- Intellectual and Cultural Figures
Carlos Fuentes Macías (1928–) is an internationally acclaimed Mexican writer, critic, and intellectual whose prolific career has spanned more than five decades. In the 1960s, his novels brought worldwide attention to Latin American letters, propelling him to the forefront of the so-called boom of the Latin American novel. Likewise, his nonfiction work established him as a respected voice in contemporary literary, cultural, and international political debates, not only in Mexico, but throughout the world.
The son of a career diplomat, Fuentes was born in Panama in 1928 and raised in South America and the United States until 1944, when he relocated to Mexico. Fully bilingual, well-traveled, and educated in elite preparatory schools, Fuentes grew up in a family that nurtured learning and intellectual curiosity. Through household conversations on international politics, the young Fuentes learned of Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas's policies on land reform and the nationalization of oil, as well as Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and his use of diplomacy over aggression to settle the oil conflict with Mexico. As a young adolescent in Chile, Fuentes witnessed the achievements of the socialist Popular Front government, and these experiences kindled Fuentes's abiding adherence to progressive politics.
Fuentes earned a law degree from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (1948), followed by graduate studies in international law in Switzerland, where he also served on the Mexican delegation to the International Labor Organization (1950–1952). Returning to Mexico, he occupied several posts related to Mexican cultural affairs, first at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (1955–1956), then at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1957–1959), while simultaneously working on his writing and editing cultural and literary publications, most notably Medio Siglo and Revista Mexicana de Literatura (1954–1958). The prominent writers Alfonso Reyes and Octavio Paz were his intellectual mentors. Intellectually, Fuentes belongs to the Generación de Medio Siglo (the mid-century generation), a talented cohort of writers and intellectuals that sought to renovate contemporary Mexican literature and culture by adopting international influences and espousing challenging views of the political establishment.
For Fuentes, these literary objectives took the form of narrative innovation, combining myth and fantasy with history and bold social and political criticism. His first collection of short stories, Los días enmascarados (1954; Masked Days) was followed by a flurry of landmark novels that swiftly built his reputation as a master narrator: La región más transparente (1958; Where the Air Is Clear), La muerte de Artemio Cruz (1962; The Death of Artemio Cruz), and the novella Aura (1962; Aura). Both La región más transparente and La muerte de Artemio Cruz critically assess the legacy of the Mexican Revolution, the first calling into question the false complacency of a politically stable society undergoing rapid industrialization, the second denouncing the dismal failure of the political elite to deliver social justice. His 1967 Cambio de piel (A Change of Skin) garnered for Fuentes the prestigious Biblioteca Breve Prize from Spain, the first of numerous literary honors.
Mexican and Latin American identity is a key preoccupation in Fuentes's work. In his texts, Mexican identity is examined in relation to Spain and the United States, the two cultures that have most influenced the development of a Mexican cultural imagination. The monumental Terra nostra (1975) provides an incisive meditation on Spain and the historical origins of the Americas. The sweeping historical essay and BBC television series El espejo escondido (1992; The Buried Mirror) and the novel El naranjo (1993; The Orange Tree) continue his exploration of the culture and history of the Hispanic world. Two novels directly address the relationship between Mexico and the United States: El gringo viejo (1985; The Old Gringo) and La frontera de cristal (1995; A Crystal Frontier). Set in the revolutionary era, El gringo viejo explores issues of cultural misunderstandings between the two nations. The physical and symbolic borderlands are the subject of La frontera de cristal. Published in the wake of the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the novel explores the complex cultural and political relations between the two countries. Although Fuentes supported the free trade agreement, he seems to argue in the novel that full understanding between the two neighbors is a goal yet to be attained.
In his journalism and political writings, Fuentes persistently takes critical positions on current events, especially in relation to U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America and the developing world. Whether regarding Cuba in the 1960s, Central America in the 1980s, or more recently, Iraq, Fuentes has vigorously protested unilateral military action by the United States, defending instead the use of the principles of international cooperation and diplomacy to solve social and political conflicts around the globe. He contends that a strong civil society based on pluralist democracy and respect for cultural diversity is the best path to a just international order, as expressed in works such as Nuevo tiempo mexicano (1994; A New Time for Mexico), En esto creo (2002; This I Believe), and Contra Bush (2004; Against Bush).
In addition to authoring nearly sixty books of fiction and nonfiction, Carlos Fuentes has also served as Mexico's ambassador to France (1975–1977), and he led an active teaching career at prestigious universities in England and the United States. In 1985, Carlos Fuentes was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
See also Bush, George W.; Cárdenas del Río, Lázaro; Mexican Revolution, 1911–1917, U.S. Policy toward; North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), 1992; Roosevelt, Franklin D.
- Carlos Fuentes: A Critical View.Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982.
- Egan, LindaLong, Mary K., eds. Mexico Reading the United States. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2009.
- Carlos Fuentes, Mexico, and Modernity. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 1998.
- The Writings of Carlos Fuentes. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996.
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