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Sabers and Utopias: Visions of Latin America
By Mario Vargas Llosa
"But the United States and other countries in the West should understand that solidarity and friendship do not signify vassalage or servitude, but respect and mutual understanding, and this demands a constant effort to understand reciprocal reasons and problems.
This will be achieved only when knowledge replaces the web of prejudices and myths that still greatly distort the images forged in the mind of the South about the North and vice versa. But now, besides the great wave of democracy in Latin America, there is another powerful instrument to achieve this difficult deed of communication and understanding. It is the other factor that can contribute to radically renewing relations between the Anglo and Latin American cultures. I am referring to that world that is so present and that has had such an important role in the modern history of the United States: that of the "Hispanics."
The Latin American community in the United States is, in many states, a presence as alive as it is in Miami. And it is increasingly conscious of its historic tradition, its language and culture, which affects all of North American society. As in Florida, California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, or New York, the Hispanic influence can be seen in culinary habits and ways of dress, in music and religion, and in the way Spanish-language usage has slipped into businesses, shows, services, schools, and street life. It is possible that, long-term, given the traditional ability of metabolism and freedom that it has forged, the United States will integrate this community, as it did with Italians and Poles. But the process will be long and it can be expected that when it peaks, integration will have achieved the feat of opening the minds and spirits of many North Americans to the realities—instead of the myths—of Latin America. Or, at least, to have incited the curiosity and interest of the United States in getting to know them, such that instead of the hate that seems like love, or that hateful love that is still the norm, an equitable and productive relationship can finally emerge between the people of the continent.
This is a task that the "Hispanics" of the United States are already carrying out, although they are not even aware of it. In contrast to politicians, prisoners of rhetoric and of calculations, and diplomats whose life is played out rather removed from the average citizen, they do know the hustle and bustle of men and women on the street. Those in their new homeland and in the homeland they left behind, because of political persecution, know how hard life is, or, simply, the legitimate desire for an improvement. And in contrast to expatriate intellectuals, who have to perform acrobatics to justify their ideological positions, the average immigrant can act with authenticity and dignity.
He knows both cultures in that intimate way born of direct experience, what is lived, and this has taught him—counter to what they say about stereotypes—that despite the different languages (and that in the North there is abundance while in the South there is poverty), the differences are not that big. That beneath the customs, beliefs, and prejudices that make groups distinct, there are basic similarities. Because men and women from both places are interested in the same thing: living peacefully, freely, without fear of the future, with work and the opportunity to succeed. The "Hispanics" of the United States—20 million strong–can be the bridge that gringos and Latinos cross to recognize each other and be reconciled.
(pp. 111-3 "The "Hispanics"; Lima, January 4, 1992)
"This is something that we liberals should celebrate with serenity and happiness, not triumphalism, and with the clear conscience that, although what has been achieved is notable, what still remains to be done is more important. And also that, since nothing is definitive or fateful in human history, the progress obtained in recent decades for a culture of freedom is not irreversible, and, unless we know how to defend it, it could come to a standstill, and the free world could lose ground, due to a push by two new masks of authoritarian collectivism and the spirit of tribalism that have come to substitute communism with the most hardened adversaries of democracy: nationalism and religious fundamentalism."
"Of this kind I'd like to point out an emblematic case: that of Robert D. Kaplan. In a provocative essay, he maintains that, contrary to the optimistic expectations about the future of democracy prompted by the death of Marxism in Eastern Europe, humanity is on the path toward a world dominated by authoritarianism, revealed in some cases and, in others, hidden by institutions of civilian and liberal appearance that, in fact, are mere decorations, since true power is, or soon will be, in the hands of large international corporations, owners of technology and capital that, thanks to their ubiquity and extraterritoriality, enjoy almost complete impunity for their actions. "I submit that the democracy we are encouraging in many poor parts of the world is an integral part of a transformation toward new forms of authoritarianism; that democracy in the United States is at greater risk than ever before, and from obscure sources; and that many future regimes, ours especially, could resemble the oligarchies of ancient Athens and Sparta more than they do the current government in Washington." His analysis is particularly negative regarding the possibilities of democracy managing to take root in the third world."
(p. 153; 157 "Liberalism Across Two Millennia"; Berlin, May 12, 1998)
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