As Timothy Dwight College Master Robert Farris Thompson introduced Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes Wednesday, Thompson said he had been offered divine counsel in the form of a license plate. The plate he saw read “KISS,” which he interpreted as “Keep It Short, Sam.” But when he reached the podium, Fuentes responded with his own acronym: “Keep It Strong and Spanish.”
Fuentes remained true to this axiom throughout his speech on “Globalization: Pros and Cons,” which he delivered to a largely bilingual crowd of 500 in the Center Church on the Green.
Establishing a historical context for today’s era of globalization, Fuentes discussed two previous periods of globalization: the expansion of international trade during the Renaissance and the social liberation of the Industrial Revolution.
During the first globalization, the economic and material imbalances between Mexico and Northern Europe created “a reality without a legality,” Fuentes said. During the globalization of the Industrial Revolution, he said, sickness and hunger “plagued the emerging industrial working class.”
The globalization of the modern era, propelled by advances in technology and communication, is also one in which building economies is stressed over providing social necessities, Fuentes said. For example, he said, the price of a hamburger is equivalent to what four minutes of work in the United States or 40 hours of work in Kenya would earn.
Fuentes also explained how Latin America is disadvantaged in today’s technological globalization.
“We celebrate the astonishing technological development, perhaps the speediest the world has ever known, yet we fear that this very velocity will leave behind forever the countries unable to keep up,” he said. “How can we catch up if we only account for one percent of the world’s scientists?”
First World countries, Fuentes said, are not taking responsibility for the negative effects of globalization.
“We lost forty years in the refrigerator of the Cold War, [which resulted in] the postponement of urgently needed reforms,” he said. “The fall of communism did not assure the triumph of social justice.”
Fuentes then offered three constructive responses to social injustices of globalization: global politics, education and migration. He also said eras of globalization can benefit from the exchange of people and ideas from different regions.
“When we exclude, we are poor; when we include, we are rich,” he said. “We have yet to discover, reach out to and embrace the number of brothers and sisters we are capable of holding.”
The cultural exchange — bringing in other cultures alongside one’s own — between North and South America is visible in countries such as Mexico, Fuentes said, where second languages are welcome and signs for North American companies are prominent. He then questioned the United States’ role in the exchange, asking why it does not require students to learn a second language as part of their elementary education.
Benjamin Edmunds ’04 said he strongly agrees with this critique.
“I think it’s inexcusable that there’s not a strong emphasis on foreign language education [in the United States],” Edmunds, a Spanish major, said. “A good student is expected to be good at math, science and history, but it’s acceptable to be bad at French. I think it’s a cultural arrogance that needs to be overcome.”
Alistair Anagnostou ’05 said though he supports the idea of cultural exchange, he resents the United States’ ubiquitous presence.
“When I’m visiting a foreign country, I’m trying to escape American culture,” he said. “I hate seeing McDonald’s everywhere I go.”
But Fuentes said globalization has a strong foothold in the modern world.
“The global economy, like Mount Everest, is there,” he said. “It is not going to move; the question is how to climb it.”
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