Mrs. Elena. Writer for a New World.
Internationally acclaimed Mexican author Elena Poniatowska spoke at the National Hispanic University, and received an honorary doctoral degree. An ongoing scholarship was announced in her name.
What makes literature? What makes a writer? In truth nada, only those that reflect themselves into the artist words, Mrs. Elena has been writing since the literary boom of the Mexican and Latin American writers, her works both as a journalist and novelist span from the Mexican Revolution, the massacre of Tlatelolco, to natural catastrophes such as the 1985 earthquake that left México in rubble.
National Hispanic University managed a great feat in bringing Señora Elena to San Jose. One of México’s most prominent novelist, thinkers, social critics and icons, born to Mexican and French royalty in 1932, her love for the common man and woman of México became deeper as the social inequalities marked themselves throughout the countries history.
A stage is raised in her honor. In her humble demeanor she addresses a crowd that has gathered, the seats filled before she walks out in her white dress. The hills contrast the day in a serene light, she has a soft spoken voice, her speech is a recounting of the origins of literature - something a college professor or a literary critic would be silenced by - this is something that can only be heard once. Her speech reminds one of a sermon from an ancient mystic.
“Literature that Rises from the Street,” spans the lives of the wives of miners in Bolivia, to women soldiers in the 1910 uprising against the rich of México. Truman Capote thought he had invented a new genre of writing when he wrote “In Cold Blood”, but when one hears the words revived, the words of an old soldier woman speak through her narrative, the writer disappears; Elena is an observer of a magnificent life. With a melancholic air, she recounts the heroic feats of rescuers identifying the remains of an earthquake, the families looking for their family members, the narrator holds on to the last ray of hope speaking to the corpses and reciting Hamlet as he places flowers over the dead, each and every part of her words pulsing through the veins, silencing the crowd. Listening closer to the heart beat of a country reviving.
Poniatowska unravels the condition of her nation, from the corruption, drug trafficking, the social inequalities of the rich and poor. Her words continue, the tale merges into the life of a college professor that enters the jungle and starts a revolt against the corporate treaty signed in the early 90’s by its countries leaders and the U.S.. A treaty that would ultimately ignore the poor and native people of México, The rebels titling themselves as the Zapatistas of E.Z.L.N (the Zapatistas Army of National Liberation.) making an uprising in 1994, that began the persecution of a population of Mayan natives that were largely ignored by politicians.
Marcos, the professor and leader of the rebel army had established a learning center in the jungles of Chiapas, a library that would educate its people as the revolt created a new consciousness, such gestures of depth was one of the first things the Mexican Military burned down in their battle against the Mayan Rebels.
Silence settles, the words of Mrs. Elena now sinking deeper into the crowd, her gentle voice embraced by the audience. Literature can never contain all that the human heart can hold, at best it comes close in rare and silent moments, and those moments exist the first time they are heard.
Her papers in her hands, her white dress and short hair reminiscent of the early flappers, her voice gentle and firm gave homage to those that had perfected the craft, from Domitila Chungura (the wife of a miner), Jesusa Palancares (her protagonist from “Hasta no Verte”), Perez Jolote, Ricardo Pozas, that made possible the real as literature, it has been long since Truman Capote wrote "In Cold Blood", where he recounts the tale of a murder in Holcomb Kansas, where he had termed his new genre nonfictional novel. Mrs. Elena weaves the tales of marginalized individuals through the span of the century; she reveals to us that for the true narrator, the deepest tales emerge from those unheard.
“Those who do not have a voice, have the most powerful voice,” she peaks out to the multitude.
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