El coronel necesitó setenta y cinco años — los setenta y cinco años de su vida, minuto a minuto –para llegar a ese instante. Se sintió puro, explicito, invencible, en el momento de responder.
I laughed out loud to myself as I finished reading “El coronel no tiene quien le escriba.”
This is the answer that took the colonel seventy-five years of his life to provide in response to his wife as she pestered him about what they were going to eat.
“No One Writes to the Colonel” is the second novel I read by Gabriel García Márquez. It is one of my favorite books written by him, with one of the best endings that I have ever read. It is sad that Latin America has lost one of its most prized writers. But to me, he lives on in his stories and in the love of people who want change.
I discovered Márquez — also called El Gabo, a diminutive of affection among his friends and fans — in my first English class in community college two years ago when I read the “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World.” In this short story Márquez transforms the life of an isolated village when its residents become enamored of a dead man who washes up on their shore. Gabo gives life to a drowned man with his magical realism in stunning, straightforward prose. Instantly, I added him to my list of must-read authors, venturing to learn still more about El Gabo and his art.
I learned that Márquez was greatly influenced by his family’s stories, which he brought to life in his literature. Márquez taught me that inspiration lives in the folktales of my Mexican culture.
His stories remind me of the stories that my father told me when I was young: Of la diabla (the “she-devil”), which my father told me he once saw in his home village, Cruz Grande in Guerrero, México, Of los duendes (goblins), which he told me he would see whenever his grandfather took him to el campo (the fields) during the night. And of the fight he once was said to have seen between his grandfather and the devil simply because his grandfather had claimed the nickname “El Diablo.”
My father’s stories echoed El Gabo’s. I cherish these family stories now more than ever, and I know that they are a part of me. It makes me feel all the more linked to El Gabo’s stories and novels, which influence me immensely and profoundly.
Márquez’s solitude, solidarity and hope are themes that I connect to because of my participation in the immigrant rights movement and my undocumented experience. That is why I love “No One Writes to the Colonel.”
The novel focuses on an aging former colonel who was once a rebel — and still is at heart. The colonel has seen his friends exiled and killed by opposition forces, leaving him alone without his comrades in a village that is part of a country where the opposition has won. The colonel checks his mailbox every day, hoping and waiting for his pension. He knows it will never arrive. But he waits because it’s his form of holding out hope for a better tomorrow, like the rooster that he inherited from his dead son, a son who was killed for participating in rooster fights. And even when the books ends with the colonel’s uncouth response to his wife, I couldn’t help but laugh because the colonel is still rebelling: he rebels at the questions from his dear wife, whom he loves, and carries on with his hope.
When I read Márquez’s books and stories, I connect with a person who knows about the importance of chasing and creating dreams, someone who understands determination. I no longer feel alone in my fight for opportunities for immigrant rights when I read about José Arcadio Buendía, the protagonist in “100 Years of Solitude,” and his fight to change his society in El Gabo’s famous made-up world of Macondo, a village lost in time and far behind on technological advances.
Buendía is interested in technological advancement for Macondo and gets sucked into the Gypsies’ claims of life-altering inventions. This part of the book to me had a double meaning. First, Buendía, the family patriarch, is learning from foreigners and adopting their ideas, which reminds me of the way many people from Latin American countries follow the path of their colonizers. Secondly, Buendía feels too alienated to express his ideas in the way he feels them. His wife calls him crazy because of his belief of alchemy and technology advancements. He ultimately opts to abandon his family and children.
This poetic book functions as a metaphor for the war and unrest that took place in Latin America during Márquez’s lifetime, which he articulated in his Nobel Prize speech in 1982. In the speech, Márquez talked about the solitude of Latin America in the aftermath of the Salvadoran civil war, the murder of Salvador Allende during a coup d’ état in Chile backed by dictator Augusto Pinochet and the U.S., and other grim events that Latin America has endured. He went on to relate that the sad events of Latin America were brought about by the actions of its colonizers. But it is the ending of this decades-old speech that fills me with hope for change, for a better tomorrow, a dream which most of El Gabo stories sustain.
He told the crowd in Stockholm, speaking in Spanish: “We, the inventors of tales, who will believe anything, feel entitled to believe that it is not yet too late to engage in the creation of… a new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.”
Miguel Molina is a Reporter Corps graduate from 2013. He resides in South Central (others call it South Los Angeles), a community that is made up primarily of Latinos and immigrants. As a representative for the California Dream Network, he helps organize undocumented immigrant youth to facilitate access to opportunities for higher education. He also wrote “El Gabo Lives,” a poem in tribute to Gabriel García Márquez.