BOGOTÁ — In February this year, my friend and fellow columnist Juan David Zuloaga expounded on the reality of a historic, cultural and linguistic community known as Spanish or Hispanic America. It includes Spain and the nations that were once a part of its American empire. I won't dismiss the idea, but I do question it.
Days ago, I read the most interesting article by Itziar Hernández Rodilla, in Vasos Comunicantes, a translators' journal, which began, "I read these words in Claudia Piñeiro's Catedrales: "The way we name plants, flowers, fruits, while still using the same language reveals our origins as much as any tune, if not more. That is where we are from, the place where every word blooms or gives fruit."
Piñeiro, an Argentine novelist and screenwriter, then gives us a list of names for the bougainvillea plant: "Buganvilla in Spain; bugambilla in Mexico, Peru, Chile and Guatemala; papelillo in northern Peru; Napoleón in Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama; trinitaria in Cuba, Panama, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Venezuela; veranera in Colombia and El Salvador." In Argentina they call them santarritas. Piñeiro shows we speak Spanish in several languages.
It's all semantics
Looking back, I recall that in October 1984 I was asked to represent my radio station, Deutsche Welle (the German BBC, as it were), at a symposium of the International Center of Higher Studies in Journalism for Latin America in Quito, Ecuador. Attending were representatives from all the Latin American broadcasters as well as various European ones. On the last day, there was a conversation between broadcasting reps from both sides of the pond.
A female colleague from Mexico spoke first and, surprisingly, discarded the traditional courtesy of Mexicans: She said she thought the best programs from Europe were on Deutsche Welle. Only, she was bothered by all the Argentine accents! I replied that no Argentine worked at our desk — only two Uruguayans.
I was surprised to hear this after listening for a week to so much talk of brotherly ties and Hispano-American fraternity. It was empty rhetoric, I said; if Mexicans found the Argentine accent irksome, Chileans would say the same thing about the Peruvian accent and Colombians of the Puerto Rican accent. Nobody thought to contradict me. Apologies here to our favorite Argentine girl, the beloved comic book character Mafalda.