Posted on 30 April, 2015
Alberto Híjar Serrano
Open Veins of Latin America rightly replaced those linear-history manuals, centered on Nation-State building and with only veiled references to colonial and imperial outrages. Official texts never mention guerrillas and bandits: they are the dirty war, a side chapter beyond presidents and laws. Galeano’s book, currently with up to 60 editions, appeared in the 1970’s alongside the anthologies prepared by the Quinto Sol publishing house, made up of CCH teachers bent on publishing original historical documents, classic texts, and testimonials and reflections on total history, a history that includes what is usually ignored or hidden. De Espartaco al Che y de Nerón a Nixon required dozens of printings, to satisfy the demand of teachers and students, eager to read an up-to-date history, quite different from those histories that start off in the remotest past in order to avoid dealing with the present. Neither Ismael Colmenares nor Víctor Gallo -from Quinto Sol-, nor Galeano, are numbered among UNAM’s honorary doctors. The Universidad de Guadalajara salvaged our public universities’ honor by publishing an obituary mentioning the fact that it gave Galeano an honorary doctorate.
In 1980, the Taller de Arte e Ideología brought to the Sandinista revolution a poster inspired by Galeano’s Open Veins. It really hit the spot: the Sandinista leaders had not yet forbidden any and all independent initiatives, but they were already demanding that people wait for decisions to come down (sic) from the top. Open Veins paved the way for what Revueltas called “cognitive democracy”, growing on collective readings, both hotly debated and enjoyed, mostly enjoyed, among Galeano’s readers. There followed other books, illuminating Latin America’s complex richness, both in its peoples and communities, as in the vital relationship between political economy and everyday life. Galeano tried his hand (and foot) at football, and he discovered the non-commodified, popular roots of matches organized on public lots, without any further control than the organization of fixtures, refereeing, players’ cards, and award ceremonies, by the coordinators of modest tournaments and leagues. A pleasurable order can be felt, for instance, in his narration of a children’s match, with the kids marching and singing in the end: “We won, we lost, and what fun we had!” And the solidarity of pain felt towards the scorer of the historical goal that gave Uruguay a victory over Brazil in Maracaná stadium in the 1950 World Cup: he ended up poor and forgotten, much like the beloved Garrincha. Maradona is right when he says Galeano teaches us to read football.
Galeano’s work, historical-materialist, dialectical, with a patent class orientation, shows the need to inject life in history, discovering how strong and general determinations concretize powers, dominions and responses, with a deep aesthetic sense. This points towards the need to go to the sources, destroyed but resilient, opposed to dying out as colonial subjects of imperial propaganda and the habits and customs of hipster intellectuals. Legends, myths and rites of the indigenous peoples survive in spite of it all; they are well-worth knowing, in order to discover a historical poetics that is irreducible to the humdrum erudition and the routine lessons of teachers who reduce everything to a succession of events and names, more or less heroic or treacherous.
Eduardo Galeano teaches us to savor history as aesthetic dimension. His beautiful books survive him. Memoy of Fire is a prime example of a title/slogan, opposed to those deliberately obscure titles found in volumes of pretentious hermetic poetry. When he first talked about his books in Mexico City, in the Ponce Hall at Bellas Artes, in front of a full capacity crowd, an activist asked him how to get his very expensive books. Galeano was forced to admit the capitalist dominion, which he had previously joked about referencing a bottle of allegedly pure water. One path towards the emancipating appropriation of Galeano’s books is through their appearance in the radical press, “poor theater” companies, and community radio broadcasts. León Chávez Teixeiro wrote him an email, requesting his consent to quote a text of his, where Galeano mentions that a song by León Chávez could be heard in the street: “se va la vida, se va al ahujero como la mugre en el lavadero”. Galeano immediately responded, saying he deeply appreciated the honor of being included in the Barcelona record.
Galeano enriches the Spanish language with his brief eloquence, including poetic images drawn from popular knowledges, myths and appropriation rites of the beautiful indigenous pasts, where not everything is ever-signifying massacres and resistance. Galeano stresses the importance of unwritten, oral cultures, armed with songs, dances, ceremonies and subversions of canonical religions.
Everything for the utopia: not to pronounce it impossible, but to build it in spite of it all, to keep on walking when the point of arrival is placed further on down the road, demanding even more tenacity and resourcefulness. The utopia of the peoples active in the struggle cries for Galeano. The real nobodies do not take notice, but some of us learn, weep and carry on.
April 14 2015