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Museum Musings

Found in Translation

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At the top of our entrance ramp is a display case where we like to exhibit new acquisitions as well as old favorites from our artifact collection.  This summer, we had the opportunity to display a pocket-sized phrase booklet that was used by Sephardic Jews Cali and Vitali Sadacca who emigrated from Constantinople in 1910.   


The Judeo-Spanish speaking Sadacca family, which settled in Cincinnati, used the side-by-side English, Yiddish, and Judeo-Spanish phrases and sentences in the booklet to communicate with English and Yiddish speakers in their new homeland.  The booklet was published by the Judeo-Spanish (sometimes called Ladino) journal La America, and in addition to useful phrases it contains advice on immigration law and American life, as well as advertisements.   


To me, the progression of the main list of phrases and sentences in the book is really interesting.  The list starts out with mundane, necessary language that immigrants might need to navigate an unfamiliar city – such as that needed to rent a room in a boarding house – which give way to sentences that one would need to find employment.  The sentences soon become more focused on factory work.  The last pages become increasingly labor-oriented, ending with English, Yiddish, and Judeo-Spanish translations of the sentence “Union is power.”  This illustrates the importance of factory work among immigrants at the time, as well as the significance of labor unions in the United States.  It also tells us a lot about the publication’s political inclinations.   


 In  July, we displayed the booklet open to a section about immigration law that includes a drawing of the Statue of Liberty, a patriotic nod to the July 4 holiday. The page has been turned so that it’s now open to a list of sentences, and this week is your last chance to see it on view until it is reinstalled elsewhere in the Museum at a future date.  


-Contributed by, Claire Pingel

Chief Registrar and Associate Curator


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