Conducted by Kathleen Vesper, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy.
Q1. How far do Latin American icons such as Gabriel García Márquez go to promoting their continent abroad?
It’s extremely important, and my experience from teaching over the last twenty years is that students feel quite passionate about Latin American writers such as Gabriel García Márquez. My personal take on it is that I’m a bit weary of ‘magical realism’ and it’s a very effective literary trope and that it makes for some engaging stories. In itself it is not a problem, but if it becomes the dominant genre, then all people will demand that Latin American fiction become magical realism. By doing this, it closes off other possible ways to represent the culture and the people.
Q2. How can cultural diplomacy help in overcoming Latin American stereotypes in Europe?
The more opportunity there are for cultural texts to be disseminated among a wider European audience, the better because you don’t have the problem of people expecting too many things from just a film or a book. It’s not a huge worry to say someone from Germany or the UK of a particular television program or film, it doesn’t represent them because we know they are part of a mosaic.
Q3. Do you think there is a reason why people in Europe, or even the United States under-appreciate novels and film from Latin-America?
It’s curious because on one hand there is a fascination with Latin America. On the other hand that’s not met by a provision of facts that we associate with that. I think that the news media could do more especially could do more in stopping Latin America to run into a blackhole and just of being left out of news bulletins and only reporting when something ghoulish or ghastly happens.
Q4.A lot of what gets reported on in Latin America, take Mexico for example is negative press. There are lots of stories regarding the drug problems, but a few weeks ago we had speakers from Pro-Mexico come in and speak about Mexico’s strengths which is something you rarely see in the news. Why do you think this is?
My colleagues from Mexico who I work with back in Cardiff were shocked were horrified during the swine flu incident as the place was being represented as this plague ridden place where if you opened your mouth and breathed it was dreadful. My sense while I was traveling the United States, I was staying in San Diego and suggested to some friends to cross the border and have dinner in Mexico. I’m not sure if they were horrified or bewildered, but their approach was that I had suggested to have lunch on the moon. In a way there is some reassurance that it is still some distance away, because that maintains the distance.
Q5. How accurate are the images we have of Latin America today?
When I was a child one of the programs we had was called Paddington, and that’s an example of benevolent stereotypes. Paddington is sent by his aunt to Britain from Peru and he only eats marmalade sandwiches, and he has a little label attached to him that says ‘please look after this bear’. The Brown family who is interested in adopting him tell everyone who is interested that he is from darkest Peru. On the one hand it’s a very sweet story about a bear, but at the same it’s telling people at a very young age that someone from this dark place, Peru, who only eats a mono diet of only marmalade sandwiches; their families send them as unaccompanied minors halfway across the globe with a label attached to them, and the place they come from is shrouded in darkness.
Q6. Do you think Latin American need to be more “Americanized” to have success among international audiences?
More and more people are turned off these days by things that don’t meet high-production values. Quite often what we mistake for an American attitude or genre is in fact the level of professionalism that goes with the production values. At the same time there are films such as the Labyrinth of the Form which do have those very high production values, but also bring into the mainstream an approach to telling a story that is quite different from anything that we would recognize as being straight-forward European or American. We need to create a space to help retain for people to see world cinema, but it’s getting more and more difficult. The section in record shops that was reserved for global artists is shrinking, and I don’t know how it is in Germany, but in the UK more and more art-house cinemas have disappeared or the ones that are still there are showing more mainstream films. I’m not Internet savvy, but I hope that people are looking at them online instead. But that’s a very difficult thing to gauge isn’t it because it’s difficult to account for who is watching what.