Today is the one-year anniversary of the passing of Gabriel Garcia Márquez, my favorite writer and journalist. It was as a frizzy haired teenage girl, nose buried in Love in The Time of Cholera, that I was first introduced to exactly how fantastic and profound love can be. Many years later and upon picking up One Hundred Years of Solitude, I became irreparably enamored with his ability to express quotidian and magical moments, the poetry of Mauricio Babilonio and his yellow butterflies, the clairvoyance of the Aurelianos, the never ending solitude of a small town and of the Buendía lineage.
I came across Márquez’s work much like I have come across many of my favorite books, by luck. All of my life I have been surrounded by books. Over the years, my father, an autodidactic musician, singer, and avid reader, has amassed an impressive library that takes up most of our living room. His love for books and knowledge has spilled over to the rest of the house and family, as both my older sister and myself each have compiled an eclectic personal library now too extensive for the bookshelves built by our carpenter father. He built mine when, at eleven years old, I decided I needed more space for my books on paleontology, Harry Potter, and history. Since our youth, and as college graduates, our libraries have become a beautiful collection of history and economic textbooks, Latin American political theory, philosophy, and Spanish and Latin American literature.
It was on one particular afternoon during my formative angsty middle-school years, while browsing my college-aged sister’s bookshelf, that I came across the cursive titles and vibrant floral patterns that grace the covers of Marquez’s books. Those discoveries, made possible by my father’s love for knowledge and our insatiable appetite for journey and adventure, inspired my love for books, for words. And this is a love that now inspires each poem, article, personal essay that I write.
As I begin a new journey and chapter in my life as a writer and journalist, I find myself reflecting on my relationship with words. And it is precisely during this time that I deeply explore my family and communities’ history of illiteracy, fear, and inaccessibility to both the Spanish and English language. I go back to these stories in order to contextualize this solitude with my own proximity and access to words.
I am a child and granddaughter of incredibly intelligent people who have built their lives from strenuous physical labor. My grandfather Pablo knew to read the skies and clouds to decipher when it was best to prepare his maize crops for the pending rain. During the fifty years he tended to his apple orchards, bean, and chile crops, he was so in tune with the cycle of the seasons that he harvested successfully fifty times. And when visiting him in Durango as a young girl, I remember sitting with him and relishing in his storytelling. I would listen to the deep sound of this voice that, with a Spanish wholly his own, would describe the adventures of his youth, his experience as a migrant farmworker in the US, his love for freshly churned ice cream.
My grandfather is barely literate and although his knowledge of the campo and his beautiful stories are what I cherish most in this world, he has been ridiculed for this lack of mastery of the Spanish language. In one instance, while testifying in a court hearing contesting in defense of his land rights, a lawyer chuckled and openly mocked his use of words that only make sense to people of el campo, people who were unable to formally study because they needed to work, because they had no choice, no opportunity to entertain the experience of learning words, of learning a language “correctly.”
Meanwhile my grandfather struggled to express himself in a perfect and acceptable Spanish, after thirty-seven years in the US, my mother still is embarrassed because she lacks English fluency. During her first years in the US she would juggle adult English classes with her full time job at a box factory. However, after the years went by, and because of her responsibility to raise and economically provide for two daughters, she was no longer able to attend classes. There are still some days when she looks at me and pleads me not to be ashamed of her because she doesn’t fully “know” English.
Language represents the opportunity to express, defend, and protest. When I reflect on my love for writing and its capacity to articulate all of my sentiments, critiques, silences, and poetry, I feel grateful to possess this ability but contemplate the solitude of those who have been denied this tool and medium of expression. A solitude determined by social and class inequality, a solitude of exclusion, a solitude of misunderstanding and ridicule. When contemplating this solitude, I can’t help but be struck by the irony of aspiring to become a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, a composer of words, a writer.
Yet this is a solitude that has precisley driven me to desperately articulate all of these experiences. Today, as I remember and cherish the impact Márquez has had on me as a reader, writer, and human being, I also acknowledge and reaffirm why I must write. Writing represents my creative agency to literally write back, to express the silence of my grandparents and my mother’s struggle to learn English. To acknowledge and speak to the solitude that was imposed on them. Solitude, in the form of the millennial silence of my family and my history, is both my muse and enemy.
In his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, Márquez alludes to the historical weight of this duality in his usual poetic and solemn manner. In his speech he details his literary and journalistic attempt to capture the absurdity, magic, and tragedy that informs the solitude of Latin America and of its people. In a world of increasingly accelerated death and destruction, Márquez says, we, the inventors of tales, who will believe anything, feel entitled to believe that it is not yet too late to engage in the creation of the opposite utopia, the utopia of life, the utopia of new beginnings. I take from that speech, and from his entire body of work, the lesson that we as writers must articulate the solitude of the Buendías, the solitude of my family, all of which remains our own enveloping, deep, suffocating solitude. It is an uncompromising and irreversible composition of a necessary story.
We write and we create because loneliness and silence cannot last forever, not even a hundred years: “Faced with oppression, pillage, and abandonment, our response is life… It is a new and splendid utopia of life, where no one can decide for others how they will die, where love will be certain and happiness possible, and where those condemned to a hundred years of solitude find, finally and forever, a second chance on this earth.”