I remember arguing with my Brazilian mother that Latin Americans could not write literature, otherwise we would have read Latin American writers in school. She pointed out the genius of Camoes and Fernando Pessoa, but I was still not convinced that these archaic writers represented the genious of Latin American literature. Many, many years later I was at the University of Minnesota working as a librettist with a modern composer in an opera workshop sponsored by Opera America (back in the days when there was money for artistic experimentation). I was working on a short opera about cleaning women in a large mansion with my composer friend, the late Catherine Stone. Catherine had worked with Latino and African musicians and she introduced me to magic realism. The bizarre thing was, for this project, I was ALREADY writing what we would call "magic realism" but I did not have a name for it. I only knew that fantastical writing felt as natural as breathing. I had abandoned writing some time ago because it did not fit my interpretation of "proper literature." However, this project about magical cleaning women transforming the sterile masion of bored rich women into an undersea kingdom, changed everything for me.
I had never heard of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude, nor, at that time, was I even aware that Latinos "could write." But Catherine took me to a bookstore where she had me purchase a copy, saying, "You of all people, should read this." The experience of the book shook me to my very bones. The plot, one can get online, so I will not go into it here. But what the experience did is unpeel the self-hate I had for my own culture which the world knew as corrupt, lazy, poor, sexually irresponsible, carnal and all the things considered "un-literary." What I found instead, was my culture, deep in history and human experience, with an imagination unfettered like nothing I've ever known. On my first read, I was impressed with the "magic realism" itself, like Remedios flying up to heaven, the heavy rains that soak Macondo for years, and the strange magician with his flying carpet. On my last reading this summer, what I found the most valuable was the theme of solitude; not in the way Americans might define it as being alone. Solitude in this novel is illustrated when Aureliano Babilonia (like "Babel"? like "biblioteca (library)"?) finds the story of his family's past in old abandoned parchments which he spends his life reading and attempting to understand. Solitude is the state of darkness, of ignorance, of being shut off from the world. But like Aureliano Babilonia, I have been inspired to find the light, the way out of my solitude. For me, and other Latinos, we are searching old books for our history, and writing new history as well. We can only hope, in this way, to bring others out of their solitude about our culture. It is comforting to stick to what we already know, to be "ignorant". This is why best seller lists are so popular. But Marquez has shown us that inexplicable events in life, even horrible ones, have meaning because they represent our collective suffering. It is the understanding of this suffering, that gives us "light."
Causes Kathleen de Azevedo Supports
San Francisco Food Bank
Doctors Without Borders
Friends of the San Francisco Library