Many years ago when I changed my undergraduate major from art history to Spanish in order to be able to test out of several lower-division Spanish courses and use my art history major courses as electives, I had no idea the impact this decision would have on the rest of my life. I didn’t know that in our field there was even a division of linguistics and literature. I didn’t even know what you DO with a degree in Spanish. I studied at a small University with only one professor in my major and a few lecturers and instructors. Luckily, my professor taught wonderful literature and film courses and I spent my undergrad days falling in love with Latin American literature and Spanish film. Among all those texts I still remember vividly the first time I read Gabriel García Márquez. I remember wondering, as a non-native Spanish speaker, if suddenly I could no longer understand Spanish or if something else were happening; it was magic realism. During those days when I read literature for pure enjoyment (and basic comprehension) I was introduced to Borges, Cortázar, Rulfo, and others but one story by García Márquez stayed with me, «La increíble y triste historia de la cándida Eréndira y su abuela desalmada.»
There is a moment in the story when Ulises accidentally reveals to his mother that he is in love by touching a glass cup and changing its color. He touches several other glass objects to test the consistency of the phenomenon and this is when his mother catches on. From here I will let García Márquez speak for himself instead of trying to narrate his work:
Cuando Ulises volvió a la casa con los hierros de podar, su madre le pidió la medicina de las cuatro, que estaba en una mesita cercana. Tan pronto como él los tocó, el vaso y el frasco cambiaron de color. Luego tocó por simple travesura una jarra de cristal que estaba en la mesa con otros vasos, y también la jarra se volvió azul. Su madre lo observó mientras tomaba la medicina, y cuando estuvo segura de que no era un delirio de su dolor le preguntó en lengua guajira:
– ¿Desde cuándo te sucede?
– Desde que vinimos del desierto –dijo Ulises, también en guajiro–. Es sólo con las cosas de vidrio.
Para demostrarlo, tocó uno tras otro los vasos que estaban en la mesa, y todos cambiaron de colores diferentes.
– Esas cosas sólo sucedería por amor –dijo la madre–. ¿Quién es?
Ever since I read the story of Eréndira things have changed color. The spark of imagination that García Márquez was for me (and for so many others I am certain) changed the way I saw literature and the world. When I fell in love with literature books changed for me and in that way García Márquez continues to impact me to this day. When I graduated from my undergraduate program I gave my professor a custom bumper sticker I had made. It read, «Pienso en ti, Eréndira.» During the first semester of my master’s degree we all had to present a text by one of the canon authors. I presented on «Doña Bárbara» by Rómulo Gallegos but a dear colleague presented the great Buendía Family Tree and I couldn’t resist the call of «Cien años de soledad.» When I saw the news that García Marquez had passed I thought «Damnit!» and then, «Pienso en ti, Eréndira.» He is one of those authors that I dare not write about. I can only talk about his works in an emotional way because that is how they strike me and I am grateful for that. The writings of Gabriel García Márquez remind me of the magic that pushed me down the path of literature and his works keep reminding me of that when I get burdened with the mess of academia. I fall in love, colors change, books change.
Just like Eréndira’a soulless grandmother who kept a never-ending tab on what her granddaughter owed her, only to remind her that she would never be able to repay, I feel indebted to Gabo.
– Si las cosas siguen así –le dijo a Eréndira– me habrás pagado la deuda dentro de ocho años, siete meses y once días.
– La niña me ha hecho un daño de más de un millón de pesos –dijo la abuela– A este paso le harán falta como doscientos años para pagarme.
I can never repay my debt to García Marquez and so by way of farewell all I can say is, «Pienso en ti…»