When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Society

The Hispanic World: United By Spanish, Divided By Spanish

Latin Americans are proud to be part of a "brotherly" region united by its Hispanic heritage, until they suffer hearing each other's "Spanish."

The Hispanic World: United By Spanish, Divided By Spanish

A wall in Mexico

Ricardo Bada

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'sCatedrales: "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.

Every year when it's October 12 (Columbus Day), I quietly repeat, like a mantra: Latin America is haunted — by the ghost of its Spanish identity.

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Ideas

My Debt To Russia, My Letter To Putin: A Very Personal Plea To End The War

Polish-born French writer Marek Halter, who fled the Nazis to the USSR, has known Vladimir Putin for 30 years. Halter sent the Russian president a long letter on May 18, and later shared a copy of it with Les Echos. In the letter, he lays out the path for Putin to renounce the war without undermining Russia's standing.

In his letter to Vladimir Putin, writer Marek Halter calls for the President to end the war.

Marek Halter*

Mr. President,

Vladimir Vladimirovich,

We have known each other for more than 30 years. Our first encounter dates back to the inauguration of the French University College of Saint Petersburg in 1992. This second French university in post-Communist Russia, the brainchild of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov, opened a year after the one in Moscow. And it was commissioned to me by Anatoly Sobchak, then mayor of the “city of Tsars” of which you were the deputy mayor, through the intermediary of his counterpart, Jacques Chirac, who was then mayor of Paris before becoming President of France.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

You probably remember that day because we unexpectedly brought up your relation with the Jewish people. Because when I, as a Jew, was condemned by the Nazis to be turned into soap, it was the Russians who saved my life. This certainly explains my attachment to your country. We also mentioned my love for Russian literature and its characters who have undoubtedly marked those of my books: Natasha, Prince Bolkonsky, the Karamazov brothers, uncle Vanya…

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ