Mexican author Carlos Fuentes on Catholicism, marijuana, globalization, and love

FuentesThis article was published on April 16, 2010 in The Hullabaloo.

Mexican author Carlos Fuentes came to speak at Tulane April 12. As the fourth speaker in the English department’s annual Great Writers Series, sponsored by the Creative Writing Fund, Fuentes spoke to an estimated crowd of 1,000 at McAlister Auditorium.

Famous for his magic realism style, Fuentes is one of the most widely acclaimed writers in the Spanish-speaking world. He is also known as a prominent social commentator and an international diplomat for Mexico.

Fuentes’ speech touched on a variety of topics, from education to death to creative writing to social justice, all connected through his theme of alphabetical order.


In Fuentes’ alphabet, “l” was for the Left, “r” was for Revolution, “x” was for Xenophobia and “n” was for New Orleans.

“In a tradition common to Latin Americans, a mix of voices are heard here,” Fuentes said. “In New Orleans, there are those who have nothing and embrace everything.”

Referring to New Orleans as the “third world” of the United States, Fuentes said that the city “taught the world a lesson: You cannot wait for politicians. Society must save its own self.”

“Here, men and women do what they have to do, and with what they have to do it with,” Fuentes said.

Describing the current “difficult” relationship between the U.S. and Mexico, Fuentes said, “We’re distant neighbors. So many things join us, so many things separate us, yet we are destined to live together so we better find a way to have the best relations possible.”

In order to stop the border violence due to Mexican drug cartels, Fuentes said that the United States must legalize marijuana.

“[The gangs] will bark, they will kick, but eventually they will disappear, just as the criminal gangs did in the United States during the years of prohibition,” Fuentes said. “Once Roosevelt legalized alcohol, the gangs disappeared and Al Capone went to jail. So that’s the only solution.”

Fuentes spoke of the increasing problem of illegal Mexican immigrants living in the United States.

“We are simply hiding behind a very, very comfortable façade,” Fuentes said. “All the workers can go to the United States and send us dollars, but what about working in Mexico and creating the infrastructure we need? Mexico needs quick development and workers to do it.”

Fuentes’ novel “Aura” was banned six months ago in Mexico for “coarse” language.

“[Apparently] it was a book against the Catholic Church,” Fuentes said. “One of the reasons why it was forbidden was because they make love under a cross. Ninety percent of Mexicans make love under a cross.”

Despite the ban, Fuentes’ books have earned him many prestigious literary awards, such as the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, the Latin Civilization Award, Mexico’s National Prize in Literature and the Spanish Royal Academy’s prize for best book of the year.

“We wanted to bring the best of world literature to New Orleans, to Tulane,” English professor Paula Morris said. “We choose writers who are at the pinnacle of their careers, and are already world figures, not those who are on their way up.”

“Carlos Fuentes is part of a generation of Latin American writers that really rocked Spanish language literature to the forefront of the literary world in the 1960’s,” said professor Idelber Avelar, who introduced Fuentes.

“The fact that he grew up in the United States gives him ‘inside knowledge’ on how American society works,” Avelar said.

“He plays the role of ambassador [between the United States and Latin America] that other Latin American writers simply can’t, because they don’t have that knowledge, or speak fluent English.”

This insight allows Fuentes to comment on an issue particularly relevant to the American free market economy today: the interaction between social justice and individual liberty.

“The pure market economy does not take care of social concerns. We have a blank book,” Fuentes said. “We write for the individual, but with the focus on society. They have to come together; they cannot be separate.”

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