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Border Speak

Carlos Fuentes
Public Intellectual: Novelist Carlos Fuentes frequently engages in political and social controversies

Carlos Fuentes lectures at SJSU on U.S.-Mexican relations

By Michael Learmonth

IN THE UNITED STATES, we banish our writers, artists and intellectuals to universities, assuming that their cerebral pursuits are of little interest to Joe Sixpack and the soap-opera set. Mexicans, while equally devoted to their Carta Blanca and telenovelas, take a distinct pride in their literati, looking to them for intellectual, spiritual and even political leadership.

That is why it seems perfectly natural to Mexicans that their greatest living author, Carlos Fuentes, should also take part in Mexican politics, be it meeting with Zapatista rebel leader Subcomandante Marcos in the Lacondón jungle or serving as Mexico's ambassador to France.

Americans are familiar with journalists dabbling in politics (David Gergen and Strobe Talbott), but we are less familiar with the role of "public intellectual." We generally restrict our artists to art or, in some cases, culture with a veneer of politics (Tom Wolfe and Gore Vidal).

To have Fuentes, whose 1985 novel Old Gringo became the first American bestseller written by a Mexican author, speak on U.S.-Mexican relations to a crowd at the University of Mexico City would be a common event. Having him address the American public on the same topic at San Jose State University is not.


Carlos Fuentes biography with links to online articles by the novelist.

A short essay on Chiapas, and the same article in Spanish.


Fuentes' visit, brought about by an invitation from the San Jose Center for Latino Arts (MACLA), is part of an effort by the center to introduce Silicon Valley to Latin American intellectual life--and to bring new breath to complex topics like immigration and NAFTA.

Maribel Alvarez, director of MACLA, also hopes the visit will help teach America (and particularly Silicon Valley digerati) that Latinos are more than a market for products or a labor source, that the Latino perspective has a valuable contribution to make to American intellectual life. If the talk is well received, Alvarez plans to make the event an annual affair; she wants to invite Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez next year.

The lecture--"The United States and Mexico: Sharing a Border"--offers a unique perspective on a familiar topic. The son of a Mexican diplomat, Fuentes spent much of his youth in Washington, D.C., and grew to know both countries by traveling to Mexico City with his family each summer--by car.

Fuentes addresses the thorny subject of how the U.S. and Mexico can coexist in his latest book of essays, A New Time for Mexico, but this speaking engagement, Alvarez insists, is not part of a book tour. In responding to her invitation, Fuentes told Alvarez he is very interested in visiting San Jose, a city with a strong Mexican heritage on the cusp of the information age.

Carlos Fuentes lectures Friday (April 4) at 7pm at the Student Union Ballroom at SJSU. Tickets are $12 ($10 students). Admission to a reception afterward is $50. (408/998-2783)

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From the April 3-9, 1997 issue of Metro

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