Q&A

Why novelist Alberto Fuguet likes free trade

Chilean novelist Alberto Fuguet leaped to the forefront of contemporary Latin American literature as an editor of McOndo, a 1996 anthology of short stories from a new generation of South American writers, all under the age of 35. He has been vilified by traditionalists and compared to rapper Eminem, in part for turning a critical eye on magical realism, the venerable literary style most prominently associated with Gabriel García Márquez. To the 39-year-old Fuguet (pronounced foo-GET) and his contemporaries, magical realism is simply irrelevant to the world they inhabit.

The new writers have irreverently discarded García Márquez's Macondo, the mythical village in One Hundred Years of Solitude, in favor of McOndo, the frenetic realm of the here and now, in which modern life is influenced not by gypsy soothsayers or flying grandmothers but by computers, global networks, rapid economic development, and American enterprise -- McDonald's-style.

Fuguet discussed the Free Trade Area of the Americas from an office in a Manhattan skyscraper, just before launching a promotional tour for his second novel to be published in English, The Movies of My Life. Despite the antiglobalization rhetoric and fears of transnational corporate greed invoked by the FTAA, Fuguet reminds us that nothing is more powerful than culture. And you can get it to go from a drive-thru window.

New Times: Explain McOndo and its genesis.

Alberto Fuguet: It started as a joke, but it was actually an ironic commentary on the way the European and American "first world" visualizes Latin America. That is to say, everybody thinks we live in a magical-realist, García Márquez world. I'm not sure if that exists. I'm not sure it ever existed. And even if it did, that's not the world I'm living in. If there is a Macondo today, it's a McOndo full of McDonald's, Macintoshes, and condominiums. You only see people flying when you're high on drugs. McOndo is basically a sort of rebellion. It is urban Latin America. It's a sign of the times, as Prince would say.

And the part about the Americanization of your culture?

I have no problem with bastardizations. I prefer heterogeneous things over homogenous things. After all, I come from a continent where everybody is basically mixed. I come from a continent where the Spanish fucked the Indians and killed them and made them speak Spanish. So I never feel that where I come from is a beautiful paradise where people ran around naked. Once Columbus arrived, we've always been heterogeneous. The ousted president of Bolivia didn't even speak Spanish. He was a whitey. I mean, Jeb Bush speaks better Spanish than the president of Bolivia. So I'm not buying that we're so closed in and so pure.

What's your role as a McOndoist writer in the FTAA discussion?

I don't think I have a role. I'm not a stupid person, but I don't think that the artist has to have a role. In the past, the artist in Latin America had to speak out and denounce and sometimes run for president. I would never even run for mayor.

In your essay "Magical Neoliberalism" you say the FTAA will bring a "new creative fusion, a way of mixing influences without leaving the dough full of lumps." Could you elaborate?

People are so afraid the house is going to burn down. When these new cultural trends appear, people think that the way it was [in the past] is going to end. Personally I have no problem with that, because in Latin America things have never been so great from the start. So to burn down the house of Latin America could be a good idea. How do you solve Colombia without refounding it? There are so many mistakes -- from the constitution on up. I try to look on the positive side. In a cultural way, Chile, just like Bogotá, was very closed-minded, very parochial, very provincial.

That's not Bogotá today.

Because neoliberalism is sort of perverse; it says that you have to open doors. People like bankers, who are just into the investment, say, "This sounds interesting." But they never thought about ideas also traveling freely. And with globalization, you can't control it. So you begin to have homosexuality, pornography, ideas like people not getting married, things that people thought would one day really bring down the house. But in the end you realize it's not a big deal, and people rapidly get accustomed.

It sounds like you favor it.

Totally. There's a cultural explosion. I think there's more fresh air. Latin America has always been influenced by other cultures, but now the public decides. Before, it was just the intellectuals. There are going to be new problems and different role players. For example, the Indians in Bolivia didn't even exist as voters, and they just brought down the president. Those ideas probably came from watching American TV. If you're a white guy in La Paz, maybe you're not happy with it, but everybody involved in society should be participating. And that is a very American way.

Have you attended North American Free Trade Agreement or World Trade Organization conferences?

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