A language is more than a vocabulary: it is a story. Romance languages count many; to begin with, how the Roman empire was shattered, but also everything that survived, from the old, to its law, mixing the old with the new to give birth to the languages that we speak today in what were the provinces of that Rome. Spanish tells us about coexistence with Arabic, for example; and of his origin in the valleys of the North of Spain, and of his miscegenation, when he went to live in America from the ports of Andalusia, with the languages from there, which gave us, to begin with, the word canoe, the first word that from the original American languages crossed the waters until settling in our Castilian. That is why we have chosen it to baptize the network that the Cervantes Institute has founded together with the Caro y Cuervo Institute of Colombia, the Inca Garcilaso Cultural Center of Peru and the Mexican UNAM, for the international dissemination of culture in Spanish.
Yes, a language is also a vocabulary, but an emotional vocabulary. For something we surname our own language as maternal. Because it is the language in which we learn to say bread and sun, I love you and I am cold. A language is the vocabulary of the soul in which a story travels hidden. Spain brought many things from America and took some, some by force and others not. Spanish was one of those that was not: it was not until the arrival of the independent republics that it became an official language in most of them. The history of America is full of excesses, but only some came from the peninsula, which also sent Bartolomé de las Casas as an uncomfortable and lucid conscience, a figure that has no equal in any other colonizing process.
Spanish is today the language in which America is understood. From North to South: the oldest city in the continental United States was founded, in Spanish, by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés in 1565: San Agustín, Florida. And until the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (of 1848; before yesterday, as you say, in the time of history) the current States of California, Nevada and Utah, as well as parts of Texas, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming , they were part of Mexico. Spanish is a language of the United States from its roots, as recognized by the first California Constitution, which regulated that all its laws and decrees must be published in English and Spanish. Original Spanish, to call it somehow, has never been entirely extinct in more remote parts of the United States; there are the “islanders” of Saint Bernard, in Louisiana, who continue to keep alive the Spanish language that their Canarian ancestors carried at the end of the 18th century and that Manuel Mora Morales collected in his documentary The canaries of the Mississippi.
That is why the borders of America are fewer borders. The Instituto Cervantes opens a new extension in the Texas city of El Paso, the second largest on the border between Mexico and the United States, after San Diego; the busiest border in the world, which is like saying the border less border. El Paso is a very symbolic place: you only have to notice the name of a city thought of as a door and not as a limit, as if it were a language. That the Cervantes Institute inaugurates its presence there is to remember that the United States is also a country of Spanish; And that this means not only a dictionary and a collection of accents, but a collection to be proud of, a memory that we must share with enthusiasm. And the fact is that a language, which is a piece of history, is above all a living being. That is why so much Spanish is spoken in the United States, which is already the second province in the language, only behind Mexico. Not only because it is part of their history, but because it is, above all, a fundamental part of their future.
That is why it is important to strengthen the presence of Spanish in the United States. Because a language is above all a worldview, an intellectual syntax. Spanish is not just a set of words and norms with a story: it is an ongoing conversation about democratic values and human rights, about plurality and diversity, about the ups and downs of politics, and about the substance of joy. That is why it makes perfect sense for the Cervantes Institute to inaugurate a new extension in El Paso. We know that our language is a daily reality for more than 40 million American speakers, but we also know that their circumstances are not the best. The presence of our language in the streets is not reflected in its presence in the media, in cinemas, in bookstores, in fundamental forums. We must not fool ourselves: the prestige of Spanish there is not that which corresponds to a language of our cultural tradition. That is why the mission of the Instituto Cervantes in the United States goes much further than teaching Spanish to those who do not yet speak it (and want to speak it, with growing interest); It is also to be the hinge that opens the door to a plural and diverse culture, of a language in which Quechua and Basque speakers understand each other, and of a culture that invented the novel several times, that reinvents painting over and over again. , which is at the forefront of gastronomy and sports in the world. It is to support those who have Spanish as a language, but do not recognize in it the memory of their origin. Perhaps English is the obvious language, but Spanish is what makes the difference, and it does so backed by a culture that is known and loved complex and rich, which is born every day from curiosity and enthusiasm. Spanish is a conversation, yes, about how to be better humans in an increasingly complex world, in a language that knows all the nuances of that dialogue.
We premiered in El Paso a prologue to the center that we will inaugurate, if all goes well, next year in Los Angeles, the Hispanic capital of the United States. We are very aware that this is not a Spanish adventure, but a Spanish one. And from there we will radiate to all that enormous country the best that we are among all, Spaniards and Mexicans, Peruvians and Colombians … Because a language, yes, is much more than a vocabulary: it is the center of a square where the world to decide in favor of harmony, respect for rights and the vindication of memory, with the words with which, once, shortly after birth, we discover the world.
Luis Garcia Montero He is director of the Instituto Cervantes.