Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez

(1927-2014)

DJ Name: Márquez the Mixer

Just like us during the winter when the cold, bitter air of the East Coast freezes our fingertips, bananas crave tropical climates. They prefer the soupy heat of the area that surrounds the equator where they can drink lots of water and bask in the sun’s rays. One of those areas that bananas consider idyllic is Santa Marta, Colombia, which sits just 11 degrees north of the Equator. Bananas love it there, and in many other so-called Banana Republics. In one Yelp review, Billy Banana gave it five stars, saying, “Very hot and steamy! Perfect conditions for raising a family.” 

But it wasn’t long before big U.S. fruit companies such as the United Fruit Company realized the area’s profitability and took over large swaths of land to cultivate acres upon acres of banana plantations. The desire for bananas around the world was insatiable — a great source of potassium! The UFC flourished throughout the first half of the 20th century, and it employed local Colombians to tend to the land. But despite its increasing wealth, the UFC did little to protect its workers or pay them living wages. 

As a result, in 1928, those workers went on strike. The U.S. threatened to send in troops to squash the strike, and the conservative Colombian government at the time was compelled to abide by the U.S.’s wishes since it needed the company to keep key markets open in the U.S. and Europe. So the Colombian government sent in troops to the city’s main streets and opened fire on anyone in the area. The exact number of casualties has never been accurately calculated, but the number of lives lost could range anywhere from 47 to 2,000. It was a bleak day in Colombian history, in which U.S. capitalistic desires reigned supreme. Nearly 40 years later, Gabriel García Márquez would depict a fictionalized version of that massacre in his book, One Hundred Years of Solitude. And 20 years after that, the UFC rebranded and became Chiquita Banana. 

Por Supuesto, Gabriel García Márquez didn’t spend 100 years in solitude, but he did spend 18 months writing his novel about the Buendía family in solitude. It won the Nobel Prize, just like this playlist: 

So we’re doing another author this week. We read books, we love short stories, we quote authors regularly, yet how much do we actually know about that person beyond the page? Vamos juntos. 

Gabriel García Márquez was born Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez on March 6, 1927, in Aracataca, Colombia, not too far away from Santa Marta. His father was a pharmacist, postal clerk and telegraph operator however he could barely support the whole family of him, his wife and their 12 children. Gabriel was the eldest. They moved to Barranquilla, about two hours away. But Gabriel, or Gabo, as he was often called, was raised by his maternal grandparents, Colonel Nicolás Márquez and Tranquilina Iguarán Cotes de Márquez for the first eight years of his life.

Living with his grandparents offered Gabo a tale of two sides. On the one hand, he heard war stories his grandfather shared with him from his time as a colonel and on the other, he had the magical fairytales of fantasies from his grandmother. Reality met magic during his upbringing, and this eventually impacted the stories he wrote later on. After Abuelo Nicolás passed away, he and Abuela Tranquilina also moved to Barranquilla. Gabo grew up and later studied law at National University of Bogotá, but instead became a journalist (far more lucrative!) upon his graduation.

Gabo’s journalistic skills eventually gave way to his literary ones, and in 1967 he released the novel that would bring him widespread fame, One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien años de soledad). The book, which often delves into magical realism, tells the story of the town of Mocondo, Colombia, through the generations of the Buendía family. José Arcadio Buendía is based on Gabo’s grandfather. The family and their town mirror the history of Latin America on a much smaller scale, and they follow the path of Colombian events while illustrating the town’s cyclical nature with elements of exaggeration like a levitating priest and four years of rain while also depicting poverty and war. As well as a character who keeps repeating, “There’s always money in the banana plantation,” which inspired the infamous Arrested Development line, “There’s always money in the banana stand.” Jk. That’s not true. But what is true is that with Cien Años, Gabo created a novel with rich history and myth that is now translated into more than 30 languages. 

A quick diversion away from his career, though. Did this man ever fall in love? 

Why, yes! We cannot continue to write any longer about the life of this literary genius without giving a shout out to the woman who took the wheel of their nomadic household while Gabo’s career led them all around the world. Gabo met Mercedes Barcha Pardo when he was 18 and she was 13. It was basically love at first sight. He said, “Ella Es Mi Fiesta,” and they married 12 years later. They had two sons. Rodrigo is a director and Gonzalo is a graphic designer. 

He couldn’t have completed his publications without her support. Literally though, she held off their landlord for seven months while he wrote One Hundred Years in Solitude. She knew he had to finish it, and they couldn’t leave their space until he did. They owed $12,000 in rent by the time he finished the novel. Plus, they had to pawn Mercedes’ hair dryer and their electric heater to pay for the postage required to mail his finished manuscript to Argentina, which they had to send in two parts because they couldn’t afford to ship it all at once. That book changed their lives and they’d never have to worry about late rent again. Gabo and Mercedes lived their lives together in love. He shared, “You write better without preoccupations. You write better when you have love in your life.”

But Gabo wasn’t a one-and-done kind of author. He went on to write many short stories and novels, including Love in the Time of Cholera (El amor en los tiempos del cólera) in 1985 which is a ~romance~ that tells the story of couples falling in love toward the ends of their lives. Inspired by his parents’ love story, he focuses on the unique type of romance that only people in their “golden years” can understand as death surrounds them.

And another fictional piece he wrote that doesn’t shy away from the vast crevices of his imagination is The General in His Labryinth. This was published in 1989 and focuses on the final days of Simón Bolívar, who led South America’s independence from Spain. Gabo stirred the pot with this novel. Readers questioned why he would have Simón, a fighter for independence who had thousands of followers and supporters, portrayed as an abandoned womanizer who was disliked by his former followers. Gabo stood by his portrayal because he used, again, magical realism. He studied Bolívar’s personal letters to craft this narrative and, of course, added touches of exaggeration. It clearly did the job as it got people thinking, questioning and wanting to learn more. 

Oftentimes Gabo’s writing was impacted by the moments of political turmoil not just in Colombia, but throughout Latin America. For example, when General Augusto Pinochet overthrew Salvador Allende in Chile, Márquez vowed to never write for as long as General Pinochet was in power. However that vow didn’t last because the dictator was in power for 17 years. There’s no better way to explain why Gabo began writing again than to read the words from the man himself:  

Time convinced me I was wrong. What I was doing was allowing Pinochet to stop me from writing, which means I submitted to voluntary censorship.

Let’s also not forget that he had a close relationship with Fidel Castro. Fidel read every work of Gabo’s, even his drafts. As can likely be expected, this friendship was criticized by many. He faced a lot of “Accusations.” Gabo had a huge platform in Latin America, and his opinion on happenings mattered to governments and revolutionaries. Supporters of the friendship say that Gabo was influential over Castro and helped secure the freedom of a number of political prisoners. While critics say that Gabo was just obsessed with power: having it and being surrounded by it. 

His friendship with Fidel made it difficult for him to travel to the United States, but his books were still published stateside. They were studied endlessly in classes. His ideas and imaginings were all over college course requirements, in bookstores, in book clubs and in literary reviews. But the man himself couldn’t even enter the country. He asked, “If they don’t permit me to enter because my ideas are so dangerous, why don’t they prohibit my books?” and then dropped the microphone saying, “Basta Ya.” Eventually, his ban was lifted in 1995 and he visited Martha’s Vineyard with President Clinton (he boujee). 

In 1999, Gabo was diagnosed with cancer. He continued to write and published Memories of My Melancholy Whores (Memoria de mis putas tristes) in 2004 and his memoirs titled Living to Tell the Tale (Vivir para contarla) released in Spanish in 2002 and in English in 2004. Eventually, we learned that Gabo had dementia and because of that he stopped writing. He passed away in Mexico City on April 17, 2014.  But Gabo’s legacy will live on, and his books will hopefully teach American students of the atrocities their country has committed over time in Latin America. So next time you peel a banana, keep in mind how your favorite potassium-heavy fruit made its way to you and the history behind its popularity in the U.S.

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