Carlos Fuentes Interview at Guernica

Guernica has an unpublished interview with Carlos Fuentes from 2006 that is worth reading (you can also listen to it if you scroll to the bottom of the page). It covers politics more than literature, although there is a lengthy section on his admiration for Juan Marse. Fuentes was always a fairly astute political commentator and he has some interesting things to say about immigration and democracy.

Guernica: Do you consider yourself a writer in exile?

Carlos Fuentes: I have never considered myself a writer in exile because I grew up outside of my own country, because my father was a diplomat. Therefore, I grew up in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, the United States, I studied in Switzerland—so I’ve always had perspective on my country—I am thankful for that.

Our greatest novelist ever, Juan Rulfo, the author of Pedro Páramo, never left Jalisco and the states of Mexico where he sold tires and drove around and heard stories—he is the great example of a writer very much bred, rooted in the country, that transforms all he has heard into great art. My position was very different because I had a perspective on Mexico since I was a child. I was a boy of ten when President Cárdenas expropriated the oil holdings of foreign companies, and there was a wave of anti-Mexicanism in the United States. There were big headlines, “Mexican Communists Steal Our Oil,”—then I lost friends at school (I was in grade school), I was looked upon with suspicion. And I was the son of a diplomat; when I heard the news from Mexico I sided with Mexican causes. I grew up in a kind of exile until I was fifteen years old, always outside of Mexico, but always very conscious that I was a Mexican. Yet that gave me a different consciousness of being Mexican from someone who had never left Mexico—so, it worked both ways.

For a moment there I could have become Argentinean or Chilean—I was very bound to my friends, my schools in Santiago and Buenos Aires, but no—no, Mexico has won me over, and do you know why? Because Mexico always was and always will be a mystery for me, a big question mark. What is this country all about? How can I understand it? You know, when García Márquez doesn’t understand the baroque political situation in Mexico, he goes to the National Museum of Anthropology, and stands before the Coatlicue the Mother Goddess of the Aztecs, the gigantic sculpture of block, of serpents, headless, tremendous, of a goddess saying, “I am a goddess not a person—don’t try to find personality in me. I am not Venus—I am Coatlicue, the goddess of serpents.” And when he has stood five minutes in front of Coatlicue, he says, “Now I understand Mexico,” and leaves.

It’s a very complex, mysterious country. I will never understand it fully, and that’s why I write so much about it, in order to try to understand it.