Francisco Fuertes is currently a junior in FIU majoring in chemistry. Always having a curiosity for the human body, he plans to attend medical school after obtaining his degree. He was born in Miami, Florida, and has a strong connection to the Dominican Republic where his family moved from. On his free time, Francisco likes to learn and experience new things, such as different cultures, languages, cuisines, and many more.
The Ida y Vuelta Journey of Literature between Spain and the Americas
In 1492, Christopher Columbus with his crew of explorers uncovered a land unbeknownst to the European countries of the time. With a population of Indigenous people already having found a home for themselves and their families in these vast lands, the Europeans sadly conquered, killed, and destroyed many of these tribes along with their homes. With this distasteful way of acting, however, there quickly became an exchange between both the Indigenous inhabitants and their European conquerors. These exchanges expanded to everything such as food, clothing, dance, and other cultural phenomena that are still prevalent. One of these exchanges that is forgotten is literature. For this discussion, literature will be considered any written work available to the public. This holds true for fiction, non-fiction, public journals, etc. How has literature been affected in both the Americas and Spain after the first interaction between these cultures? Literature has affected both Spain and the Americas with their language, and the genres they write.
Learning New Languages
Before Columbus and his crew set their eyes on shore, there were groups of natives that were residing deep into the land and its surroundings. They had created their own way of living unrelated to the Europeans, just as the Europeans created their own way of living. For Spain, literature was something that already began, as there were many works of poetry and other writings. In addition, with the invention of the printing press in the 1400s, this would make literature more accessible, causing for an increase in literacy, and also, future writers. In the Americas, this was not the case. Although they did have things such as religious stories, prayers, and rituals, they did not have any written works. This caused all of it to be transmitted orally (Echevarría). With this knowledge, it can be inferred that the first known case of literature in the Americas was brought by the Europeans.
One obvious, yet important aspect of the Ida y Vuelta of literature is language. In the Americas, there are many countries such as Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela that speak Spanish. This is due to the vast land conquered by Spain and the communities they created as a result. So, the first transfer of literature was through Spain and into the Americas by first giving the areas a language to write with. However, it is important to remember that these Indigenous tribes already had their own languages. Because of this, the Spanish language had to evolve. This is what causes people in Mexico to speak differently that people in Colombia, for example. In other words, the language that was brought across sea will soon form different accents and phrases. Also, due to this exchange of cultures, the land and the tribes gifted their own words to the language. Important words we use daily, such as papa, tomate, and huracán were gifted to this beautiful language (Indigenous words in the Spanish language). Not only was this important for the growth of Spanish literature, but it was an advancement of the language as a whole. It must also be seen that the “discovery” of the Americas itself led to a change in Spanish literature. The loggings and journals of explorers on expeditions is a good example. Now, Spanish writers and explorers who had seen the Americas could write about it and create a bizarre grey area of fiction and non-fiction. As the readers have never been exposed to an avocado, or a potato, or a jaguar, they are now exposed to it through literature.
The Origins of the Spanish Novel
Moving along through time, Spain was having its fair share of writers. An important reaction that occurred in Spain was the commencement of the modern novel. This seems to have come about through a style of writing known as the picaresque novel. This way of writing depicts the story of a protagonist that has to undergo a set of adventures. This protagonist is characterized by his/her rogue nature, as denoted by the Spanish word picaro. The first story to come out of this genre was a piece of writing by the title El Lazarillo de Tormes. Written by an anonymous author, the unique protagonist captivated the reader and many future writers. Arguably the most important work to come out of this movement was by a man named Miguel de Cervantes. Published in 1605, Don Quixote has now become a Spanish must-read, and is a novel taught in Spanish-speaking countries and classes all over the world. Interestingly, this work of writing has even been called “…the prototype of the modern novel” (Gomez et al.).
Magical Realism in Latin America
With the emergence of the picaresque novel in Spain, this would lead to not only literary changes in its native country, but in other countries as well. When Spanish literature is brought up, Cervantes may be thought of. This is not the case for the Americas, more specifically, Latin America. Something needed to change, and it did. A definitively Latin American style of writing is magical realism, or realismo magico in Spanish. Compared to Cervantes and the other works that have been explained, this genre is very contemporary. There have been many authors in this genre from Latin America. For example, there are countless writers, one such author being Isabel Allende, but nobody holds the magical power that Colombia’s Gabriel García Márquez was able to capture in his stories. Although he has had many respected novels such as El amor en los tiempos del cólera and El general en su laberinto, the novel that garnered him and the genre of magical realism the most fame was Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude).
Telling the story of a fictional town Macondo, the reader lives through the tribulations of the founder José Arcadio Buendía and his descendants. Many examples of magical realism can be taken from this novel, such as the insomnia disease that infects the whole town, ghosts who come and interact with the characters, and gypsies who come to town to display the newest technology they have found throughout the world.
What is most interesting about this genre is why it has become what it is today. A unique aspect of Latin America compared to Spain is its Indigenous background. This background is rooted in many paganistic religions and myths. In comparison during the Colombian exchange, Europe was Christian. Magical Realism, in a sense, is Latin America’s renaissance and acceptance of their culture. It is a symbol of its past that was taken away from by the Spaniards. According to John Green on this matter,
And literary critics have argued that integrating the logic of the visible world with magical elements provides a way for writers from colonized parts of the world to make sense of multiple realities. It allows writers to tell stories from the perspective of both the colonizer and the colonized.John Green – Crashcourse
To me, this is a way for the writers to come to terms with the world that they were given. Why do countries decide to colonize? Is Spanish rule actually over, or will they always be a part of us? Also, not to forget, magical realism can detach the author and the reader from the real world. This can be relevant in terms of what was occurring around the time. Magical realism also acts as a way to take the reader from the real world, setting him or her into the magical realm, and explain a concept that is very real. A common novel assigned in the United States that shares this same point is Animal Farm. Even though this is not considered an example of magical realism, it still displays this idea. In order to get his point across, George Orwell created a farm of talking animals to display the political situation at the time of writing. Even though the novel seems childish from the outside, it is one of the everlasting novels of our times and is a classic. Magical realism holds the same truth: a writer can create an entirely new world where people talk with their noses and smell with their ears but can convey a message that is pertinent to society.
Analyzing the Ida y Vuelta aspect of magical realism, it is safe to say that it has made an impact on Spanish Literature. Gabriel García Márquez, for example, won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his writing. This, of course does not only stay in the realm of magical realism. Mario Vargas Llosa also received this prestigious award. These two authors and the many others that are spread out across the Americas can be found in libraries in Spain and taught in schools. Just as Spain made an impact on the Americas, we have been able to return the favor.
Finding One’s Cultural Identity
My personal attachment to this topic has been recent. As a child raised by a Dominican family in the United States, I have always felt like I could never fit in culturally. To Americans, I am too Hispanic, and to Dominicans, I am too gringo. The latter has always made me insecure of my heritage, as Spanish is my second language. Because of this, I have a very unrecognizable accent. I do not speak like the Mexicans I was taught in school, or the Spaniards where our language comes from, or like my country’s people who are notorious to speak ragingly quick. This did not help my cause; however, I recently found a home in Spanish literature. As someone who does not have a distinguishable accent, it allows me to be free of cultural shackles and stereotypes. I feel safe experimenting and collecting ideas, slang, and ways of living from other countries. My first book of this ongoing journey is Crónica de una muerte anunciada. Not only has this book inspired me and taught me many things about South American culture, but it has also taught me and made me question my culture too. Being once relatives under our conquerors, we do share many similarities. Literature allowed me to be confident in my Spanish, and how I feel about my controversial identity. To me, I am stuck in the middle of this highway between Spain and Latin America. I have always felt like this was a negative thing, but as I grow older, I have learned to see that I am not stuck, as I have been given a unique opportunity to be directly in the middle. With this, I am not limited to one side; I have the ability to cross or stay whenever I want.
Spanish Literature Today
In today’s world, we are in a very different time. With technology and transportation, the barriers of knowledge and lack of cultural mingle have been destroyed. Now, diffusion of knowledge from other areas of the world is inevitable. This makes the Ida y Vuelta of The Americas and Spain as easy as going on your phone. The level of difficulty it was for a copy of Don Quixote to reach Mexico is the level of ease it is now for Márquez to deliver a book to Spain himself. There is no comparing the difference between diffusion of cultures. A perfect example of this is the author, Richard Blanco. Born from a Cuban Family in Spain, Blanco grew up in Miami. He is a prime example of this constant exchange between these two worlds. In his book The Prince of Los Cocuyos, he even shows that Spanish literature does not have to be written in Spanish. Detailing his life growing up in Miami, Blanco is able to tell the story of cultural identity and stagnation in our present world. Even though this is a book about himself in Miami, there still holds strong roots to Cuba, as he uses many examples of common vernacular him and the people around him use. Overall, the cultural highway between Spain and the Americas first created by Columbus is becoming stronger every day as technology advances. Soon, whether good or bad, the need for this highway may become obsolete, as cultures may homogenize into one. Personally, I hope this never occurs, as culture is what makes us who we are. It sets us apart from others and allows us to bring new and different ideas to the conversation. Everyone has a story, and it is our responsibility to give each other the platform to share it.
Crashcourse, director. 100 Years of Solitude Part 1: Crash Course Literature 306. Performance by John Green, YouTube, YouTube, 10 Aug. 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWNcCs__vQg&feature=youtu.be. Accessed 24 Apr. 2022.
Echevarría, Roberto González and Hill, Ruth. “Latin American literature”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 6 May. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/art/Latin-American-literature. Accessed 24 April 2022.
Gómez, Angel María García , Pérez, Janet I. and Atkinson, William C.. “Spanish literature”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 6 May. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/art/Spanish-literature. Accessed 24 April 2022.
“Indigenous Words in the Spanish Language.” SpanishDict, 29 June 2012, https://www.spanishdict.com/answers/233215/indigenous-words-in-the-spanish-language.