Descansa en paz Gabo (1927-2014)

Gabriel García Márquez died on April 17th 2014 in his home in Mexico City.  Although García Márquez was 87 and he had been in poor health for some time now, his death still came as a shock to his readership worldwide, particularly in Latin America.  While many have widely cited his book 100 Years of Solitude as his greatest accomplishment, I find it hard to believe that this is what he will be most remembered for.  The impact and meaning of García Márquez’s life transcends his writing.  What García Márquez did was shape the way the world saw a continent and perhaps more importantly, the way that continent saw itself.  Throughout the 20th century, Latin America has suffered through great violence, dictatorships, and class divisions which have perpetuated poverty.  When García Márquez’s works were published, for a moment there would be peace as an entire continent flipped through the pages of his latest work.

When García Márquez received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982 he went dressed in a Liqui liqui, the formalwear of his native region in Colombia.  At this 1982 Nobel Prize ceremony, surrounded by men of privilege all in black tuxedos, García Márquez seems angelic wearing his all-white outfit.  The day he received the coveted-award, the eyes of the world turned to Latin America and for one of the rare times in the 1980s, it was for all the right reasons.  To his great credit, García Márquez recognized that he was not in Stockholm to represent himself or Aracataca or Colombia or even his fictional Macondo.  That day, García Márquez was the Ambassador-at-Large for Latin America.  García Márquez made abundantly clear that day what the reality was in Latin America at the time and what it could and should hope for,

Image courtesy of Alberto Yoan Arego Pulido, ©2014, some rights reserved.

Image courtesy of Alberto Yoan Arego Pulido, ©2014, some rights reserved.

Latin America neither wants, nor has any reason, to be a pawn without a will of its own; nor is it merely wishful thinking that its quest for independence and originality should become a Western aspiration. However, the navigational advances that have narrowed such distances between our Americas and Europe seem, conversely, to have accentuated our cultural remoteness. Why is the originality so readily granted us in literature so mistrustfully denied us in our difficult attempts at social change? Why think that the social justice sought by progressive Europeans for their own countries cannot also be a goal for Latin America, with different methods for dissimilar conditions? No: the immeasurable violence and pain of our history are the result of age-old inequities and untold bitterness, and not a conspiracy plotted three thousand leagues from our home. But many European leaders and thinkers have thought so, with the childishness of old-timers who have forgotten the fruitful excess of their youth as if it were impossible to find another destiny than to live at the mercy of the two great masters of the world. This, my friends, is the very scale of our solitude.

In spite of this, to oppression, plundering and abandonment, we respond with life. Neither floods nor plagues, famines nor cataclysms, nor even the eternal wars of century upon century, have been able to subdue the persistent advantage of life over death. An advantage that grows and quickens: every year, there are seventy-four million more births than deaths, a sufficient number of new lives to multiply, each year, the population of New York sevenfold. Most of these births occur in the countries of least resources – including, of course, those of Latin America. Conversely, the most prosperous countries have succeeded in accumulating powers of destruction such as to annihilate, a hundred times over, not only all the human beings that have existed to this day, but also the totality of all living beings that have ever drawn breath on this planet of misfortune.

On a day like today, my master William Faulkner said, “I decline to accept the end of man”. I would fall unworthy of standing in this place that was his, if I were not fully aware that the colossal tragedy he refused to recognize thirty-two years ago is now, for the first time since the beginning of humanity, nothing more than a simple scientific possibility. Faced with this awesome reality that must have seemed a mere utopia through all of human time, we, the inventors of tales, who will believe anything, feel entitled to believe that it is not yet too late to engage in the creation of the opposite utopia. A new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.

As you my reader can tell, I do not believe in reinventing the wheel.  Many people have already used a great deal of ink to pay tribute to the memory of García Márquez therefore why not let the author speak for himself?  Yet even the three paragraphs which I have cited in his own words do not even begin to do justice to the intentions behind his work and his life’s legacy.  When García Márquez died, both the FARC and the Colombian government expressed their sorrow for the passing of their country’s favorite son.  Simon Bolivar may have liberated a continent but it was García Márquez who united it.

García Márquez was able to explain to those of us from Latin America that we all share a common humanity.  He told us that it was alright to show the world our emotions and let go of our centuries-old stoicism we used to guard ourselves from the pains of colonialism, racism, crime, and neocolonialism.  When Bill Clinton allowed García Márquez to enter the United States, it was the beginning of a new era in US-Latin American relations.  In some ways García Márquez landing on US soil was an apology of sorts for the horrors that inspired another great writer, the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda to write his magnum opus, La United Fruit Co.  It is my sincere hope that on his deathbed he wore his Liqui liqui and was taken directly to the heavens by a flock of Resplendent Quetzals; anything less than that is not befitting the man who gave us Macondo.  Te extrañamos Gabo.