"I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books."

Borges

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Eduardo Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America


Eduardo Galeano is a Uruguayan essayist, journalist and historian. He was editor in chief of Marcha, a weekly journal with contributors such as Mario Vargas Llosa and Mario Benedetti. He also wrote for Epocha and University Press. In 1973 after a military coup in his country, Mr. Galeano was imprisoned and then exiled from Uruguay. In exile in Argentina, he started the magazine Crisis. In 1976, another military coup forced him from his adopted country and put him on the list of those condemned to death. He then moved to Spain where he wrote Memory of Fire.

Open Veins of Latin America won the Casas de America prize in 1970 and was the first of his books to be translated into English. He writes with eloquence of Latin America's 500 years of occupation and of the cultural, emotional and physical genocide of our people and our land. His prose is so beautiful, even while writing of rape, pillage, abuse of power and other atrocities. He combines both fact and imagery into a sublime reading experience.

Mr Galeano documents meticulously the statistics of exploitation and murder - the facts, the numbers, and most importantly the emotions and situations behind the well documented data. He speaks of how the genocide of Latin America’s indigenous peoples and the enslavement of the African people were the very foundation for “the giant industrial capital”.

Every Xicano should read this book. It has actually been prohibited in some countries and is well documented. I’ve read it over and over again. It has enraged me, made me cry, frustrated and motivated me. Every time I feel overwhelmed and get to feeling that all my protesting and marching aren’t letting me have a real life, I read the first chapter of this book. It gets me angry, that cold, purposeful anger that drives me, that pushes me out the door into the rain and cold to protest by dancing barefoot in the streets in my traditional Azteca traje de gala (Aztec regalia) to preserve my culture. Any book that does that for any of us is not only much needed, it should be required.

We need our eyes open. After 500 years, we’re still here fighting the good fight and God willing, 500 years from now we’ll still be here, culture intact and reading this book to remind us.

One of my favorites quotes by Mr. Galeano is this, "I'm a writer obsessed with remembering, with remembering the past of America above all and above all that of Latin America, intimate land condemned to amnesia." This book won’t let us have amnesia. Read it.

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