At home in the Village, Makina works at the telephone switchboard, which is “the only phone for miles,” receiving incoming calls and connecting their dialers with the locals they wish to contact. The people in her rural village would be unable to communicate were it not for Makina’s efforts, and the switchboard thus represents the possibility of people finding common ground despite the linguistic and geographical barriers that separate them, as well as Makina’s literal and figurative role as an intermediary figure among these disparate groups of people. It is also a symbol of tradition—while the rest of the modern world has transitioned to mobile phones and cell towers, the switchboard remains a staple in this insular community. Its enduring importance for the villagers reflects the stark contrast between the impersonal, fast-paced culture of the U.S. and the intimate, close-knit communities that make up rural Mexico. The switchboard, which allows Makina to translate among English, Spanish, and the local Indigenous language, thus represents the strong sense of duty Makina feels to preserve her village’s unique culture and facilitate the relationships that keep it alive: she has to return to keep everyone in touch, because “only she spoke all three tongues and only she had mastered the poker face for bad news and the nonchalance with which certain names, oh, so long yearned for, had to be pronounced.”
The Telephone Switchboard Quotes in Signs Preceding the End of the World
Sometimes they called from nearby villages and she answered them in native tongue or latin tongue. Sometimes, more and more these days, they called from the North; these were the ones who’d often already forgotten the local lingo, so she responded to them in their own new tongue. Makina spoke all three, and knew how to keep quiet in all three, too.