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Translator finds the right voice

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Question: Why is a prominent Albuquerque landscape architect deeply interested in the first-person accounts of a 16th-century Spanish explorer?

The architect is Baker Morrow, and the answer boils down to his spirit of sharing: He wants the public to be able to read those accounts in English.

That desire involves Morrow’s talent in his other, less-well-known professional life as a translator. He translates books when he’s not working as a landscape architect and not teaching classes in landscape architecture at the University of New Mexico’s School of Architecture and Planning.

Morrow’s most recent effort was translating Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca’s “The South American Expeditions, 1540-1545,” which UNM Press just published.

“Many years ago, I was an undergraduate majoring in Latin American studies at the University of New Mexico and I was able to study the history, politics and languages, Spanish and Portuguese. I did notice that a number of classics in Latin American history, especially accounts by the first explorers in the Western Hemisphere, were available in those languages, just not in English,” he said.


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So 20 years ago Morrow set to work on translating Cabeza de Vaca’s commentaries, intensely for the last 10 years.

Morrow has been speaking Spanish since he was a kid growing up in Albuquerque and studied the language through middle school, high school and college and during a time in Mexico.

Morrow’s experience as a translator dates to his work on John Donald Robb’s book of New Mexico folk songs. He also translated a book of poems by the Uruguayan poet Juana de Ibarbourou and another historical account, “A Harvest of Reluctant Souls: Fray Alonso de Benavides’ History of New Mexico, 1630.” Benavides was a Portuguese Franciscan who was the third head of the mission churches of New Mexico.