A commemorative celebration of novelist Carlos Fuentes’ life and work inspired thought in Spanish literature enthusiasts Wednesday, following university traditions of honoring great authors.
The event, organized by the Modern Languages and Literatures Department, the Consulate of Mexico, Sigma Delta Pi, Asociación de Alumnos y Ex-alumnos de Español and Latin American Studies Student Association, was put on to recognize the late Fuentes.
“Carlos Fuentes was a major voice in Latin American letters for more than half a century, having made important contributions to academia, most notably as a novelist and literary critic,” said James Hussar, professor of Spanish and Portuguese, who spoke at the event.
Fuentes died last year at 83.
Undergraduate and graduate students in the Spanish program study his works and Hussar said he hopes students will expand their knowledge on the iconic figure.
Juan Ishikawa, a Spanish and Portuguese professor, always assigns Fuentes’ The Buried Mirror, to his Spanish American Civilization and Culture class.
He said he likes Fuentes’ work because of his ability to transform past and present issues on Mexican identity and culture into solid literary pieces.
Ishikawa said reading and appreciating the work of an exemplary humanist makes better people and helps people understand themselves and their surroundings.
Ishikawa attended an event hosted by UC Irvine in 2006 in which Fuentes was a speaker.
Ishikawa invited his students to attend the event where Fuentes spoke as well.
“I decided to attend the event … in order to have my students listen to and meet the author they were studying, but also because I personally wanted to meet him, since I had read many of his novels and short stories,” said Ishikawa.
What impressed Ishikawa the most about Fuentes was his persona.
At that time, Fuentes was 89 years old, but he looked strong, healthy and had a clear mind.
He said despite the criticism of his works, Fuentes was one of the greatest Mexican authors of all time, which makes Ishikawa proud of his Mexican heritage.
“He has taught me, through his writings, about the richness of Mexican culture and how it relates to the formation of my own identity,” said Ishikawa.
It was while she was enrolled in her Spanish 316 class that Mercedes Vargas, a Spanish major, was introduced to the work of Fuentes for the second time.
Although her professor assigned only certain chapters of The Buried Mirror, Vargas decided to read the novel right from the beginning, and she immediately got hooked on the narrative.
After reading the book, Vargas said she learned more about Latin American history than she ever had before.
As a result, her vision of the world changed.
“The words about illegal immigration … really validated me and made me feel understood, since for several years, I lived illegally in this wonderful country,” she said.
Vargas admires Fuentes’ objectivity and audacity to overtly say what he had to say.
Martha Nascimiento, who also organized the event, was re-introduced to the work of Fuentes when she began her Master’s program at Cal State Fullerton.
Her favorite piece of Fuentes’ is “AURA” because of the themes throughout the novel: life and death, chance encounters and sensuality.
“In the development of the story, a series of events can be unclear, confusing as if they were dreamed or imagined. Everything is in a mysterious bubble,” she said of the novel.
She said she likes the obvious sincerity of his point of view on the themes he grapples with: identity and the history and social issues of Mexico.
Nascimiento said she appreciates Fuentes’ dedication and passion to portray Mexicans as individuals and as members of society in need of recognition as “gente pensantes,” thinking people.