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Nothing Is More Latin American Than Not Wanting To Be One

Argentine President Fernández's suggestion that Argentines were more European than others from the region was a sorry bid to ingratiate himself with Europe — and so typically Latin American.

Nurses Protest in Buenos Aires, May 12, 2021
Nurses Protest in Buenos Aires, May 12, 2021
Rafael Toriz*


BUENOS AIRES — The denial of reality, provoked by a range of neuroses, is a particularly acute malady in Argentina . It's as if facts were banished in this strange land and only their interpretations permitted. Even anachronistic and decadent interpretations are welcome, like those this week from President Alberto Fernández...

The Argentine President declared on a trip to Spain — in a supposedly "eurofriendly" gesture — that he had a "European vocation. I'm someone who believes in Europe." Revealing an indelibly colonial mind, he explained that this was because Argentines were "from Europe." He cited Mexican poet Octavio Paz, who he claimed once wrote that "the Mexicans had come from the indians, the Brazilians had come out of the jungle and the Argentines, we had arrived in boats. They were boats from Europe." These were gratuitous words, no doubt uttered just to get along!

Without considering his syntax —which presidents spoil more often than most — the declaration was unfortunate for so many reasons. It would be best to stick to his words, to avoid any suspicion of spite.

Octavio Paz, the patriarch of the main, if now dented, tradition of Mexican literature, may be accused of many dubious utterances but nothing as coarse and mediocre as the words attributed to him by this president (which are in fact from a "trendy" if dated song by Litto Nebbia , We Came in the Boats ).

Now, while the current state of our democracies may be turning us into believers in magic, circus acts and hat tricks, neither the Mexicans nor Brazilians "have come out" of anywhere. We are a mix of Europeans and native Americans, to which we may add those brought here in the millions from Africa in the course of the continent's domination and colonization. Regarding those African migrants in the New World, let us recall that they were the ones who built buildings, bridges and cities and broke their back —alongside indigenous people — to work the land, sea and even the mines, and who gave this continent its countenance, its population and foundations.

"We are split between our deepest desires, what we can do and what we are."

We all know Argentina long thought of itself as the continent's most European society . This impression (and undoubted imprecision) is the fruit not just of foreign travellers' tales, but of a potent public myth fomented by the country's élites . Their deep and superficial vanity still cannot resist the slightest nod of approval or flirting from Mother Europe.

While rightly mocked by internet memes across the continent, the Argentine case and its aspirations are in fact deeply Latin American . You have to have been born somewhere between the Río Bravo and Patagonia to know just what it feels like to belong to this part of the world. We are split between our deepest desires, what we can do and what we are. In its totality, Latin America is a perennial, relentless struggle between reality and desire, between what we see in the mirror of our fantasies and the reality revealed in the gaze of others.

An old train station at La Plata, Argentina — Photo: Noralí Nayla

There is nothing more Latin American than not wanting to be one. As the Guatemalan poet Alan Mills wrote,

"The indian is not the one you see on the tourist brochure/Loading bundles/Or serving you your food/.

No, the indian is inside/Coming out at times, so just accept him/Even if you would bury him under surnames/

And thwart him at every turn/And negate your childhood stain,/No, that's the one,/ I'm the indian,/Now, repeat after me."

Look straight in the mirror Mr. President and, to say it in my crystal-clear Mexicano: no la chingue .

(Don't f**k up)

*Toriz is a Mexican author living in Buenos Aires. His books include Animalia and La distorción .

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