Ñamérica, the Latin America of today, according to Martín Caparrós

The historian by training and renowned journalist, Martin Caparrós, he set out to rewrite Latin America; he succeeded and even the name changed. I call her America because if something distinguishes this region of the world is Castilian, whose banner is the letter ñ and, by mistake, when trying to mix America with the Ñ, when he wanted to put Añérica he put Ñamérica and that’s how it remained, Ñamérica, as read in the cover of his new book, in which he tells the state he saves today.

Born in Argentina, trained as a historian in Paris and living in Spain, Caparrós tells in that text edited by Literatura Random House, aspects of the current reality of the Mexico City; The tall, Bolivia; Bogota, Colombia; Caracas, Venezuela; Havana, Cuba; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Miami, Florida and Managua, Nicaragua, along with rigorous analysis of 19 American countries that the Castilian language unites them and the borders that someone set apart.

Passing through Mexico City, says that this book was made with the intention of finding the common features of more than 400 million inhabitants of this region and questioning them, as well as telling the local peculiarities. That is why it was decisive for him to tell the everyday, how people live in their day to day.

Martín Caparrós, author of
America, edited by Random House Literature. EE Photo: Eric Lugo

The tall journalist with brown water eyes, shares that what most caught his attention was the existence of the Aymara city of El Alto, which he describes as the red threat that hangs over the Bolivian capital; the deterioration of Caracas, or what remains of it, after being so rich.

“The almost terrifying energy” of Mexico City, (well, he went to the marginalized areas of Ecatepec and the bowels of Tepito to listen to songs and something else), and the amalgamation of the Latin of Miami, that at which that a former Latin American president referred to as the capital of the world, but what this writer, almost always dressed in black, found was that it is the capital of Ñamerica, as it is where a good part of the money made on the continent “sleeps”.

Caparrós says that his intention with this text is to produce more doubts than certainties. Like him who, since he had it in his hands, wondered: How can we imagine a future that starts us up?

—This book looks like a platypus: it has test feet, a body of a chronicle, hands of economic analysis. How should we locate it?

“I hope we can’t locate him.” The platypus thing Juan Villoro already said to refer only to the chronicle and there are more things here than chronicle, so it will be a platypus hanging from something else.

I like that a book cannot be located. The ones that interest me are those who do not know very well what genre they are and this tries to be a mixture of several things, because, as you say, the chronicle and the rehearsal are two instruments that I try to use to find out what Latin America is.

—It seems that you were not satisfied with the way in which Latin America has been described. What do we need to tell more or better tell about this region of the world?

—I’m not saying that I am not satisfied with how it has been done so far, what I am saying is that we are talking about a reality that changes all the time and good descriptions are decades old. So, I thought it was good to try again, because what we are describing is different from what has already been described.

The attempt is to find what are the common features of the entire region, to try to think about these issues that are there in the chapters of the book: inequality, misery, violence, corruption, politics, religion, culture, machismo, feminism …, in end, all those issues that somehow bring us together.

That is what I think is worth, on the one hand, trying to think and, on the other, you have to count the local peculiarities and others.

– Because it is an animal in movement, how difficult is it to portray it?

“It’s difficult and luckily it’s never complete.” Any portrait captures a moment and in five years we will have to try again and so on.

But, anyway, it is worth being clear that what is authentic in our countries and societies is not the old. There is a slightly strange confusion between the authentic and the old, as if any change is a deformation, rather than just the dynamics with which things happen.

—Well, at the moment some politicians do as a reminder of the historical past, that we have a reserve of values ​​in indigenous communities, but we also have practices such as the sale of girls for marriage in indigenous communities. How do you see that?

—Of course we have a very broad historical past, but to pretend that what is decisive in shaping our contemporary societies are things that happened 500 years ago is nonsense and is a classic of certain forms of nationalism, because it allows us to suppose that everything bad came from outside and that we are good.

I think that, in this case, the “we” is something very confusing, because we are the sample of all that. We are the descendants of the Mayans; we are the mixture of everything that happened in the last 500 years.

We have been in independent countries for 200 years. If one sector is responsible for the innumerable problems that our societies have, we are ourselves, not others who arrived 500 years ago and were tremendous, super cruel, but they were also against previous rulers who were also extremely cruel.

They were 500 rags who only managed to prevail because there were millions of people here who were waiting for the opportunity to get rid of those tyrants. Later they realized that they had been wrong, of course and that the remedy was worse than the illness of some or similar, I don’t know if better or worse.

—There are also groups that today talk about the Iberosphere. What do you think of that?

—It is a nonsense that has occurred to them now in the middle of campaigns for the monopoly of the right. There are sectors within the Spanish right that are fighting to take over the sector and play to see who is more mercenary and more carcamán. That results in a string of idiots.

– To describe America how important is the everyday?

“For me it is decisive.” It saddens me that we are not able to count the ordinary. In journalism we are like trained to tell the extraordinary, which is not always so extraordinary, because in the end everything is repeated many times.

What interests me the most is telling how we live, how people live and that is something that journalism is not knowing how to do.

– Of all the places where you went to take the pulse of this America of today, what was the thing that surprised you the most?

—I was struck by the existence of a city that I did not know, which is El Alto, in Bolivia, made by Aymara, who came from the mining areas where there was no longer work and built a city of one million people in 30 years.

I was struck by the level of deterioration of a city that was as rich as Caracas and is now semi-destroyed, and I was also struck by the almost terrifying energy that one feels when one is in Mexico City. I was also struck by the amalgamation of the American that occurs in Miami, perhaps more than in other places, because there nobody is in their places, everyone is in a foreign place and, therefore, nobody is from there and they mix much more.

—There are even those who say, but why did you include Miami in this book?

—It all started with a phrase I read from a former Ecuadorian president who said that Miami was the Capital of Latin America. I said ah yeah? and I went to look.

Then it seemed to me that I had made a gender mistake. It is not the capital of Latin America, but it is the capital of Latin America. There are many of our millions, who were uprooted from here by unscrupulous people, who were taken there. There is a lot of American money that is sleeping, yes, more sleeping than anything else, there.

In addition, it is one of those places of migration where there are many people from our countries who, in that neutral space, stop being a Colombian, a Mexican, an Argentine and become what I would call American and they mix in a different way and Curiously, there the amalgamation is put together that in each of our countries is not necessarily put together.

– Does it work to understand what happens in the countries where they are from?

—It works to understand more how we can amalgamate it, what we have in common, how we are when we stop being Mexican, Colombian or Argentine. That’s what I found interesting about Miami.

—Are you satisfied with the book or do you need to tell more or other things?

“I am never satisfied.” That is a karma that I have. It seems to me that I did what I could and I do not want this book to offer certainties, but doubts. I would like you to find good questions instead of finding good certainties.

—Just, what are the most important questions that arose after making this book?

—The central question is, how can we imagine a future that gets us going? I believe that, on the political, but also social and economic, we are in one of those difficult moments in which we feel that the present, as it is, does not satisfy us, but we cannot imagine a future that does satisfy us.

In the end, what happens is that we have like outbursts of anger that do not build, because we do not know where we would have to build. It seemed to me to understand, working with all this, that the next big thing that has to happen in our region, as in other parts of the world, is that we can imagine a future that is worth working for and if necessary fighting.

—Latin Americans have been portrayed as downcast or as a great reserve of values. How would you paint them?

“We are many and there is everything.” I don’t think we are particularly tolerant of oppression, rather, we are not. In our countries uprisings occur with certain frequency against situations that we no longer want to tolerate, what happens is that, since we do not know what to build, these uprisings, those reactions do not end up putting together anything that can continue forward and are left only in expressions anger or dissatisfaction.

In the last 20 years, at least in Mexico, something that generated many expectations was the transition to democracy, with the change of party in the presidency. How common is that in America?

“There were also in other places.” In the southern cone, after the dictatorship in the 1980s, there was also a moment of democratic euphoria, but I believe that what happened there, as in other places, and it is the dangerous thing, is that after the euphoria we had to Accept that democracy is fine, but it does not finish solving things.

So far we have not been able to use democracy to improve the lives of millions and millions of people. So there is a kind of democratic disenchantment.

“How do you, who have traveled to so many cities, get along with statues?” In Mexico now that is the subject of public discussion.

“It’s happening in various places.” The truth is funny to me. It seems to me that there are so many decisive problems in the way we live, as to deal with statues.

In addition, I would be in favor of a world without statues, without heroes. If you have to put something on the pedestals, let’s put beautiful things, art, not those images that try to build a story that we should all accept.

To put a statue there is to tell the entire population you have to think such a thing, because these are the good guys.

I prefer that they don’t tell me who the good guys are, or what I have to think.

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