Carlos Fuentes Talks Literature and Politics at IOP Forum

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Yesterday afternoon, close to 180 people gathered in the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at the Institute of Politics to discuss art and politics with Carlos Fuentes, and internationally renowned Latin-American literary giant known particularly for his novels.

Carlos Fuentes served as Mexico’s ambassador to France from 1975 to 1977 and was appointed Harvard University’s first Robert F. Kennedy Visiting Professor of Latin American Studies in 1987. Fuentes, who has taught at many prestigious institutions and currently teaches at Brown University, addressed the audience with frankness and humor.

In a conversation with Maria Hinojosa, the host of National Public Radio’s Latino USA, he discussed the need for a bilateral effort for peace between Mexico and the United States. He also mentioned the importance of the arts in directing progress for the Mexican nation.

Openly confronting the issues of immigration and drug wars in Mexico, Fuentes stated that it must be a joint effort between Mexico and the United States. He pointed to democracy in eliminating the violence and drug wars ravaging Mexico.

“How you punish and avoid corruption is the real question. Can democracy limit corruption?” Fuentes asked.

As he called for a “new deal for Mexico” and a social contract that would renew the nation and clear up corruption. Fuentes emphasized that literature and education were essential in this push for progress.

Students who attended the discussion agreed with Fuentes’ statement on the role of art in politics.

“I’m an artist myself, concerned with the politics in my own country, Singapore,” said Judith S.Y. Huang ’09. “Fuentes understands the difficulty of this endeavor. He understands the methods of both art and politics. You need art in society to point out what needs to be heard.”

Literature, Fuentes said, becomes timeless not from its message, but from the quality and imagination that is contained in it. He stated that whatever the political situation in a country, it is the caliber of the imagination and language in literature that creates the condition out of which another literary creation will emerge. He said that art presents the problems of the country to the readers or the viewers, and that it is this explicit awareness that art brings that stimulates progress.

“It is when we become comfortable and forget to fight for freedom that we run into problems,” Fuentes said.

“This kind of event and being able to host such an influential speaker is very important, first of all, for the Latin-American community at Harvard,” said Christopher J. Hollyday ’11, one of the Forum staff. “And it is also important for Mexican-American relations, as we move forward into our future. These issues affect us.”

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