Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.
The Solitude of Latin America
What does it mean to be alone? Is it possible for an entire part of the world, one containing over half a billion people, to feel alone? It's an intriguing question, and there may be nobody better suited to answer it than Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez, author of the literary classic One Hundred Years of Solitude.
In 1982, García Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his numerous novels and short stories that collectively helped define the distinctly Latin American genre of magical realism. In his acceptance speech, entitled ''The Solitude of Latin America,'' García Márquez used the themes of his novels to highlight the unique place of Latin America within the world. So, how can 600 million people feel isolated in an increasingly globalized world? Let Gabriel García Márquez explain.
Before we can get into García Márquez's speech, we need to understand the world in which he wrote it. In the early 1980s, Latin America was spiraling through a pretty rough decade. The 20th century began with revolutions across this region, many of which resulted in the rise of dictators and tyrants. After World War II, popular rebellions reappeared, but the world was different. From roughly 1950 through 1991, the world was entrapped within the global struggle between capitalist and communist powers known as the Cold War.
Latin American rebellions in the Cold War were actively managed by both the USA and USSR, each trying to sway the economic ideologies of the region. The result was a perpetual rise and fall of military leaders, many of whom drastically violated the human rights of their citizens and some who even undertook ethnic genocides against Amerindian populations. All the while, the rest of the world continued to view Latin America in terms of their own interests. It was in this world that Gabriel García Márquez wrote One Hundred Years of Solitude in 1967, and ''The Solitude of Latin America'' in 1982.
Themes of the Speech
When Gabriel García Márquez won the Nobel Prize in Literature, he drafted an acceptance speech that managed to contextualize the genre of magical realism within the contemporary struggles of Latin America as a region. That's what ''The Solitude of Latin America'' is really focused on: the unique isolation of Latin America within a globalizing world. García Márquez explains both magical realism and Latin American struggles through a few major themes.
The History of Latin America
García Márquez begins his speech by examining the global fascination with Latin America as a place of magic and wonder. He cites authors ranging from Magellan's sailors to 19th century missionaries who told tales of cities of gold, magical creatures, and mythical riches. He also explores the region's more recent history, including the Mexican president who held a state funeral for his amputated leg and the Ecuadorian president whose well-dressed corpse continued to sit in the presidential throne after death.
The point is to illustrate that Latin American history had been defined, to both outsiders and locals, by a degree of madness. The result was twofold. For one, it encouraged a devoutly creative collective Latin American culture, one obsessed with tragedy and magic simultaneously. At the same time, the global understanding of Latin America as a place of fantastical oddity had let the world look the other way as genocidal dictators, poverty, and inequality claimed the lives of millions.
Latin America and the World
The end result of this unique lens through which the world viewed Latin America, according to García Márquez, was isolation. Latin America was viewed as being outside of ordinary experiences. Therefore, the struggles of the Latin American people were either ignored or, perhaps even more troubling, usurped by foreign powers. A large portion of García Márquez's speech is concerned with legacies of colonialism in Latin America--a region that he claims was still deeply influenced by overt European and American efforts at control. As García Márquez says in his speech:
''…they insist on measuring us with the yardstick they use for themselves, forgetting…that the quest for our own identity is just as arduous and bloody for us as it was for them. The interpretation of our reality through patterns not our own serves only to make us ever more unknown, ever less free, ever less solitary.''
So, what is García Márquez trying to say here? The basic idea is that the world views Latin America as it wants to, and not as Latin Americans want them to. Thanks to centuries of colonialism and subsequent decades of interference, the rest of the world acted like they had the right to interfere in Latin American affairs. García Márquez continues to point out a level of hypocrisy here, one that is even manifest in his own Nobel Prize. As he notes, the world was more than willing to accept the creative originality of Latin America. However, the world was not willing to accept the social activism, protests, political ideologies, and economic ideas of Latin America. The world saw this region as a place of magic and tragedy, fit for literature but not self-governance. That, according to Gabriel García Márquez, is how you reduce an entire region into solitude.
''The Solitude of Latin America'' was a speech written by Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez for his acceptance of the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature. García Márquez used the speech to illustrate major themes of Latin American history and contemporary issues in the Cold War, including instability, the legacies of colonialism, and struggles for self-determination. His main point was that the world understands Latin America through a very narrow lens, recognizing its creative pursuits but not its political, social, or economic goals and rights. In the end, Latin America is left out of major world affairs except as a pawn for other powers. This makes Latin America a place defined not only by magic and tragedy, but above all, by solitude.
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