The seventh edition of the International Congress of the Spanish Language [VII Congreso Internacional de la Lengua Española (CILE)] took place in San Juan, Puerto Rico, from March 15 to 19, 2016. Approximately 150 specialists and writers (from thirty countries) participated, including the King and Queen of Spain, Felipe and Letizia, who presided over the opening session, along with Governor of Puerto Rico Alejandro García Padilla. This opening session provoked mixed reactions due to a few unfortunate comments. In one speech, Victor García de la Concha, director of the Cervantes Institute, stated that this was the first time that the CILE was not held in Latin America (ouch!). Then, King Felipe VI, referred to his visit to Puerto Rico as a visit to the United States, to “a place where a ‘mestizo’ Spanish alternates with English.” In “Actos de barbarie” [Acts of Barbarism*], published in El Nuevo Día, award-winning Puerto Rican author Eduardo Lalo responds to these statements (the following is my rough translation of his commentary):
[. . .] The first of a long series of speeches was given by Victor García de la Concha, director of the Cervantes Institute, who made an epic, thorough and self-indulgent list of past congresses. When he addressed the congress that opened yesterday, the Director of the Cervantes Institute stressed the fact that it was the first time that it was not held in Latin America and emphasized that this was in a territory that has endeavored to preserve a historical legacy that includes, according to him, the Spanish language and blood ties.
I must confess I was stunned by his reckless barbarity. An official who has an important and official position, who has had three years to understand the Puerto Rican situation, takes us—with just a couple of sentences—right out of our natural and cultural environment.
Shortly thereafter, in the speech by King Felipe VI, we are told that he is happy to visit the United States with the Queen and to discover a place where a “mestizo” Spanish alternates with English. Then he adds that this “is not the place to broach the history of Puerto Rico.”
Well, yes, Your Majesty and Mr. de la Concha, this Congress is the perfect place and time to address this history. Where else would it be more relevant and appropriate?
Puerto Rico is not part of the United States, but rather a territory invaded by that nation in the Spanish-American War of 1898. Then Spain ceded this land in the Treaty of Paris as war booty, without defending or considering in the least the fate of its habitants.
If Puerto Rico, after almost 118 years of U.S. aggression and pressure, has preserved the Spanish language and its Caribbean and Latin American culture, and has developed them much or more than other countries in America, it has been through the will, resistance, and creative energy we possess. To cavalierly ignore the serious political problem of Puerto Rico, for which both Spain and the United States are also responsible, is, at the least, an act of unconsciousness or ignorance, and also an aggression directed towards us, your hosts. It is wrong to render a country and its people invisible or to take it out of the family of the people of the Americas, just to advance an erroneous strategy, doomed to failure, dedicated to supporting Spanish in the real United States.
Once again we confirm the sanctimoniousness of Spain and other countries in the Americas, who— faced with the colonial tragedy of Puerto Rico—act as if it did not exist and it had nothing to do with them.
The protocol, the self-aggrandizement, the myopic and inconsequential celebration are not enough. We expected more lucidity, solidarity and responsibility from those who have chosen to proffer today so many empty and barbarous words before their hosts.
Neither culture nor language is ornamental for us. They constitute what binds us to life and what allows us day to day to fight fiercely against the historical conditions that we have suffered and still suffer. To propose that “this is not the place to address the history” of our country amounts to not respecting it.
I think I am not exaggerating when I say that there is no country more Spanish-speaking than ours, because none of our [Latin American or Spanish] brethren have suffered the constant cultural aggressions we have managed to survive. If Mr. de la Concha and King Felipe pretend to have any relevance and credibility as leaders of a linguistic community, they will have to face the vicissitudes of the history of America. And Puerto Rico belongs—with full rights, as an equal among equals—to that history. This confrontation with the barbarity of history is what we, Puerto Ricans, have carried out without respite for too long, alone, while also suffering the misunderstanding and ignorance of the members of our family.
[*It should be noted that “Actos de barbarie” may also connote “acts of stupidity.”]
For original article, see http://www.elnuevodia.com/opinion/columnas/actosdebarbarie-columna-2174535/