Cultural Compass

Spanish Means a $1.5 Trillion Market and Fabulous Literature

On April 23 we celebrate Spanish Language Day. We also celebrate Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote.

Raul Guerrero
Apr 21 · 4 min read

Miguel de Cervantes authored the first modern novel and one of the best ever written: Don Quixote. Vladimir Nabokov put it: “Don Quixote looms so wonderfully above the skyline of literature… He stands for everything that is gentle, forlorn, pure, unselfish, and gallant.”

But not even the ingenious errant knight could have predicted the reach and vitality the Spanish-language enjoys today. 500 million people speak it worldwide. In the U.S., Spanish is the most studied and spoken foreign language. In effect, many no longer consider it a foreign language, wielding as evidence bilingual cities like Miami. Spanish-language media keeps flourishing — not for nothing Hispanics are close to commanding a purchasing power of 1.5 trillion dollars.

Islara Souto’s dramatic reading with a jazz trio at a DASS celebration of the Spanish language. .

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic population approximates 56 million, representing 17% of the total population, and by 2050 it is expected to reach 106 million. Pew Research Center breaks down Hispanics into three groups when it comes to language: 36% are bilingual, 25% mainly use English and 38% use primarily Spanish.

Financial statistics aside, and despite derogatory allusions and xenophobic currents, Spanish remains a language of literary excellence, with 11 Nobel laureates in Literature. What better tribute to this beautiful language than a lesson from three masters:

Todos los seres humanos tienen tres vidas: pública, privada y secreta.

All human beings have three lives: public, private, and secret.

Hombre pequeñito, hombre pequeñito,
suelta a tu canario que quiere volar
Yo soy el canario, hombre pequeñito,
déjame saltar.

Estuve en tu jaula, hombre pequeñito,
hombre pequeñito que jaula me das.
Digo pequeñito porque no me entiendes,
ni me entenderás.

Tampoco te entiendo, pero mientras tanto,
ábreme la jaula que quiero escapar.
Hombre pequeñito, te amé media hora,
no me pidas más.

[Translation by Islara Souto and Raul Guerrero for a Poetry Salon organized by Islara Souto for Miami Poetry Month.]

Little man, little man, / Free your canary that wants to fly / I am the canary, little man / Let me jump out.

I was in your cage, little man / Little man, some cage you give me. / I say little because you don’t understand me / And you never will.

And I don’t understand you either, but meantime / Open the cage ’cause I want to escape. / Little man, I loved you for half an hour, Don’t ask me for more.

Miguel de Cervantes

Demasiada cordura puede ser la peor de las locuras, ver la vida como es y no como debería de ser.

Too much sanity may be madness and the maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Born in Colombia in 1927, died in Mexico City in 2014. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. He authored many works of fiction and nonfiction including One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love In The Time Cholera, The Autumn Of The Patriarch, The General In His Labyrinth, and News Of A Kidnapping. According to the Nobel Organization, the prize motivation: “His novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts.”

She was born in Switzerland, May 29, 1892. The family moved to Argentina when she was four. Having a turbulent youth, and facing economic hardships, Alfonsina moved to Buenos Aires where she fell in love with a married man, whom she described as “an interesting person of certain standing in the community…” Then had a child with a journalist, becoming a single mother at age 19. She supported herself through teaching and newspaper journalism.

She would be among the first women to succeed in the male-dominated world of Argentinian literature, receiving harsh criticism from some of her male contemporaries, including Jorge Luis Borges. The eroticism and feminism in her writing were too controversial for the time, but writing about womanhood in such a direct way was one of her principal innovations as a poet.

In 1938, she found out that her breast cancer had reappeared. Around one, the morning of Tuesday October 25, she left her room and headed towards the sea at La Perla beach in Mar del Plata, Argentina, and committed suicide. Later that morning two workers found her body washed up on the beach. Although her biographers hold that she jumped into the water from a breakwater, popular legend is that she slowly walked out to sea until she drowned.

Wrote the celebrated Czech/French writer Milan Kundera: “Cervantes is the founder of the Modern Era… Novelists need answer to no one but Cervates. Don Quixote is practically unthinkable as a living being, and yet, in our memory, what character is more alive!”

Cervantes was born in Spain on September 29, 1547. He completed the first part of Don Quixote the year 1605. He died in Madrid on April 23, 1616. William Shakespeare died on the same day.

The song Alfonsina y el mar, “Alfonsina and the Sea,” interpreted by Mercedes Sosa, with lyrics to end this lesson on a high note.

Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa was immensely popular throughout Latin America. Her roots are in Argentine folk music, and later became one of the best exponents of nueva trova (new song). Critics and public admired the depth and beauty of her contralto voice.

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