commissioned by the U.S. Department of State to translate the National Anthem. Translating lyrics is not as easy as translating text, since the translation has to fit into the same musical measurements as the original to sound right. However, Arias succeeded with flying colors, and her 1945 translation is still the one used today. People see her translation as a way for immigrants to be assimilated properly and learn the true patriotism of the United States of America. “El Pendon Estrellado” is truly more than a translation.

Arias’ success and achievement as a female translator in the 1940’s is an inspiration, and the exhibit will allow visitors to see her success despite the hardship she endured. The Star Spangled Banner is only one of her achievements. Automated or computerized Spanish translation services could never achieve that level of cultural contextualization, so Arias’ work is proof that human translators will be needed to bridge language barriers for centuries to come.






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