In December of 1982 journalist Luis R. Torres and filmmaker Jesus Salvador Trevino had the opportunity to meet Gabriel Garcia Marquez while attending the Fourth Annual Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana, Cuba. Following is their individual remembrances of their encounter with the Nobel prize winning author.
Gabo: Magic and Real
The works of Gabriel García Márquez and the man himself leave a monumental legacy for millions of people, not the least of whom are Chicanos who were intensely and irrevocably moved by what he wrote and what he stood for. I was extremely fortunate to meet “Gabo” once. It was in Havana, Cuba in 1982. What a memorable experience.
Who would have thunk that a kid from the hard-scrabble Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles would meet a literary giant who was such an inspiration to so many of us? In 1982 I was a reporter who found himself at the annual Latin American film festival in Havana. I had interviewed the minister of culture in the morning and he somewhat off-handedly invited me to a party that was to be held at his home. I jumped at the chance. A handful of Mexican American filmmakers also had the privilege of being invited. Oh, and by the way – the guest of honor at the party was none other than Gabriel García Márquez himself. I couldn’t believe it.
The very next day he would be on his way to Stockholm to receive the coveted Nobel Peace Price for Literature. What an opportunity for me and the other Chicanos who were there!
As a pocho with admittedly less-than-perfect Spanish, I was a bit tongue-tied in speaking to García Márquez. It was a bit intimidating. But I was able to express my enormous appreciation for his work and his political stands against oppression, imperialism and colonialism. I had devoured his novels, beginning in undergraduate school in the 1970s. What a storyteller! What a remarkable individual!
I think that for Chicanos, his works and his very being resonated in a particular way. It helped us Chicanos move beyond our kind of cultural and political myopia. The breadth of his work and his perspective made us realize that our struggle was not just in the American Southwest. It was national in scope, and actually international in scope. García Márquez helped us realize that the Chicano struggle against oppression was inextricably linked to the history of the struggles of the people of Latin America. It made us Chicanos a bit wiser (I hope) and more aware of our role in a universal struggle for liberty and dignity. “Mil gracias por todo lo que has escrito,” I told Gabo. “Gracias a los que lean,” he said to me.
Luis R. Torres
WHAT GABO TAUGHT ME.
In December of 1982 I was on an Air Cubana plane en route from Mexico City to Havana, Cuba. I thought I recognized someone sitting a few seats ahead of me. It was Gabriel García Marqúez, on his way to Sweden to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature with a stopover in Havana. I couldn’t resist the opportunity and walked up the aisle, introduced myself and congratulated him on the Nobel award. He was gracious, wanted to know why I was going to Cuba. I told him I was part of a delegation of Chicano filmmakers attending the Festival del Nuevo Cinema Latinoamericano (Festival of New Latin American Cinema). I confessed to him that when I first read One Hundred Years of Solitude in 1969 I had bought at least a dozen paperback copies and had given them freely to friends and acquaintances, eagerly proselytizing his work. With a chuckle, he thanked me for adding to his income that year.
A few days later, in Havana, Alfredo Guevara, director of the ICAIC (Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematográfica), invited me and two other Chicano filmmakers to dinner with Gabo and his wife, Mercedes.
Alfredo was keenly aware of the plight of Chicanos in the United States, the fact that in our own country we were marginalized from the Hollywood film industry. Only now were we beginning to break down barriers with our documentaries and a handful of long form dramas. I’m sure Alfredo hoped we would be inspired by the presence of this great international writer. He made sure that I was seated next to Gabo himself.
During dinner we chatted about the film festival, now in its fourth year, and how it had grown. Alfredo explained to Gabo that I was a member of the Comité de Cineastas de América Latina, the group that had founded the festival in 1979. That year I had led a delegation of seventeen Chicano filmmakers from the United States to the first festival. We had screened our films not just in the Havana theaters but also at outdoor venues in local neighborhoods, projecting our films onto walls and relishing the response of the Cuban audiences.
Inevitably the conversation shifted to the Nobel Prize and to his landmark book. While I went to great lengths to praise One Hundred Years of Solitude, I couldn’t resist asking him why the ending was, in my opinion, so negative. I cited the last line of the book, “…races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.” Didn’t his Latin America readers deserve something more uplifting? A call to arms perhaps? Something that might inspire social and political change?
It is a tribute to Gabo’s graciousness that I felt at ease enough to raise such a audacious impudent question to a man who was about to receive the Nobel prize. Decades later I still marvel at my stupidity!
Instead of being insulted by my question, he pondered for a brief moment, smiled, and then, explained–not in the condescending way that I certainly merited but in a mater-of-fact tone–that One Hundred Years of Solitude was a work of literature. Then he gave me a knowing, patient look. What was unsaid in that look was the obvious.
I had been asking him for propaganda. He wrote literature.
Today, along with people throughout the world, I mourn the loss of this great writer, this inspiration to all who read literature. For me also, the teacher of an important life lesson.
Jesús Salvador Treviño