The famous writer, now deceased, came to our city last year.
But here, few people noticed he was around and not many attended his lecture at the Philadelphia Free Library in Center City, probably the first and certainly the last one he did in our city.
The paper of record of the city, the Philadelphia Inquirer, totally ignored him that day he was here in 2011, although Fuentes’ fiction is translated into English by the Philadelphia resident and Penn professor Edith Grossman.
But that was not enough for our main newspaper, which was slow to feature an original piece about the sudden passing of the Latin American writer this past Tuesday in Mexico City.
While the rest of the world laments the loss of Fuentes, and as France gets ready to receive his body for a final burial, the Philadelphia media seems to display mostly low esteem for Mexico and Mexicans.
A Mexican intellectual? A Latin American man of letters? Work of literary art in Spanish? Is that possible at all? In a city so limited in its exposure to the rich Latino culture — even though Latinos are 12.29 percent of the residents of Philadelphia — it’s apparently hard to speak in such glowing terms.
John Timpane, for example, one of few writers left at the Inquirer with some capacity to write about Latin American issues, started his column on Fuentes this week describing Mexico as a country “so impotent, so chaotic, so backward….” In other words, the stereotypical version of our neighbor to the South.
Fuentes’ main thesis throughout his life was that although Latin America is still struggling to create a stable political and economic system like the one we enjoy in the U.S., the Spanish-speaking Americas are standing strong on a foundation that may outlast economic prosperity and a political order: “La cultura”, the cultural heritage of Latinos — “what we have created with the greatest joy, the greatest gravity, and the greatest risk….”
“This is the culture that we have been able to create,” writes Fuentes in his book, The Buried Mirror, “during the past five hundred years, as descendants of Indians, Blacks, and Europeans in the New World.”
Fuentes was a prolific author who spoke and wrote with equal dexterity both English and Spanish, but chose to write all his fiction in the latter.
He thought that was a better idea, since, he said, Spanish, as spoken and written in Latin America and now also in the U.S., is a language that deserves a chance.
Our great city, the one called the cradle of democracy, the one that now wants to become a global city, needs to take steps to understand better the Latino experience Fuentes represented. Otherwise, so much ‘ignorancia” might turn off both tourists and residents as we bring to fruition the rebirth of “City of Brotherly Love” we all want to see.