Argentinian Literature, Please Stop Discriminating Against Me because of the Dialect I Speak
Argentinian diversity is as great as its size: Diversity of climate, of touristic options, of landscapes. Our own blood is diverse, so much so that most of us ignore the details of the genetic stuff we are made of. We like to boast our European blood while our Native American and African ancestors (their dark skins long ago faded and mixed in a gentic abyss) go ignored.
But most importantly, our country possesses rich diversity when it comes to culture and language. And because of the supremacy of the province of Buenos Aires, where most of the national funds are, this diversity is in danger.
“God is everywhere” the Argentine saying goes, “but his office is in Buenos Aires.” This cannot be any truer when it comes to our national literature. The dialect of Buenos Aires holds a strong monopoly over our belles lettres. An Argetinian writer that favors this dialect has stronger chances of international success. Just go into any bookstore in the country and browse through the section entitled “National Literature.” An overwhelming majority of the authors you’ll find there are from Buenos Aires, either by birth or adoption, and they most likely speak in the renowned dialect that “represents us all more than any other.” Off the top of my head, I can only remember two outsiders from my innumerable browses in said section of the bookstore: A woman from the province of Santa Fe that writes fantasy, and a man from the province of Chaco that miraculously found his way to our shelves.
Our strongest international representatives, Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar, were both born or spent a significant time of their lives exclusively in the province of Buenos Aires, and are both suspiciously male (but I guess the supremacy of gender in the literature of my country should be discussed in another article).
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate people from Buenos Aires, and I would be ready to celebrate any renowned Argentinian authors, no matter their cities or provinces, if there was equal representation of all twenty-three provinces in literature. But, sadly, that is not the case.
I live in Córdoba, the second biggest city in Argentina after Buenos Aires, and Cordobese people do a good job when it comes to promoting their co-provincian authors, but the fame of Cordobese authors like Cristina Bajo sadly pales in comparison to the fame of authors from Buenos Aires.
I live in Córdoba, but I came to live here when I finished high school at age seventeen. I am actually from the province of Santiago del Estero, and I sport its distinctive dialect, which has brought me its equal share of bullying in the college classroom and innocent topics of conversation with taxi drivers. The moment I open my mouth, people find out where I’m from, and my writing reflects that.
My dialect works on grammatical inconsistencies that, through pragmatics, have become valid for all speakers from Santiago del Estero. In my dialect, the typical Argentinian pronoun “vos” is conjugated with the verb forms of “tú”, creating a written version of the dialect that is an even mixture of weird and old-fashioned. Because it reeks of a Northern province, it also has the connotation of poverty.
The farther North you move in Argentina, the more you encounter poverty and the closer you are to countries like Bolivia and Perú, which happen to be the two nationalities of immigrants that face the most discrimination in the country. An accent from the resources-deprived North of Argentina, where brown skin is the norm, be it from Santiago del Estero, La Rioja or Jujuy, is discriminated against in Buenos Aires.
Can I still write in my dialect and find success in the capital of my country? The answer to this is yes. But only if I restrict myself to certain themes and subject matters. Going around the poorest parts of my province to document their language and be a champion of the poor through literature is a strategic move that can earn me all sorts of accolades at the national level. But I am not the right person to do this kind of work. I am a sheltered, upper-middle class young woman. Maybe the future will afford me the opportunity to be able to write that sort of documentary novel. But should I stop writing in the meantime?
No, I shouldn’t stop writing, and I shouldn’t stop writing about what I know. But, as I found myself craving readers and an audience, and I didn’t want to adapt and start talking like a native from Buenos Aires (it just doesn’t feel right), I had to do something else. So I threw myself into a voluntary linguistic exile.
My first published short story has come out a short time ago… and it was in English, in an online literary journal based in Boston.
I don’t feel like a victim of my exile because it is a very expensive, privileged one. My proficiency in creative English has cost my parents innumerable dollars and hours of their lives riding me to and from various second language tutors and schools. But then I remember my poverty-stricken co-provincians and how many of them can barely write in their first language, let alone a second, and I get sad. I get sad because I live in a country where language and dialect elitism and discrimination prevail and where many voices are pushed into the margins. And the only losers are ourselves. Our own national literature suffers from this incredible loss of talent, and all because we have ingrained in our brains that Buenos Aires is better, Buenos Aires is richer, that Buenos Aires has more beauty, that the true Argentinian experience happens in Buenos Aires, that Buenos Aires is more eloquent than any other provinces. And then we wonder why no Argentinian woman or man has ever been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
This is a cry for help on behalf of my national literature. Things need to change. Editors in Buenos Aires need to start looking at work from all the other twenty-two provinces. This is the only way in which Argentinian literature will grow and flourish.