The Challenge of the Pan-Hispanic Adventure

Andrés Ordóñez
Rubén Bonifaz Nuño, poet and academic who gave so much to UNAM, says in one of his beloved poems:

Those who travel acquire a
very fragile type of beauty.
By a few hours they are transformed into something
singular, and live sharply;
they discover strange feelings
that they did not suspect they could
have, and walk as if they were joyful.

Cloaked in his nineteenth-century classicist appearance, Rubén had the virus of adventure incubated in him. Not for nothing, after Horace and poetry, the adventure novel was his passion. When I was very young and about to go abroad as a graduate student, he told me: 

Listen, mister, I know that you are going to study hard and that you are going to raise the name of the country very high... But don’t study so much, go to the streets, sit at the cafés, see the people, you will learn more there.

35 years later, I realize that what we now call academic mobility is, at heart, a formidable incubator of adventures. It will depend or it had depended on each one of us to choose or to have chosen to be adventurers or adventurous. The difference between them is that the adventurer is a professional of adventures; “He runs adventures
—says Vladimir Jankélévitch—like a shopkeeper sells mustard: without risk nor excitement.” The adventurous is the one who assumes the risk of his passion. The adventurous, writes Jankélévitch, “est toujours le débutant” (1966: 10).

Those who chose academic adventure should be aware that there is no place for shopkeepers. Mustard, no matter how fine, must be sold elsewhere. The complexity of our times calls for the passion for knowledge insofar as reality presents itself to us as conflictive in all aspects and as elusive as never before. This Adamic condition that challenges us today is enhanced by the fact that the reality of the integrated world has turned the planet into an immense sound box. No event is insignificant. The disruption of the categorical imperatives of time and space, and the emergence of a space and time continuum in the global computer network have turned virtual space into a superconductor capable of making the effect of an apparently isolated event be felt simultaneously in any latitude of the planetary geography. In Paul Virilio’s logic, once space has been abolished and time suppressed, human beings have been precipitated into a state of permanent urgency, where priorities and domains are juxtaposed, hence the interwoven diversity that characterizes the process of planetary integration calls for a simultaneous international and multidisciplinary effort.

It is true that this juncture represents a serious challenge for the pan-Hispanic world, but also a rich source of opportunities by virtue of our historical nature. Judging by the relatively recent French and Anglo-Saxon historiographies, the cultural introjection that today pervades all fields is somehow new. Not so in the pan-Hispanic world. Hispanic-Americans (I use this term to designate the human and, consequently, historical and cultural continuum made up of those who until the nineteenth century were considered peninsular or American Spaniards) have spent the last 480 years digesting what today a scholar such as Byung-Chul Han (2012) considers the transition between otherness and difference. And, to be true, we have not done badly. As Spanish Republican José Miranda (1952) taught us at UNAM, Spain reinvented itself in America. Medieval institutions that had disappeared in Renaissance Europe found on the other side of the Atlantic a renewed breath that provided us with the indispensable bases to access modernity in a less conflictive way than, for example, the societies of sub-Saharan Africa. Similarly, as the Mexican historian Edmundo O’Gorman (1969) explained in our classrooms, America reinvented itself in Spain and, judging by obvious contributions such as literary modernism, Americans contributed decisively to the reinvention of Spain at defining moments in its cultural history. The result is that today Spain cannot be explained without America just as America is inexplicable without Spain.

However, despite the evidence provided by the economic and cultural reality, the pan-Hispanic world has not been able to generate a new discourse of positive identity (I am me, you are you, I recognize you in me and I recognize me in you). This prevents us from taking full advantage of the window of opportunity that the current historical juncture offers us. With the end of the Cold War and the emergence of a multipolar world, the Hispanic world has become an increasingly important historical, political, economic, and cultural pole. We constitute a planetary space characterized by its cultural megadiversity, which nevertheless finds unity and coherence in language. Besides the statistical data showed in the infographic in pages 14-15 of this magazine, Spanish is the third most used language on the Internet and the language in which most scientific texts are published after English (Instituto Cervantes, 2021).

It is necessary to reclaim now the intellectual, political, and economic space that our cultural sophistication, our historical maturity, and our academic development deserve. We must rely on our multiple identities. In terms of identity, Hispanic-Americans were born with globalization itself. Philosopher José María Lassalle is right when he states that in our interaction, Spaniards and Americans have left the best of ourselves. In an interesting article, “España americana” [American Spain] (2016), he urges Spaniards to assume that the “patriotic insecurities lie in having lost our transatlantic completeness.” This exhortation can and should be extended to Americans. We must conceive of ourselves in a different way. The 21st Century requires us to assume what we are today with all the richness and potential that comes from having been what we were. Reflection is no longer ontological but teleological. The question is no longer what we are but what we want to be and how we want it.

In this context, it is absurd to keep on denying the bilateral nature of our syncretism. In the fusion process that gives us existence as a civilizational unit, language—originally Castilian, and transformed into Spanish after contact with America—is our continent. It is our language that preserves and guarantees our cohesion as a civilization and gives strength to our political, economic, social, and cultural presence in the world. Being language an indispensable tool in the social construction of reality, we could well begin by rescuing the sense of the term Hispanic, stripping it of the semantic charge that the culture of Francoism associated with what is Spanish in the sense of imposition and hierarchy (Pérez Montfort, 1992) and reestablishing in our use the inclusive and diverse sense that corresponds to it and that the moment demands. We could focus on neutralizing the remains of the Monroe Doctrine that still operates in the American imagination translated into the irrational fear of a “return of the caravels.” We could take October 12th seriously as the day of the Spanish language, as proposed by Miguel de Unamuno (an idea that had a certain acceptance at the United Nations when it set the days of celebration of its six official languages, although, unfortunately, with a pronouncedly Spanish rather than Hispanic bias; see box) and take it as a meeting point. How else but through the instrument of Spanish language can we vindicate the richness and value of our original American languages in the contemporary world?

Recovery of Spanish language’s scientific authority, computer production in Spanish, unified and universal language certification, incorporation of Hispanic story’s diversity in global audiovisual productions, construction of a Hispanic digital platform, proliferation of scientific research and higher education integrated bilaterally or multilaterally, are some of the urgent tasks that the pan-Hispanic academy must undertake. We are an international, inter-oceanic, inter-ethnic pole of civilization, and in the diversity of our transcultural nature, we find, renewed, our global identity. No one on the planet dares to question the power of our literary manifestations and no one in Hispanic America would dare to fight for an integrated literary production. It is time to abandon the foolish pretense of a demagogic Latin American integration and to begin building a new Hispanic-American coordination that truly assumes the inherent diversity of our civilization pole in the 21st  Century. But none of this will be possible if we do not integrate in our educational framework the need to rethink the certainty of our historical and cultural perceptions, to undertake the enormous but urgent task of building the promising story of a pan-Hispanic identity as a vehicle for a successful transition through 21st Century’s challenges. To initiate the return to our transatlantic completeness taking with us, as our beloved and always evoked Rubén Bonifaz Nuño would say: 

a feeling of heroism, 
a soft fire that sets up 
in their hearts, and spills over 
and lights up our astonished faces, 
crowded by losses and hopes. 

The controversial October 12th 

UNAM Internacional 

For decades, at least until the 1992 celebrations related to the 500th anniversary of what was considered the first contact between Europe and the territory which would be called America, October 12th was known as “Día de la Raza” [Day of the Race] in Mexico and many other countries. Generations and generations of children learned and festively commemorated the event that official history—dictated from Spain—coined as the Discovery of America, fixed on the now mythical occasion when, from the top of one of his tired caravels, a Columbus’ sailor sighted land when the voyage was already becoming desperate and threatened with mutinies.

Jokes and endless dramas have played with the idea that it was not a discovery because nothing was hidden; that it was not the first contact because archaeology had been discovering other previous ones (such as those of the Vikings in Greenland and Newfoundland, and other improbable ones of the Chinese in 1421, or the possible prehistoric contacts with Polynesian travelers), and, above all, that what the date celebrated was an ignominious genocide that lasted for centuries, perpetrated by European imperialism on the native peoples from America and Asia, and the enslaved ones from Africa.

At the beginning of the 1990s, a process was started in Spain to commemorate five centuries of contact, that would conclude with great public works, Sevilla’s Universal Exhibition, and Barcelona’s Olympic Games of 1992. But in America, with the baggage of a century of popular struggles, revolutions, decolonization and civil and human rights movements, the conquered peoples lost respect for their conquerors and organized several meetings opposing commemoration of an event that took away their identities, dignity, culture, and autonomy.

The image of the people from the Chiapas Highlands is iconic, when in 1992 they brought down the statue of conquistador Diego de Mazariegos in San Cristobal de Las Casas. Rubén Blades and Son del Solar’s 1992 album, Amor y control, is memorable, for the chorus in one of its songs: “Conmemorando, pero sin celebración” (Commemorating, but without celebration). Significantly, a large meeting was held in Mexico City in 1992, bringing together representatives of all the indigenous American ethnic groups, from the Inuit of the extreme North to the Mapuche in their southern antipode, including Amazonians, Central Americans, and even groups from sub-Saharan Africa, representing ancestors of enslaved peoples.

The ephemeris has undergone several transformations, as the map shows. It is interesting to note that most modifications have taken place during the 21st Century and in countries where conflicts exist related to native peoples’ and other oppressed sectors’ struggles, including today’s feminism, which in Mexico City managed to bring Colombus monument down and substitute it with a symbol that expresses the pain of women in a macho-patriarchy order. 

Andrés Ordóñez is an essayist, a poet, and a photographer. He studied Philosophy in UNAM’s School of Philosophy and Letters and obtained a PhD on Philosophy in England. As a member of the Mexican Exterior Service, he has held several diplomatic positions, including being the head of Mexico’s embassy in Morocco. He has also been director of UNAM’s Centre of Mexican Studies in Spain.

Bonifaz Nuño, Rubén (1996). De otro modo lo mismo. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica. 

Climate Watch (2020). GHG Emissions. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute (https://www.climatewatchdata.org/ghg-emissions?end_year=2019&start_year=1990).

Jankélévitch, Vladimir (1963). L’aventure, l’ennui, le sérieux. Paris: Aubier. 

Byung-Chul, Han (2012). A sociedade da trasnparência. Lisboa: Antropos. 

Miranda, José (1952). Las ideas y las instituciones políticas mexicanas, primera parte (1521-1820). México: UNAM. 

O’Gorman, Edmundo (1969). La invención de América. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica. 

Instituto Cervantes (2021). El español en el mundo. Anuario 2021. España (https://cvc.cervantes.es/lengua/anuario/anuario_21/).
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