(Originally Published in an Abridged Forman and In Spanish on El Heraldo)
I met Gabo back when I was 5. He gave me writing tips.
OK, let me back up.
So, my mom worked for Telecaribe (A TV network). One thing you should know about my mom is that she has been everything you can think of. Hospital administrator, attorney, journalist, etc. So, while working as a TV journalist, she was attending this event. I am fuzzy on the events. Point is, Gabo was there.
Now, at the time, I had an obsession with reading and drawing my own comics. My parents always told me I was picking up books before I could read. In fact, one of my first memories is reading and going through my dad’s medicine books when I was 3. I knew what a peritoneal dialysis was way before I knew what a “giant” or a “fairy” were.
So, my parents thought it’d be cool to be one of, if not the best writer in Colombian history. And he told my mother that he genuinely thought I was going to be a writer. Of course, it wasn’t like a ~prophecy~ or anything. I was already more interested in words and storytelling than in understanding social interaction or sports back then (Which, of course, I regret) and my parents were always invested in that idea, more because of my own aptitudes than something they wanted to impose on me. I don’t know if Gabo perceived all of this. I don’t think so, anyway, but it ended up being a huge aspect of my life growing up. Kind of like a bizarre older brother that your parents wanted you to measure up to.
He also gave my parents advice about writing that they gave me while I was growing back. Stuff like “Get used to finishing what you started” and “don’t give up just because it’s hard. Give up because the work is not worth it”. The usual stuff you’ve heard from me all the time.
As I grew up, though, I learned to hate Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s work. My interest grew elsewhere. Borges, Dostoievski, Tolkien, etc. And I found this pressure in my country to go and read him. And I of course refused like a good old thirteen year old (For the record, “Don’t tell me what to do” is still at the core of my life philosophy to the detriment of my everything) In fact, one of the biggest aspect of my high school life was trying to find other Colombian authors because I so desperately wanted someone else to represent me. I remember me and my friends were assigned to read “Of Love And Other Demons” by Gabo and we were so pretentious and snooty that we just dismissed it right away.
In fact, most of my contact with Gabo as a writer can only be summarized as having read half of that book and Chronicle of a Death Foretold, which was a pretty good book but yet, it did not bring me to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s work. Nothing ever did, really.
Yet, when I heard of Gabo’s death, I felt as if the air had left the room. I almost cried, in fact. It wasn’t because of how huge his name was in my household. It wasn’t because of how huge his name was in my country. And, even hours after it happened, I can’t really account for it. It just felt like something was wrong. Something about the world I knew changed in a very fundamental level. Could it be that I believed Gabo’s cult of personality would grow even bigger and inescapable in the wake of his death? Unlikely. It sounds extremely petty, which granted, I can be, but it normally doesn’t elicit such a visceral reaction.
The only reason I can think of (The reason that feels half-right, at least) is that regardless of what my thoughts on him were, some part of me respected and understood what he meant to the world and to people in my country. He was an author and a journalist. Someone who was willing to speak truth to power, to the point that he became a Persona Non Grata in his country for his communist views and used his talent and clout to create the San Antonio De Los Baños Film School, one of the most well known institutions of its kind. Someone who found himself extremely disgusted with how ubiquitous the English language is and yet understood its power and utility in a world where it was its lingua franca.
I genuinely don’t really know where I’m going with this. Much like that reaction, I can’t really think why I felt I needed to write this. Yet here I am. In fact, I am translating it because I think this needs to be heard by people outside of Colombia, I guess. To me, Marquez was more and yet less than a writer. He was a person of conviction. Someone who genuinely changed how people saw Colombia and Latin America. And he deserves to be remembered as a force of change and as someone who (I’m told) was assured on his beliefs, his creativity and his work.
Que En Paz Descanse, Tanto Aqui Como Alla.